Dawgs fans sound off on staff turnover, game day, basketball, more

Georgia football-2022 NFL Draft-records
Kirby Smart, seen here with Kelee Ringo after the big pick-6 in the national championship game, knows about defensive backs. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
Curtis Compton

Dawgs fans have a lot on their mind, ranging from staff turnover to the game day experience to Georgia’s basketball implosion.

Let’s check some of my recent Junkyard Mail …

Dear Bill, Georgia just hired another secondary coach. According to an article about the hiring of Fran Brown, this is the fourth secondary coach in five years for Georgia. … My question is, is Kirby Smart too “hands on” with the secondary, and is this at least part the reason the secondary coaches have moved on so quickly? … I could see one, maybe two coaches departing over five years, but four in five years are not stray data points. That is a trend line, in my humble opinion.

— Pacbear

Well, keep in mind that the first two of those four secondary coaches left to become a head coach and a defensive coordinator. So, it’s only the loss of Jahmile Addae in a lateral move to Miami that really raises any question. And, he hasn’t explained his decision to leave Georgia after just one year. It could be a number of things, including him wanting to be closer to home (he’s from Florida), or seeing the Miami opportunity as a clearer road to becoming a defensive coordinator or head coach. It’s also possible he felt that, with both Smart and Will Muschamp looking over his shoulder, he never really would have a free hand with the secondary. Addae primarily coached the cornerbacks, with Muschamp taking over the safeties after he moved from being an analyst to an on-field coaching position this past season.

Of course, it’s also possible it just wasn’t a good fit. Smart said when he hired former Georgia player and coach Bryan McClendon away from Miami that he is “big on ‘fit.’” Does someone fit the culture we are trying to create? We don’t look at a lot of things that people on the outside world look at. I look at can they make our staff better, can they make our players better, do they fit our culture?”

Whatever the reason, I’m not really all that concerned about a change of secondary coaches, because, as I indicated earlier, Smart and Muschamp know quite a bit about that area of the game.

And, as I wrote last week, having Smart as head coach makes all the changes that have hit the program recently much less worrisome.

Moving all the restrooms and concessions stands to open areas like Reed Plaza would help alleviate overcrowding in Sanford Stadium’s concourses. (University of Georgia)
University of Georgia, Dawgnation

Dear Bill, the SEC recently sent out a survey to its schools’ season ticket holders about the overall game day experience and how it can be improved to make it more enjoyable and safer. Among the areas where fans can comment is first impressions, concessions and catering, restrooms, the video board, ribbons and sound, band/crowd participation and connectivity. My own view is that UGA’s Sanford Stadium ranks highly in most regards, though I agree some of the restrooms are disgusting, and my ears get blasted by the music on the sound system. (I won’t critique the music itself, which obviously is not aimed at my age group and more at the students and players.) I’m wondering what your thoughts are.

— Sam in Savannah

While the pandemic limited my attendance the past couple of seasons, as a season ticket holder I tend to agree with you that, overall, a game at Sanford is a pretty enjoyable experience — but with room for improvement. Yes, the restrooms remain problematic, at least, the overcrowded ones inside the stadium concourse that are prone to spills. The restrooms in Reed Plaza, on my side of the stadium, provide a much better experience.

And that’s connected with my main complaint about Sanford, which is that having restrooms and concessions stands inside the outdated, dangerously narrow concourses (built when the stadium seated just 50,000) exacerbates the problem. I realize that opening up those concourses would require a major renovation of the stadium, and that probably isn’t something on the horizon, but, if the restrooms and concessions all were moved out to plaza areas elsewhere, pedestrian traffic inside the concourses would move a lot more smoothly, and perhaps some of the walls could be opened up, to make the area less dank-looking. Overall, I think the move to more grab-and-go concessions operations prompted by the pandemic is a plus.

As for the sound system, I’m with you. I can tolerate the music (though I wish they’d throw in a few boomer tunes), but the volume can be ear-bashing. As I said last week, I’d much rather listen to the Redcoat Band than prerecorded music, anyway, and I wish they could come up with a way to amplify the band properly, so it could be heard clearly throughout the stadium — and then let them play more.

