Wednesday July 1, 2015
The SEC Network is giving each school a day to take over the network, and Georgia’s turn will be on Friday July 3rd. Kick off the holiday weekend with 24 hours of nonstop Georgia programming.
Here’s the schedule.
There’s a lot of football of course but also a significant men’s and women’s basketball game. I would have liked to have seen some baseball (1990 CWS win? Keppinger’s Coastal Carolina game in 2001?), but they can only work with the video they can get. At any rate, the DVR will be busy on Friday.
Wednesday June 24, 2015
I love stuff like this. Before we see Nick Chubb break off a long run, there’s usually been some good work done by the blockers up front.
Saturday Down South has clips showing several of Georgia’s run blocking concepts, and they introduce us to the likely starters on the 2015 offensive line. They’re high on Pyke, and they expect Georgia’s solid run blocking to continue under Schottenheimer and Sale.
If you expect Chubb, Marshall, Michel, and the rest of the backs to be the focal point of the offense, it starts with these linemen.
Friday June 19, 2015
One of the first topics that came up during our roundtable discussion was our concerns for the upcoming season. “What keeps you up at night?” was the way the question was put. I went right for the familiar answers – quarterback, receiver, even defensive back (side note – is it me, or has the secondary kind of been lost in the shuffle?). When I had some time to think about it though, there’s something else that this team is going to have to work through that’s bigger than any one position.
What keeps me up at night? October.
It’s not just the schedule, though that’s a big part of it. October has not been kind to Georgia over the past couple of seasons. You can go back to the shocking implosion at South Carolina in 2012 setting off a couple of shaky weeks that threatened to derail the season until Shawn Williams spoke his mind. Georgia was riding high after the LSU win in 2013, but October brought injuries and losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt(!) that all but erased the momentum from two big wins in September. Last season of course we spent October dealing with the drama of the Gurley investigation and suspension, and the bombshell at the end of the month that the suspension would be four games rather than two was not the best way to head into the WLOCP.
So…October. A tough rematch with South Carolina is the biggest obstacle between Georgia and an undefeated September. But even if Georgia can navigate the first month of the season, they’ll then have a stretch of three weeks featuring:
- The most hyped game in Athens since 2013 LSU (and probably another Gameday visit)
- A trip to face Tennessee in a classic letdown situation
- A return home to play the defending SEC East champs in front of a sleepy Homecoming crowd
That’s enough of a potential roller coaster even without the additional handicap of injuries or suspensions or whatever curveballs October has thrown at us lately. Top it off with a trip to Jacksonville with the unknown of a new Gator coach and the memory of last season’s horror still fresh, and it all makes for a lot of sleepless nights – and an exciting challenge.
Friday June 19, 2015
Many thanks to Marc Weiszer and Fletcher Page of the Athens Banner-Herald for having me on the first summer installment of their Bulldog Bytes podcast blogger roundtable. Bernie and I talk about the upcoming season, our expectations for Mark Richt, and our thoughts on out-of-conference scheduling.
You can head over to Dawg Sports Radio to catch the podcast – and listen to other episodes too.
UPDATE: You can also catch Part 2 of the roundtable with the guys from the Georgia Sports Blog and Get the Picture.
Wednesday June 10, 2015
Rumors are flying that redshirt freshman quarterback Jacob Park is leaving the Georgia program, and UGASports.com reports confirmation (since deleted) from Park himself.
There’s no official confirmation yet from the program.
Park was a 4* U.S. Army All-American and rated the nation’s #12 quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class by Rivals.com. He was signed a year after Brice Ramsey and was expected to provide additional depth and compete for the starting job in 2015. Park redshirted in 2014 and received recognition for his work with the scout team.
Park’s destination is unknown. He could follow his former coordinator and position coach Mike Bobo to Colorado State. He’s a South Carolina native and could also look to return to his home state. Georgia fans would probably prefer to see him head outside of the SEC.
Thursday June 4, 2015
What else to do in June but lose our collective heads over the addition of a reserve quarterback? There haven’t been so many “but what does it meeeeeean?” takes since the final scene of Mad Men.
I get it – Georgia’s quarterback situation is as unsettled as it’s been since 2006, and there isn’t a first-round draft pick waiting in the wings (until next season, anyway.) The 2015 starter has been fretted about and over-analyzed since the bowl game ended, and adding another variable at this late hour has only added to the uncertainty. The reaction has ranged from panic to indifference, and it boils down to (in order of least plausible):
- The QB situation is so dire that Georgia is desperately trolling the graduate transfer pool to find their 2015 starter.
- Lambert is being brought in as a hedge against another quarterback transferring.
- Georgia’s just trying to build their quarterback depth – didn’t you see what happened to Ohio State last year?
