ATHENS — This is different. This is worse. This is bad.
Jonathan Ledbetter was pulled over and arrested for DUI in the wee hours of Sunday morning. We’re still waiting to get all the details, but that’s pretty much all we need to know.
What we don’t know at this very moment is how Georgia’s first-year head coach Kirby Smart is going to handle this. And at this point that’s becoming an increasingly important factor in his brief tenure with the Bulldogs.
UGA student-athlete policy states that a DUI arrest means an automatic two-game suspension for football players. That, plus some punitive inside discipline and a whole lot of counseling and intervention.
Where Ledbetter’s situation gets complicated is what Smart was already having to deal with . Lest we forget, this is the second time the sophomore defensive end from Tucker has been hauled off to Athens-Clarke County Jail for a drinking-related offense. That other time, Ledbetter was busted for trying to use a fake ID to get into a bar and underage possession. According to that police report, Ledbetter was charged with possession because he was already intoxicated as he tried to get into this bar after midnight. Those charges eventually were dismissed.
To be clear, substance abuse is a problem at all levels of society, especially at colleges and universities, and that’s the most important aspect of this situation, that Ledbetter gets help. And Georgia has policies and procedures in place that ensure he will.
The dispensation of discipline is where it gets complex. Smart reacted quickly to Ledbetter’s first arrest and announced that the projected starter at defensive end would be suspended for one game, presumably the first one. Later, after the charges against Ledbetter were dropped, Smart became vague about whether the original suspension would stand. Publicly at least, that was left unclear.
We’re assuming Ledbetter knew what was the deal was, however. And whatever it was, it wasn’t enough to deter him from drinking again and getting behind the wheel of a car. In fact, he upped the ante by endangering other people this time. Whatever lenience he was provided via his second chance doesn’t look like such a good idea now.
In fact, if you go back and review the seven arrests involving Georgia players in less than four months, you’ll see that three of them came after the offenders were given a second chance. Like Ledbetter, Chauncey Rivers and Chad Clay were both allowed to return to the team. But then each one stumbled again and they were dismissed.
Does the same fate await Ledbetter? And what will it say if it doesn’t?
As it is, all these arrests say something about the discipline of the Georgia football team. But, to me, it’s says more about the football team’s attitude toward the young head coach.
After Clay was dismissed last month, Smart called the Bulldogs together for a team meeting. Word is, Smart went off on the players that day. He scolded them for putting him and the university in an uncompromising position with their bad behavior. He implored them to look out for each other like brothers.
That, my friends, was just three weeks ago. It doesn’t seem like Smart’s message got through too well, does it? At this point, that says as much about Smart as it does the team’s lack of discipline.
Mark Richt encountered a similar situation several years back as Georgia’s head coach and it forever changed the way he handled discipline. He became more no-nonsense, more strict after that. People started talking about how the Bulldogs were too tough on their own players.
You could argue that a lot of these guys that have run afoul of the law lately were Richt’s recruits. Clay and Julian Rochester were freshmen handed off to Smart’s staff in this past recruiting cycle, but the others were identified and enlisted by Richt’s staff.
But they’re Smart’s players now. And the early reviews on that is the new coach isn’t getting much respect from his new charges.