Mailbag: The Georgia Way vs. The Process
Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cane iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man. The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: static. One hand is always fighting the other hand, and the left hand is kicking much (butt). I mean, it looks like the right hand, Love, is finished. But hold on, stop the presses, the right hand is coming back. Yeah, he got the left hand on the ropes, now, that’s right. Ooh, it’s a devastating right and Hate is hurt, he’s down. Left-Hand Hate KOed by Love. – Radio Raheem, in “Do The Right Thing”
First, a moment of silence for Bill Nunn, the great character actor who played Radio Raheem, and then went on to great roles in movies including “Spider-Man,” in which he was the one person who sniffed out Peter Parker’s secret identity. But anyway …
Let’s get to the mailbag, which begins with a rather weighty topic.
I am a huge Mark Richt fan but I also recognize that a change was probably needed and that Kirby was clearly the logical choice. Having been witness to the last national championship, I am ready for another one. But I am not a win at all costs person and granted the times have certainly changed from the days when players’ primary goal was a college education and not the NFL. Probably too much prelude to my issue/concern which is, Kirby seems to have a win-first/people-second philosophy vs. Richt’s people-first. Several incidents, to me, indicate that – denying players choice in transferring; withdrawing offer to Toneil Carter; allegedly withdrawing offer from a silent commitment day before national signing day. And to a lesser degree the Rodrigo situation. Your thoughts? – Gerald
Frankly, I think this is what Georgia essentially wanted, as did a big enough segment of the fan base. It backed Richt and said it was proud of his approach, but then got tired of not winning enough and seeing Alabama rack up championships under Nick Saban. So they decided they wanted to get Saban’s protégé, while hoping that since Smart was a Georgia guy, and a former Richt assistant, he’d still have enough of the “good side” in him, as it were.
So far, we’ve seen a bit of both. You listed all the situations so I don’t have to repeat them. Those come from a belief that this is a cutthroat business and you have to make tough decisions. But I would also defend Smart a bit when it comes to the personal side. There was the Brandon Sudge simulated recruiting visit. I also saw Smart wearing the Camp Sunshine bracelet at SEC media days. And I could list other examples that back up my belief that at heart Smart is a good person. And when you see Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and company returning for their senior year, that says something about their experience under Smart, doesn’t it?
It’s a tough balance. You can’t turn Georgia into Alabama. It’s just not going to happen, as UGA has many institutional and systemic barriers. This will never be a “football school that happens to have a university” type place. There’s a real dedication to making UGA a nationally-recognized university. And as someone who went here, Smart I’m sure values that. But as someone who comes from a coaching family, and saw what worked at Alabama, he’s seen what works.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years, but my sense is you’ll see a desire to try to marry the best of the old Georgia way and The Process.
Side note: I’m still trying to figure out why they felt the need to do another Spider-Man series. I mean, the Tobey Maguire versions were very good, though the third one fell a bit short. But it didn’t wrap up the storyline, and then … bam, it ended, and about five minutes later we have Andrew Garfield and Martin Sheen making a completely unnecessary new version. I’m still ticked about it, as you can probably tell.
THE RECURRING BASKETBALL ANGST SECTION
Georgia is not only likely to miss post season play, they are in position to have their worst season under Mark Fox. Expectations were high across-the-board this year. Where do you see the program heading if the above scenario transpires? McGarity always states he will review after the season, but I believe it will be difficult for him not to make a change if things continue to go south. What little interest there is in the program will vaporize without some definitive action or goals. – Bob Etheridge
This is obviously the elephant in the room now when it comes to Georgia’s basketball program. I’ll cut to the chase and say I don’t know with any certainty what will happen. What I do know: McGarity and the administration have consistently supported Fox, so I’d be shocked if they don’t let this season play out, and they’re probably rooting for things to turn around. Fox has three years left on his contract and if my figures are right, would be owed $1.7 million. That’s a lot for basketball, but it’s not much for UGA athletics as a whole.
Next year’s team also has to be taken into consideration, but it cuts both ways. If Yante Maten returns, and the buzz right now leans in that direction, then it sets up to be pretty good, with top-50 recruit Rayshaun Hammonds joining the fold. Do you make a coaching change and risk losing some players, and losing continuity? Or would a coaching change actually help, and jump-start the team? That’s something that will be looked at.
Also, don’t discount the off-field factors: Fox graduates his players, is known for running a clean program, the players are good citizens, etc. And this isn’t a dumpster fire right now by any means. It’s a miserably disappointing season, but Fox’s overall record still compares favorably to most other coaches in Georgia history. It’s also not like coaches will be lining up to come here. Georgia very well could be behind Missouri and LSU in the hiring pecking order, if those jobs open as expected, and that’s just among SEC schools. What if Clemson and N.C. State open too? Indiana? Where would Georgia rank in the competition?