The first reaction is a byproduct of Georgia not only speaking with Lambert but with Everett Golson also. Why is Georgia so intent on adding a quarterback? What’s wrong with the guys in the system? That leads to the second reaction. Is someone leaving? We’ve all heard the chatter, and we know that the depth chart only gets more crowded next season. But we’re not in the business of pushing people out the door, so we’ll take the roster as-is.
That leaves the depth angle, and it’s where most people seem to be landing. We know Ohio State had to go three deep to win the national title, and their depth was exceptional. Not many (if any) programs have that kind of quarterback depth, and we’re not suggesting that Lambert puts Georgia in that league. But it does give the staff some options, and – for better or worse – he is now the only quarterback on Georgia’s roster with starting experience for a BCS conference program.
Lambert’s transfer gives Georgia six quarterbacks. Lambert joins Park, Bauta, and Ramsey. Sam Vaughn, a one-time Georgetown commitment, walked on and redshirted last season. Georgia will add another walk-on this year in Californian Nick Robinson who had a couple of mid-major offers. Vaughn and Robinson won’t figure into the starting job, but Georgia will have plenty of arms for practice and scout team work. This isn’t 1998. The expectation isn’t that Lambert will leapfrog to the top of the depth chart, nor is there the pressure and need for him to do so. That’s a good thing – Lambert won’t arrive at Georgia until July 13th, and someone showing up less than a month before camp opens shouldn’t be counted on as an immediate contributor.
We’re getting some good insights from the Virginia crowd about what to expect from Lambert. Good size, capable arm, but a tendency for poor decisions that lead to crippling turnovers. He earned the starting job but then lost it – not encouraging for anyone expecting Lambert to grab the UGA starting job. If that’s the bar you’ve set for this transfer or what you think Georgia needs, you’re likely to be disappointed.
That said, the Georgia starting job is still up for grabs, and Lambert will be given as much of a shot as the others. Again, he’s not going to have much time to get up to speed, but all of the quarterbacks are still learning the system of first-year coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
So why Georgia? Though the starting job is nominally open, a newcomer with Lambert’s track record isn’t likely to come in and claim the job in Athens. Lambert also had interest from Florida, though it’s not a given that he’d start there either. He’d be nearly a sure thing to start for an FCS or Sun Belt-level program. There were still a couple of things in Georgia’s favor.
Lambert is a southeast Georgia native who played his high school ball for Wayne County. The message boards are all over reports that his girlfriend attends Georgia. So at the very least, he has his undergraduate degree from Virginia and can earn a graduate degree in two years while finishing out his career much closer to home. But if Lambert wants to make the most of his final two seasons, there’s a history with he and Mark Richt.
Lambert was a 3* prospect in the 2012 class. He had offers from Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina, and, among others, Georgia. The Dawgs eventually went with Faton Bauta in 2012, but there were several factors that made Lambert consider Georgia’s offer. First was the style of offense. “I like all the schools with pro-style offenses,” he said. “Basically, I could see myself playing in that offense.” Second was Georgia’s success developing quarterbacks. “I’m looking at player and quarterback development in all the schools that have offered me and definitely Georgia is right up there at the top, especially with Matthew Stafford going #1 overall in the draft,” he explained.
Richt only strengthened Georgia’s pro-style identity with the addition of Schottenheimer. And if Lambert was frustrated by the Virginia offense and his development there, it makes sense to turn to a coach and a program whose quarterback development Lambert has held in high esteem since he was a prospect. Whether Lambert can flourish and develop under Richt or make a dent in the depth chart is yet to be seen. It would be nice, but it’s not a make-or-break issue for the 2015 season.
What interests me most is that this is one of Schottenheimer’s first public stamps on the program. Even if you accept the coaches’ explanation that they’re satisfied with the rest of the quarterback depth chart, they entertained two graduate transfers and eventually landed one. It’s fairly low-risk; if Lambert doesn’t develop into a starter, he’s another arm in practice for the next two seasons. The only negative outcome would be if this chain of events leads to the departure of someone who wasn’t already halfway out the door. And if Richt and/or Schottenheimer can improve Lambert’s game, all the better for Georgia.
Thursday May 21, 2015
Even with baseball struggling this year, there has been plenty to get out and enjoy during the Athens springtime. Bernie took in tennis, and we spent last weekend down South Milledge at the first-rate Jack Turner Stadium supporting the softball team in their NCAA regional.
The weekend mirrored last season’s Athens regional: Georgia won their opener but fell on the second day, forcing them to play again Saturday night and then win twice on Sunday. Saturday’s loss was a 2-1 14-inning pitcher’s duel against Western Kentucky – the longest game ever played at Georgia’s stadium. The Dawgs survived a nail-biter in Saturday’s elimination game against a powerful UNC team, and the magnificent Alex Hugo’s walk-off home run meant that Georgia would play on.