I’m pretty satisfied with the video board (though I’d like to see more replays and fewer crowd shots).

Finally, connectivity remains a problem, but I’m not sure how they can fix that; when you bring nearly 100,000 folks together all in one place, and they’re all trying to use their phones to text their friends and family at the same time, it’s tough to get a signal.

Why not amplify the Redcoat Band better, so they can be heard clearly throughout the stadium? (Mackenzie Miles/UGA)
Mackenzie Miles, Dawgnation

I’ve been going to games since 1966. Had season tickets for many years. Always stayed after the game to listen to the Redcoats. Went to the Arkansas game last season. Am sure that incessant loud music during the game is causing hearing loss. Hopefully, it will go the way of cigarette smoking inside the stadium, which I complained about until it was ended. Now that the Redcoats no longer play “Tara’s Theme,” suggest “Georgia on My Mind.”

— Tommy Hankinson

Good news: Brett Bawcum, director of athletic bands for UGA, told me recently that “Georgia on My Mind” already has replaced “Tara’s Theme” as the final number in the post-game concert, right before the traditional “Once a Dawg, always a Dawg” Redcoat chant.

Bill, what’s going on in the Dawgs’ disastrous basketball season? All five starters on last year’s team transferred. [Last] Saturday, Ole Miss was missing their top three scorers and beat UGA by 20 points in Athens. Only word I have heard is that Tom Crean is a disciplinarian, and today’s players want more freedom and gentleness. Anything you can add?

— Dan Pelletier

Probably no one outside the program has a complete understanding of what has been going on in UGA basketball, but, generally, when you have this level of collapse, with staff members having altercations at halftime, the blame usually belongs where it’s most likely to fall: on the head coach. And, I have a feeling it’s much more than just players chafing at discipline. In Athens, you hear talk that Crean is not popular with either staff or players. However, whether it’s tough discipline or a grating attitude on the part of the head coach, most folks in the program could put up with all those things if the team was having any success — and Crean hasn’t managed that, even when he’s had much more talent than he has on the current team.

Tom Crean’s tenure as UGA’s men’s basketball coach, may be close to its end. (Curtis Compton/AJC)
Curtis Compton, Dawgnation

Whatever the reason for Crean’s inability to hold on to the talent he did manage to lure to Athens, he didn’t have much success, even when he had better players. Maybe Crean simply wasn’t a good “fit” for Georgia, to put it in Smart terms.

Anyway, speculation is rampant in Athens that Crean will be gone as soon as Georgia loses in the SEC Tournament, which gets underway March 9. At the same time, there’s also a certain amount of trepidation that if, by some miracle, the basketball Dawgs were to catch fire in the tourney, win it, and get an automatic NCAA berth, the UGA Athletic Association probably would feel it would have to give Crean another season — as happened with the tornado-plagued 2008 tournament, when Dennis Felton was coach. As was the case with Felton, keeping Crean after a tournament title probably would just prolong the program’s problems another year.

If Crean is let go at the end of the season, as seems likely, the betting favorite to succeed him, among many observers inside and outside Athens, is former Georgia player and assistant coach Jonas Hayes, currently the associate head coach at Xavier. The 40-year-old Atlanta native not only has an established record as a recruiter, but also has the ties to the program and the state of Georgia that recent coaches have lacked, and he’s extremely popular.

Hi Bill, could you identify problems, and what needs to change, as to: Why we cannot win (or really be competitive) in basketball? Why we have fallen from the elite level in women’s basketball and gymnastics? And, becoming elite, rather than middle of the pack, in baseball?

— Stephen Segrest

It’s not that complicated. Success in college sports mainly is contingent on two things: coaching and recruiting. If you get the right coach, and they bring enough talented players to the roster, you generally have success.