If you fall in the category of “Mark Fox stinks, Georgia will do better with whoever it hires” then you’re not being realistic. It could get worse. And as tough as this season has been, Fox does have the program on sound footing.
If you fall in the category of “The program has hit a ceiling under Fox, he can’t take it any further,” then I get that. It’s up to Fox to show differently over this final month. Show there’s hope for next year by finishing strong down the stretch, maybe playing Tyree Crump a bit more and showing what he can do. Failing a strong finish, he’d probably have to make persuasive argument behind the scenes that he can still improve things.
I don’t think the cake is baked either way. The final month will be very telling.
Side note No. 2: Why is “Spider-Man” with a hyphen, by the way? Spiderman reads a lot better. Also, Bill Nunn was in “New Jack City,” a very underrated movie that should not be forgotten by time, and I’m doing my part by mentioning it here.
Due to number of players signed, more attrition is going to have to happen. Any idea who the most likely players to leave are? Will Brice Ramsey finally decide to leave? – Braden Mossbarger, Nashville, Tenn.
This is one of those subjects that I tend to not speculate on. It’s not fair to the players to just throw their name out there as a transfer candidate unless you have more than the depth chart to go on. The exception I make is when they’re due to graduate, so I’ve mentioned Ramsey as an obvious candidate. The sense I get there is Ramsey likes UGA and wouldn’t mind sticking around, but it would also be natural to look around and see what may be out there for him.
You and others have reported attrition is needed before the beginning of summer, because of the number 85 scholarships, and UGA can’t be over that number. My question is, what if enough players don’t leave and UGA finds itself over the limit, then what? – Tommie Lee
Then things happen that are unseemly: Current players have scholarships yanked, or incoming players are told there’s no longer a spot for them. The latter would be a fiasco because you’ve already burned a signing spot on a player. The first option is what usually happens, but it also happens way in advance. The coaching staff knows its numbers. Rarely does anyone come out and admit this, but usually what happens is coaches sit down with players and tell them that there simply won’t be a spot for them on next year’s roster, and the player then leaves, ostensibly by his own decision. Technically, scholarships are revocable, and are only given on a one-year basis. Although it’s bad public relations to come out and yank someone’s scholarship, which is why many schools (but not yet Georgia) are offering four-year guarantees to players.
As comprehensive and talented as the 2017 offensive line group may be, the center can make or break the effectiveness of the unit (just ask the Falcons about Alex Mack). Is Lamont Gaillard the likely starter going forward or do you think Sam Pittman has other plans now with a deeper group? – Andrew Thomas
The best guess right now is Gaillard starting at center, but that’s not certain. Dyshon Sims could get a look there, as could Chris Barnes. But Gaillard was essentially the backup center last year – he would’ve moved there had Brandon Kublanow gotten hurt. So the easiest transition is to put him there.
The Strength & Conditioning (S&C) coordinator at UGA (Scott Sinclair) had great on the record reviews. The football teams’ overall health looked to improve from 2015 to 2016 in terms of team injuries to help validate that claim. What is being said off the record about the football S & C program at UGA? Do people think Scott Sinclair is a top 5 S & C in college football? Top 10? Curious to hear if people truly think he is an elite S & C coach, or a stop gap until coach smart can pull an elite S & C coach hire. – Frank from Columbia
I definitely don’t think he’s a stopgap. Smart wouldn’t have hired him to be a place-holder; Bob Stoops told me, and other coaches often say this, that the S&C coach is usually the most important first hire a new coach makes. That would especially be so in Georgia’s case, because Sinclair was the team’s third in three years. These players needed some continuity, as Jeb Blazevich pointed out after the season. They’ll especially feel the benefit of that this offseason, I think. And you’re right, the lack of injuries last season and the performance of the team in the fourth quarter of some games (well, not Georgia Tech, but others) speaks well to how Sinclair and his staff did. A good first year.
Provided there are any scholarships available come Fall (which isn’t looking very promising), wouldn’t you think Christian Payne should be at the top of the list? He is a senior, played every game last year and had a good junior season. I would like to see a senior rewarded vice an underclassman if at all possible. – Sue Muller
Based on playing time, Payne has as good a case as Blankenship. Of course, Blankenship’s scholarship may be going to David Marvin now, so we’re all waiting to see how that affects Rodrigo’s status going forward.