In order to advance, Georgia had to beat – twice – the pitcher that had stymied them for 14 innings on Saturday. They came out on the attack and built big leads in both games, cruising to a pair of mercy-rule wins by a combined 29-3 score.
Other than the outburst of offense on Sunday, the story of the weekend had to be Georgia pitcher Chelsea Wilkinson. Wilkinson pitched a combined 18 innings on Saturday and came off the bench to earn the win in the nightcap. Georgia’s quick start in the first game on Sunday meant that the Dawgs could rest their ace, but Wilkinson returned to pitch 5 more innings in the complete game shutout that won the regional. Through 23 innings and over 300 pitches, she allowed only four runs and set a career high in strikeouts on Saturday.
So the Dawgs move on to the Super Regionals. They’re up in Ann Arbor to face the #3 national seed Michigan. It will be a big job to advance to the WCWS in Oklahoma City, but this team has the ability to get it done. Games will be Thursday and Friday on the ESPN networks.
Thursday April 30, 2015
It’s Todd Gurley Day around the Bulldog Nation as we wait for the NFL Draft and salute those headed to the next level. These are my top five Gurley memories looking back on a career that seemed to go by as fast as one of his kickoff returns. Have some of your own? Let’s hear them in the comments.
1. The Auburn kickoff
Yes, it was called back. The anticipation for Gurley’s return from suspension was at a fever pitch when Auburn came to town. For a moment, it was right out of a movie script: Gurley’s first touch of the ball in over a month was a 100+ yard kickoff return that sent the frenzied stadium into pandemonium…until we saw the flag. Still, in what would prove to be his final game as a Bulldog, Gurley delivered one of the most electrifying moments I’ve ever seen in Sanford Stadium.
2. His debut: Buffalo 2012
Gurley calls it his favorite game. The true freshman wasted no time introducing himself to the home crowd. Gurley posted three touchdowns, including a kickoff return, and put up 100 yards of rushing on only 8 carries in one of the most spectacular debuts for a Georgia player.
3. Later, Gator
Gurley only played against Florida twice, but only perhaps Jarvis Jones had as much to do with sustaining Georgia’s winning streak. In two games against some very stout Florida defenses, Gurley put up 218 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He added 110 receiving yards and one memorable long touchdown reception. His 2013 performance was especially tough: sitting out several games with an injury took a toll on Gurley’s conditioning, but he had enough in the tank to push Georgia to a 14-0 lead before he was sidelined.
4. 2012 SEC Championship
This great game had so many twists and turns that Gurley’s contribution is easy to forget. He didn’t rip off any long scoring runs or go for 250 yards. What he did do was grind against the nation’s best defense in a de facto national semifinal. Only two teams managed to rush for more than 100 yards against Alabama in 2012. The freshman Gurley went for over 120 yards on his own.
5. Clemson 2014
How could we not mention this game? Gurley was already a household name coming into the 2014 season, but this game took his status from a star to an early-season Heisman favorite. It started with the first half kick return, but Gurley really made jaws drop in the second half when Georgia’s running back depth finally wore down the Clemson defense. He managed 198 yards rushing (on only 15 carries!), finished with a school record 293 all-purpose yards, and accounted for four touchdowns.
Bonus: Tech 2013
Wins over Tech always deserve a little mention, and Gurley accounted for every yard of Georgia offense in overtime. Gurley didn’t have the best numbers in regulation, as Tech’s defense focused on the run and forced first-time starter Hutson Mason to put the game on his shoulders. Gurley was held to 72 yards of rushing in regulation but still had one touchdown rushing and one receiving. He broke through in overtime, scoring in just three plays and then made quick work of the second overtime in a single 25-yard scoring run. He finished the day with 122 rushing yards and four total touchdowns.
Thursday April 30, 2015
The NFL Draft begins tonight, and Todd Gurley should break a couple of droughts. Not only should he be Georgia’s first first-round selection since 2013; he’s likely to be the first running back selected in the first round since 2012.
The Dawgs only had two players selected last year, and they should fare a little better this year. There’s still only one certain high draft pick (Gurley), but Georgia stands a good chance of having three or four players called before it’s all over. Any more than four would be a pleasant surprise, but late round selections can be unpredictable. Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd deciding to remain in school made Georgia’s draft class smaller than it would have otherwise been, and that’s great news for the 2015 Bulldog team.
Marc Weiszer has a look at what’s expected to happen for Georgia’s NFL hopefuls once Gurley is off the board. In all, about nine or ten Dawgs could be drafted or at least sign a free agent deal that will earn them a trip to an NFL camp and a chance to make a roster.