Yes, facilities also factor in there, but I think too much emphasis is placed on them in many cases. You can have the shiniest and most expensive new facility around, one with a lot of wow factor, but if you don’t have a coach capable of sustained success, recruits still will look (or transfer) elsewhere. Coaching is the key in all sports.

Tineya Hylton and the Lady Dogs, seen in action against Alabama in January, are having a much better season than the men’s team. (Mackenzie Miles/UGA)
Mackenzie Miles, Dawgnation

I’ve already discussed Crean up above. Women’s basketball actually has been doing pretty good under Joni Taylor, though the ranked Lady Bulldogs have faltered a bit in the second half of this season. Still, they are in a much stronger overall position than the men’s team.

When it comes to gymnastics, Jay Clark faced an unenviable challenge in following up a legend in Suzanne Yoculan (who guided the Gym Dogs to 10 national championships, including five in a row).

Unable to match the program’s past elite status, he was let go, perhaps prematurely. After moving to LSU, he again proved himself probably the top assistant coach and recruiter in the country in that sport, and now is head coach in Baton Rouge. Unfortunately, under his successors, the Gym Dogs have become middle-of-the-pack and not championship caliber. Part of that is other programs catching up to Georgia and passing them, but mostly it’s, again, coaching and recruiting.

Scott Stricklin’s 2022 baseball team is ranked nationally. (University of Georgia)
University of Georgia, Dawgnation

As for baseball, it took a while, but Scott Stricklin finally has his program bringing in the talent needed, and Georgia is doing well. It’s unfortunate that probably Stricklin’s best team was robbed of a shot at a national championship in 2020, when the No. 2-ranked team’s season was cut short by the pandemic. But, this year’s Diamond Dawgs, currently ranked 15th in the country, look like a possible College World Series contender.

Bill, with the addition of the two teams from the Southwest Conference (oops, that’s not still a thing, is it?), it’s pretty clear that the two-division concept is about to go the way of all flesh. What are your thoughts about how the conference might realign?

— Frank Arnold

The consensus seems to be that a 16-team SEC will abolish divisions when Oklahoma and Texas depart the Big 12 to join the conference. If it doesn’t, most observers think the league will move Alabama and Auburn into the East, alongside Georgia, Florida and the other schools already in that division, minus Missouri, which would go to the West. That would preserve traditional rivalries, but it also would create a distinct talent imbalance between the divisions. And, would the SEC and ESPN really want Georgia and Bama facing off every year before the conference championship game?

Would the SEC really want Georgia and Alabama in the same conference division? (Mackenzie Miles/UGA)
Mackenzie Miles, Dawgnation

If the league decides to abolish divisions, it might go instead with four pods of four teams each (with each team playing the other three teams in its pod each year, plus two teams each from the other three pods, on a rotating basis). Unfortunately, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, between Georgia and Auburn, probably wouldn’t be an every-year thing under the pod setup (unless they were put in the same pod). And, it’s not clear what would be the best way to determine the two teams that meet for the championship under a pod system. Would a mini-playoff be necessary?

Another possibility, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey acknowledged recently, is that they might go without any subdivisions of the 16 teams, and just have the conference’s top two teams meet in the SEC Championship Game. However, in order to do that, they’d have to get the NCAA to issue a waiver, or change its rule requiring that conferences with 12 teams or more have two divisions in order to stage a conference championship game. (The 10-team Big “12″ is an exception, because it plays a round-robin schedule.)

Considering what a big deal the SEC Championship Game is for college football, though, I don’t believe getting the NCAA’s OK would be a problem.

Whichever way they go, I’m just hoping they increase the number of conference games played each year from eight to nine (as many think will happen). That would allow each team to play every team from the opposite division once every four years, instead of sometimes going much longer without meeting, as currently is the case.

A nine-game conference schedule especially would be attractive for UGA season ticket holders, considering the substandard level of nonconference opponents Georgia generally gets for a couple of its home games in Athens (especially in years with a big-name neutral-site season opener). Also, a stronger home schedule would help keep attendance healthy in this age of saturation TV coverage.

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