Side note No. 3: A few interesting facts about “New Jack City.” It was the movie I saw on my first date. It was one of Chris Rock’s very first movies. And it gave Ice-T a start on his cop-acting career, leading to the “Law & Order, SVU” role.i
THE ‘WELL, SINCE YOU ASKED’ SEGMENT
What really happened between the coaches the week of the Kentucky game in 2015? This is when the rumors swirled about Jeremy Pruitt being fired, and presumably is at the center of Tracy Rocker’s later comments about a “mutiny” in Mark Richt’s last year. – Guy O., Ithaca, NY (UGA 1997)
Well, that’s a tricky one. Maybe as the years go on people in the know will be more comfortable revealing things. But right now they’ve all got jobs and in the coaching industry speaking out on such subjects isn’t viewed favorably. You saw that when Mike Ekeler, in an interview last year with a Texas newspaper, slipped up and talked about working with people he couldn’t stand, or something along those lines. Ekeler quickly tweeted out that he enjoyed working with Richt. (He didn’t mention the other guys.)
I’ll be honest here in that I know and suspect more than I’m willing to share, for reasons of confidentiality with sources, etc. What I am willing to say is that I’ve not heard anything to confirm that there was some major incident. It seems it was just the usual clash of personalities in a workplace, exacerbated by a bad stretch of losing in which one side of the ball (offense) was mainly at fault. There were factions, and even if Richt had been retained he was going to have to make changes. Rocker, Kevin Sherrer and Pruitt were generally of the same mind, while guys like John Lilly and Bryan McClendon did their best to keep their heads down. (And you saw how good a job McClendon did in holding things together, guiding the team to a bowl win, with Lilly guiding the offense and Sherrer the defense.)
That said, I don’t think Richt was let go because of all the tumult on the staff. It really was about the on-field product, and not wanting to let South Carolina hire Smart.
Enjoy the mailbag and the reporting you, Chip and Jeff do. Can you provide details on the financial aid paperwork recruits can sign that binds a school to provide the scholarship if the recruit ultimately comes to school? My understanding is that recruits can complete the paperwork at as many schools as they like with no binding commitment, but that each school that they complete the paperwork for MUST hold a scholarship open for them if they decide to enroll. I assume it applies only to recruits with committable offers. Are the offers made to these eighth and ninth graders considered committable? If so, what’s the downside to the recruit filling out the paperwork at each school that offers? Who can, who can’t, and when? Go Dawgs! – Michael Wilkes
The financial aid agreements are rather arcane, so I’m not sure I can help you completely. I do know that last August the NCAA, after being pushed by the SEC, adopted a rule that puts possible penalties on a school if it signs recruits to financial aid agreements and then the recruit doesn’t come. The rule states that schools would be subject to “reduced recruiting expenses” if that happens. The intent of the rule is for recruits to sign a financial aid agreement only after they’ve publicly committed and ended the recruiting process. So the player doesn’t really receive penalties, but the risk, if I’m reading it right, still appears to be mostly on the school, which is probably why you don’t see them offering a bunch of financial aid agreements to guys.
Let’s be blunt about this: There really is no reason for an elite recruit not to insist on only signing a financial aid agreement, rather than a letter-of-intent, if it’s offered. That’s what Roquan Smith did in 2015, because as a highly-sought recruit he had the leverage. If he had signed the LOI right after he announced for UCLA, then he would have been bound to the Bruins even after his position coach left for the NFL. Instead Smith waited and was free to go to Georgia right away. If my son were ever in such a position I would have him do the same thing.
Recruits with a bit less leverage – i.e., three-stars and such – benefit more from the LOI because it ties the school to them. And if they do have a change of heart, or their coach leaves after signing day, the school is more likely to release them. But the school must release them if they’re going to be able to play right away. Otherwise, they have to sit out at least a year at their new school.
This is a good time to remind everybody of that, with coaches changing jobs after signing day, including Tray Scott now doing so just six weeks after leaving North Carolina for Ole Miss. I really don’t have any information to say that Rocker leaving and Scott coming was pre-arranged before signing day. It may have all just materialized afterwards. Steve Sarkisian’s departure from Alabama to the Falcons may have too. (But I doubt it.) It happens everywhere. And it’d be nice if the NCAA stepped in and did something, perhaps maybe loosening the LOI rules. If athletes are like every student, there should be nothing to stop them from changing their mind during the summer and going somewhere else. And by signing a financial aid agreement instead of an LOI, they’d have that right.
I don’t see it changing, though. When Smith took a stand with the financial aid signing in 2015, it was thought it could lead to a trend, especially with the athletes’ rights movement in such full force. But it hasn’t turned out that way. Schools still tend to hold the leverage.