- C David Andrews
- WR Chris Conley
- DE Ray Drew
- RB Todd Gurley
- LB Amarlo Herrera
- QB Hutson Mason
- S Corey Moore
- CB Damian Swann
- DT Mike Thornton
- LB Ramik Wilson
Todd Gurley is rocketing up many draft boards, and why wouldn’t he? The only question about him is the knee, and that recovery seems to be going just fine. I admit that I’m surprised to see him in some top 10s, and he’s nearly a consensus first round pick. It’s not that he’s not one of the best running backs in the draft. It’s just that spending such a high pick on Gurley would buck the trend. “In the past two years, a running back hasn’t been taken in the first round,” notes Dan Kadar. With so much emphasis on quarterbacks and the line of scrimmage in the NFL, running backs have become more or less interchangeable parts with a shelf life of 4-5 years. Kadar again: “Only one of the top 10 rushers in the NFL (in 2014) was a first-round pick.” That’s a relatively low payoff for such a valuable first round pick.
Whoever drafts Gurley will end up with a fantastic player with all of the tools to become and NFL star. It says a lot about his potential and ability that it’s a foregone conclusion that an NFL team will spend an unconventional first round pick on a running back only months removed from a major knee injury.
Few players made as much noise at the NFL combine as Chris Conley. Conley’s long been a Georgia fan favorite, and he’s become well-known as a Renaissance man in the classroom and of course behind the camera. But the combine was a reminder that Conley can play a little football as well, and he should hear his name during the draft.
Conley’s likely draft position is uncertain; Kiper has him anywhere from the second to the fifth round. One reason for that wide spread is the depth of the receivers in this year’s draft. At least six players (Amari Cooper, Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Breshad Perriman, Jaelen Strong, and Nelson Agholor) are possible first round selections, and Conley probably won’t jump any of them. Where these receivers end up will be one of the more interesting subplots of the draft. Cooper could go as high as third, triggering a run on the position. Then again, teams might pass on using a first round pick on a receiver and feel confident about getting a good value with a later selection. How soon this deep pool of receivers is exhausted will play into where Conley is drafted. If there’s an early run, he might be one of the best receivers left in the second or third round. If teams put off drafting receivers, it could take several rounds before Conley is the top receiver on the board.
Ray Drew was the lynchpin of Georgia’s 2011 signing class. After several position changes, a slew of new position coaches, and some nagging injuries, a healthy Drew finally began to come into his own as a senior. Drew was magnificent against Tech and played well for most of the back end of the 2014 season. It’s unfortunate for Georgia that Drew leaves just as things were starting to click, but that’s potentially good news for his NFL hopes. He has the ability to be a very good defensive end at the next level, and now it’s just a question of finding the right opportunity.
Thursday April 30, 2015
It’s become a bit like deciding where to place a sofa in the living room, but yet another location has emerged as the favored spot for the indoor practice facility. Speaking in Albany on Tuesday, athletic director Greg McGarity hinted that the facility might now be built on the upper grass practice fields adjacent to the Butts-Mehre building. McGarity noted that this location was the preferred choice “back in 1999 and 2000″ when the idea was originally discussed. It would allow easy access from the football offices, locker room, and training facilities.
Mark Richt has been outspoken about his desire to avoid a location to which the team would have to bus, and that was the huge negative about a facility at the expansive South Milledge complex. The Hoke Smith complex emerged as a location that would be within walking distance but would also preserve the existing practice fields, but it would also require the relocation of academic services and the Cooperative Extension Service. McGarity stated that “we’re probably not going in that direction right now.”
The new location isn’t without its own compromises. McGarity has said in the past that “we don’t want to disturb that environment” of “the first-class practice facility we have here with two grass fields and two turf fields.” But building on those grass fields would leave the Bulldogs without a way to practice in the conditions they’re most likely to face during the season: outdoors on grass.
So if the IPF winds up replacing the grass practice fields, the question becomes whether or not those fields will be relocated elsewhere. The idea of converting one of the turf fields to grass seems plausible, but Georgia just spent $3 million on a project that included rehabilitating those turf fields. (But what’s $3 million between friends?) It might turn out that areas considered for the IPF (such as the Hoke Smith parking lot) end up as grass practice fields instead.
Blutarsky has a good observation: if the budget of $30 million doesn’t include relocation costs for the Hoke Smith buildings, that’s one heck of a price tag for just the facility. Of course there would be some expense involved with reconfiguring the site to get the most use out of the space (and possibly add more grass fields), but that’s still an impressive figure. If you look at comparable projects (Michigan) (Texas A&M), you see that the facilities included a lot of extras that were already addressed in the recent $40 million Butts-Mehre expansion.
To give you an idea of what $30 might get you, have a look at the Coliseum Training Facility behind Stegeman Coliseum. When it opened in 2007 at a cost of $30 million, it contained practice gyms, offices, locker rooms, and meeting space for three of Georgia’s major athletics programs. Eight years later, it’s still one of the best facilities of its kind in the nation. If that’s the bar set for the IPF, it should prove to be a very impressive showpiece for the football program.
The speculation should wind down soon: the athletic board will meet towards the end of May, and it’s likely that a site will be proposed and approved. The program hopes to begin construction as soon as the 2015 season (and postseason) wraps up, and the IPF should be ready in time for the 2016 season. With that timetable, decisions will need to be made soon, and the biggest decision – the location – could come within a month.
Friday April 24, 2015
Construction could begin on Georgia’s indoor practice facility as soon as January and be ready in time for the 2016 football season. Speaking at UGA Day in Rome last night, UGA president Jere Morehead discussed a possible timetable for the facility. They don’t want construction to disrupt the 2015 season, and there’s still a ways to go before all of the necessary approvals, site selection, and design work are ready.
We’ve had a look at where the $30 million facility might go, and a location somewhere adjacent to or including the current practice fields still seems to be the preferred option. We can see how construction in that area would affect football practice. There will still be some compromise: a project of that magnitude beginning in January will surely have a significant impact on events and parking at Stegeman Colisuem, Foley Field, and elsewhere inside the Vince Dooley Athletic Complex.
We should learn more after the May athletic board meeting.
Friday April 24, 2015
For all of the success that Mark Fox has started to bring to the Georgia basketball program, the start of the season remains a thorn in the program’s side. November in particular has been unpleasant, and nothing illustrates that frustration better than the current four-game losing streak to Georgia Tech. Fox’s teams have been a combined 24-25 in November games or in games up through the Tech game. The program is 11-18 in those games during the past four seasons.
Of course there are always mitigating factors. Kenny Gaines started the past season recovering from an illness that had wiped him out. November usually features a holiday tournament with some fair-to-exceptional competition, so these losses aren’t coming (for the most part) against RPI killers. The Dawgs usually find their wind, and this season’s unbeaten December after a 3-3 start helped to launch the team into the NCAA Tournament.
Righting the Tech rivalry on the home Stegeman Coliseum court should be an important milestone in next season’s quest for a consecutive NCAA Tournament bid. To that end, next season’s game won’t take place until December 19th. Of course there’s nothing magical about the date. The Dawgs have lost to Tech in both November and December during the current losing streak. But it should at least give the Dawgs an opportunity to overcome any preseason issues and acclimate a new frontcourt before this very important nonconference game.
The last time Tech and Georgia played that late in the season was in January 2010 when Mark Fox’s first Georgia team upset a Tech team ranked #17 at the time. More significant than the date though is the coach: Tech’s Brian Gregory hasn’t taken a team to the postseason in his four seasons, but he’s a perfect 4-0 against Georgia. The Dawgs should have the roster, the home court, and now the favorable schedule to end that streak.
Thursday April 16, 2015
After what athletic director Greg McGarity called a “national search,” he only had to look down the hall to find Andy Landers’ successor. Associate head coach Joni Crenshaw, a four-year member of the Lady Bulldogs staff, has been promoted to head coach.
At 36, Crenshaw is a grizzled veteran compared to when Andy Landers took the job at age 26. Crenshaw played her college ball at Alabama and has spent time as a key assistant and successful recruiter at, among other places, Alabama and LSU. She’s been with Georgia four seasons and was quickly promoted to associate head coach. She understands the standards set for the program and said that Georgia has the “resources, facilities, and support to do things on a national level.” Competing on a national level is exactly what’s expected of her.
For those who have been around the program during the past four seasons, this is a popular hire. Joni is well-liked, sharp, engaging, and exactly the energetic woman you’d want as the face of a program. She’s been impressive and a fan favorite breaking down opponents during the pregame “chalk talk” with boosters. She’s made many friends in Athens in her brief time at Georgia, and she has the relationships with other coaches and the media that you’d expect of the recruiting coordinator of a major program. We’ve heard that a bloc of Lady Dogs alumni were squarely in Crenshaw’s corner, and that’s a significant endorsement.
With that popularity in mind, it’s difficult to get an objective read on the promotion. Everyone is thrilled for her, and they should be. This is a tremendous opportunity and payoff for someone who has worked hard towards this moment. Both McGarity and Landers praised her “character” and “deep-rooted values and morals,” and those have become important traits for this program. Crenshaw called Georgia basketball a “people program,” and she has the personal foundation to keep it that way. Georgia fans can be confident that the emphasis on doing things the right way from the gym to the classroom will continue under Crenshaw.
The message implied by this promotion though is that the program was in good shape. Deputy athletic director and Lady Bulldog alum Carla Williams, a point person in the coaching search, said plainly, “The program’s not broken.” Andy Landers put things differently when he retired. “We weren’t doing what we built this thing to do,” he concluded.
True, a program two years removed from the Elite Eight isn’t a flaming wreck. If things were that bad, it would have been much easier to take action. What happened at Georgia was more gradual and prone to rationalization. Georgia hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1999, but they still made the tournament and occasionally advanced to the regionals. They didn’t have All-Americans but still had several quality all-conference candidates and occasionally had a WNBA draft pick. Georgia went from a title contender to, as Landers put it, “trying to figure out what we had to do to win a four-seed in the SEC.” Many teams would be happy with a fourth-place SEC finish, but it wasn’t what Landers had built and worked for. For better or worse, Crenshaw has been a part of that. It might be a positive that she’s had a front row seat to identify some of the issues, but she’ll also have the challenge of untangling herself from the inertia that led to the gradual decline of the program.
Some of that decline came in recruiting, and Crenshaw was brought on board in part to help shore up recruiting. She contributed to top 10 classes at both Alabama and LSU, but it’s been a while since Georgia has had a class like that. There has been some progress: the Lady Dogs signed two top-100 players a year ago and have another on the way in 2015. Still, Georgia has been on the outside looking in for some elite prospects in the state and region, and one of Crenshaw’s first tasks should be to reevaluate and rework the recruiting process in which she has played a major role.
To her credit, Crenshaw didn’t waste much time addressing one of the biggest recruiting deficiencies. “I want to talk directly to recruits in the state of Georgia,” she said in her opening statement. “You are our first priority.” With that stake in the ground, it will be interesting to see what actions take place beyond what the program was already doing. At the very least, there’s one opening on the staff with possibly more to come *. Crenshaw will have an early opportunity to make this a stronger staff and begin the tough job of marketing Georgia against some very stout competition.
* Though Crenshaw’s future husband is an accomplished assistant coach for a successful South Carolina program, do not expect him to join Georgia’s staff. Williams said such a possibility “wasn’t even asked about,” citing Georgia’s nepotism laws.
Promoting a program’s top assistant isn’t uncommon, but it’s often tough to follow a legend. Holly Warlick has managed several SEC regular season and tournament titles since replacing Pat Summitt, but even Warlick has faced criticism for a lack of Final Fours and national titles. Georgia has gone down this path several times whether it was with Ray Goff or Ron Jirsa or Jay Clark. While it’s unfair to project those results on Crenshaw, that’s the lens through which many Georgia fans will view this hire.
Crenshaw’s cultural fit is outstanding, and she has over a decade in the business to qualify her for the job. Whether she was the best candidate available or considered is another question with less clear answers. We don’t know who else was interviewed or even offered the job, though Williams confirmed that Georgia spoke with candidates participating in the Final Four. Notre Dame’s Niele Ivey was rumored to be a top candidate as well as Connecticut’s Shea Ralph and a couple of successful mid-major head coaches.
I really hope that this process didn’t come down to money. We’ve been through this with the football program, and the stinginess of the athletic department is a favorite hobby horse of Georgia bloggers. It was unlikely that Georgia was going to throw Dawn Staley money around and make that kind of a high-profile statement, though a major commitment to restore one of Georgia’s most successful programs wouldn’t have been beyond the pale. It would be more troubling though to learn that Georgia’s offer wasn’t even enough to attract assistant coaches from top programs, let alone successful head coaches.
It does Crenshaw no favors to compare her against hypothetical candidates. She was the best choice for the deal Georgia was willing to offer. It’s enough that she’ll be measured against the standards set by her predecessor. She’s correct that Georgia’s coach will have the “resources, facilities, and support” to get the job done in a state full of good basketball talent. Georgia’s returning roster is good enough to get her head coaching career off to a positive start, and a little early success will go a long way to raise her profile.
Thursday March 19, 2015
I might as well start here: I wouldn’t have met my wife had Andy Landers not given her a graduate assistantship. My reaction to his unexpected retirement on Monday isn’t going to be very impartial. So it’s been with much of the reaction I’ve seen this week – everyone has a story, a connection, or a personal memory.
As we reflect on Landers’ career, the relationships rise to the top. He has such a magnetic and ebullient personality that it’s impossible to start with anything other than the relationships. When you’re reading things like this from the media that covered the team, let alone the players he coached, you begin to get a sense of the presence that Landers developed in his 36 years in Athens.
For me, though, the relationships came later. The Red & Black writes that “Andy Landers will be remembered by his legacy as a leader and a man, not as just a coach. That’s true, and it’s the kind of sentiment you naturally turn to in these eulogistic pieces, but the “just a coach” part was what got me to follow the program.
He could coach. That seems silly to write about a guy pushing 900 wins, but it’s easy to get caught up in the caricature of Landers as the folksy cow farmer with the scowl on the court and the wry sense of humor off the court. He built his empire of over 850 wins, 20 Sweet Sixteens, 11 Elite Eights, five Final Fours, and two national title games by developing, teaching, and demanding that his teams play an uncomprimising style of basketball. His well-known tirades weren’t random outbursts; they were the consequences of falling short of the expectations of Georgia basketball. Landers knew when his players were capable of more, and almost always they were.
Basketball is what drew me to follow the team, and an appreciation of the game played and coached at a high level earned my respect long before I met the coach. I was hooked during the SEC Tournament run in 1993 when longshot Georgia knocked off highly-ranked Tennessee and Alabama on consecutive days to reach the finals. I was fortunate to be there during the march to the Final Four in 1995. I’ve seen the heartbreak in 2004 and 2013 when teams worthy of the Final Four came up just a possession short. Before you even get to know about the man on the sideline, this was a fun brand of basketball to watch and be around. For a basketball fan at Georgia looking for a taste of success, the men’s program was a perpetual tease. Landers delivered.
Two things stand out to me about Landers’ teams at their best: guard play and relentless pressure defense. I don’t mean to short the great forwards and posts to come through the program: Harris and McClain of course, Henderson, Thomas, Robinson, Humphrey, and others I could spend the rest of this post listing. But special guards became the hallmark of the program. It starts with Edwards. Roundtree and Holland were outstanding in the mid-90s. They were followed by the amazing backcourt of Nolan and the Miller twins. Sherill Baker was one of the best defenders you’ll ever see. Even towards the end, Houts and James developed into the backbones of their teams.
These guards and athletic forwards were essential not only for their scoring and floor leadership but also for executing Georgia’s press defense. The press went hand-in-hand with a tight man-to-man approach. Georgia’s bread-and-butter press was the 2-2-1 described here. As Landers noted, the press was an effective counter that made Georgia a difficult opponent. “Because most teams do not press, we do. By pressing, we upset offensive tempo, create excellent scoring opportunities, and win on off-nights.”
That formula worked for most of Landers’ career. With his best teams it was devastating, and his other teams could gain an advantage that helped them “win on off-nights” and pull some memorable upsets. So what’s changed? First, Landers’ observation that “most teams do not press” isn’t the case anymore. Enough teams run variants of press defenses either in their halfcourt defense or as a full-court press that it’s not an exotic experience to see pressure. Presses can be and are still effective even when you prepare for them, but it’s something teams face more often than not now in games and in their own practices.
The second change has to do with the roster. For several years Georgia has lacked the depth and the talent to run their preferred press, often falling back into a 2-3 zone in the halfcourt. Landers’ attention to defensive fundamentals has made Georgia a capable defensive team even in the leanest years. The difference has been the team’s ability to “create excellent scoring opportunities” as Landers described in his rationale for running the press. A team playing even an active 2-3 zone isn’t going to create the same turnovers and transition chances that you’ll get from full-court pressure. When your team thrives on those transition points, and especially when you struggle to generate points from your own halfcourt offense, getting away from the press is going to affect wins and losses.
We dug into the talent issue back in 2009, and many of the same points still apply. Georgia isn’t recruiting at the level it once did, and that’s limited what Landers has been able to do using the strategies that led to so much success. When he said that the past few seasons have been about “trying to figure out what we had to do to win a four-seed in the SEC,” it’s a by-product of recruiting. Elite talent has gradually given way to above-average talent that’s been good enough to make the NCAA Tournament and compete for a top-four SEC finish. It hasn’t been good enough to compete for titles at the national or even conference level, and that was the vision Landers had for the program. “We weren’t doing what we built this thing to do, and that responsibility is mine,” he admitted. I give him tremendous credit for that admission. Many people with the accomplishments and accolades that he’s earned have enough of an ego and enough sycophants around them that the situation can be rationalized. As Landers put it, he tried to spin the situation as human nature leads us to do, but it wouldn’t spin.
Though the ultimate responsibility does lie with Landers, it’s worth peeling back a few layers. We’ve used the 2003 departure of assistant and recruiting coordinator Michael Shafer as a dividing line. Georgia hasn’t appeared in a Final Four or won an SEC title since. That has less to do with Shafer than it does with the management of the program. Georgia has had difficulty finding and then retaining assistants who can perform at the level you’d expect of a national contender. It’s affected both recruiting and player development. Georgia’s current staff has been together about three years now, and that’s long enough to just start gaining traction after so much ground had been lost.
(A related thought: When you look at successful programs, a great head coach is often supported by at least one long-term assistant who’s as highly regarded among assistants as the head coach is among his or her peers. Every staff has turnover, but how many top programs have that one key experienced associate coach? Chris Dailey at UConn. Holly Warlick at Tennessee under Summitt. Nikki McCray-Penson at South Carolina. Amy Tucker at Stanford. Vic Schaefer at Texas A&M during their national title run. Carol Owens at Notre Dame. Bob Starkey at LSU. Georgia simply hasn’t had anyone in that league. As Georgia’s assistants have struggled with inexperience and a lack of continuity, Landers had to be much more hands on, and even the best coach can’t do it without a strong staff.)
To use Landers’ phrase, it shows how “spoiled” we’ve become to dissect a perennial NCAA Tournament program like this. But it was his vision and legacy that the program would have higher standards, and no one recognized the state of the program better than the man who built it. He didn’t need the athletic director or any of us to tell him that things had slipped from the expectations he had set. He just reached a point where he didn’t see a way back under his leadership.
It’s going to be tough going for Landers’ successor. There’s the whole following a legend thing, but there are more concrete concerns first. While the program won’t be starting from rock-bottom, any new coach will have to deal with the inertia of a very established culture. He or she won’t have to start from scratch teaching the expectations of winning or hard work, but there are bound to be conflicts against the inertia of a 30+ year way of doing things. Georgia has a capable group of rising seniors, and getting buy-in from that leadership from the start will go a long way for the sake of continuity.
Recruiting will be what makes or breaks the new coach, and he or she can have immediate success by improving Georgia’s in-state recruiting. The number of top prospects leaving the state is too long to list, and with powerful programs nearby at Tennessee and South Carolina, it will be a big but necessary job making Athens a destination for Georgia’s best. For the right coach, the Georgia position has much to offer: a talent-rich home state, a high-profile and competitive conference, an established and supportive fan base, outstanding facilities and resources, and the deep pockets of a successful SEC program. The tools are in place for a capable coach to attract (or keep home) the kind of talent it will take to reestablish Georgia as an SEC contender.
Those deep pockets will be put to as much of a test with this hire as they were during the football offseason. This isn’t the athletic department of 1994 when it took the threat of a lawsuit to properly pay its women’s coaches, but Landers still wasn’t on the cutting edge of compensation. Attracting a quality head coach and assembling the type of staff we described above will likely cost more than it did to retain the outgoing Hall of Fame coach. The wallet opened up for the football program after the 2014 season, and it will be interesting to see how aggressive the offer is to find Landers’ successor. South Carolina famously caused a stir when they offered Dawn Staley $650,000 in 2008, but that risk has paid off with a top 5 program.
I have no idea in which direction Georgia will or should go. There’s the sentimental instinct to look for someone with ties to Landers. Do you look outside the program for a fresh approach? Do you look for another young coach out of relative obscurity with the possibility of another decades-long run, or do you look for the security of an established veteran? When Andy Landers has been the only coach the program has known, there just isn’t a precedent to follow.
It’s been a sad few days reflecting on this inevitable transition. With any change though there’s the excitement and optimism that a new direction is the answer. Lady Dogs fans can look to the legacy of Andy Landers to know what’s possible at Georgia, but that same legacy will set some high expectations for the next coach. With a solid returning roster, some key pieces working back from injury, and some talented incoming freshmen, the opportunity is there for an immediate impact.
Tuesday March 10, 2015
We learned last month that the athletic department is going forward with an indoor practice facility (IPF).
Greg McGarity put out some information on Monday that talked a bit about the process (and why news to this point has been short on specifics.) More interesting is a series of renderings showing how an IPF might look in various locations around the current practice fields.
One thing to note is that the IPF won’t look exactly like the building you see, so don’t get hung up on the design. They’re using a generic facility to show how a building of similar size will sit in these locations. “Please understand the focus on these renderings centers only on the MASS of the facility in specific areas,” McGarity explained. “Architectural design will be developed as the process continues.”
The renderings make clear the tradeoffs in picking the location. It’s tight quarters. Some combination of existing buildings, existing practice fields, campus streets, and parking will be affected. While the perspective of the renderings make it tough to pinpoint the exact locations, we see several distinct locations under consideration.
- Some of the renderings lie in part of what we’ll call the “Hoke Smith Block” bordered by Lumpkin St., Carlton St., Sanford Dr., and Smith St. We’re shown versions that are aligned east-west as well as north-south. The north-south orientation cuts off Smith St. and replaces the smaller turf practice field below the track. The east-west version brings the facility closer to Stegeman Coliseum.
- Other configurations show the facility on the footprint of either a full-length turf or grass practice field. McGarity has insisted for several years that “we don’t want to disturb that environment” of “the first-class practice facility we have here with two grass fields and two turf fields.”
- At the same time, we’ve come a long way in a year. In December 2013, McGarity seemed resigned to the idea that “it’s gotta probably be out on South Milledge.” We know now that the focus is now much closer to the existing complex. Has McGarity’s stance on sacrificing a practice field changed as well? After all, is an outdoor turf field much different than an indoor one?
- Another possibility shows the facility placed in the area surrounded by Foley Field’s left field wall, the tennis complex, the Carlton St. parking deck, and the Rankin Smith Center.
Since we’re still in the proposal phase, it’s not worth spending time on the pros and cons of each location or guessing which is most likely. Each location shown will have some impact either on current football facilities or on campus infrastructure (or both).