Dink NeSmith isn’t your ordinary Georgia alumnus and fan. He’s a successful Athens businessman, publisher of newspapers throughout the southeast, former president of the Alumni Association, and chairman of the Athens ’96 Committee during the 1996 Olympics. He’s carried the Olympic torch. He is also an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the UGA Athletic Association. You get the point.
So when someone like Mr. NeSmith submits a guest column to the Journal-Constitution about the state of the Georgia football program, it gets one’s attention. This is the kind of fire and brimstone that will surely be circulated among countless e-mail chains and resonate with many in the fan base looking for answers (and any target for blame) after a troubling loss at Tennessee. Unfortunately, NeSmith’s column demonstrates that the emotions of college football can turn even respected pillars of the community into patronizing and spoiled know-it-alls.
Romanticizing the past has been a popular technique of coping this week, and NeSmith begins his column recalling the memory of watching Georgia beat Florida in the rain. Of course that 51-0 win in 1968 was two years removed from Steve Spurrier’s final season at Florida, but we’re not here to quibble over minor points about games from 40 years ago.
The larger point is that our dreamy recollection of the glory days necessarily smoothes over the bumps and ends up robbing us of perspective.
The legend of Erk Russell is still vivid, and the image of a bloody forehead serves as an icon for an attitude and an intensity associated with his defenses. But Russell’s story is an example that outward intensity and even scheme aren’t, by themselves, means to an end. Erk bled no less during disappointing 1977 and 1979 seasons than he did in 1976 or 1980. The tandem of Dooley and Russell had more than a couple of down seasons along the way including a few losing campaigns – a low point Mark Richt hasn’t come close to approaching in seven seasons. In this current climate, one wonders if Dooley and Russell would have lasted long enough to see Herschel, Buck, and Lindsay.
NeSmith makes a common assumption that millions of dollars, top recruiting classes, and world-class facilities are unique to Georgia and are a competitive advantage. In fact, those attributes are just the ticket to the party. They allow you to be competitive in the SEC. “Competitive in the SEC” is understating Mark Richt’s impact at Georgia. A petulant demand that “it’s past time for the investments to pay off” not two years after Georgia’s second SEC title under Richt is plain insulting. NeSmith, as a ticket holder for over 40 years, should know better. His tone is that of someone who jumped on the bandwagon in 2002.
When has Richt ever been embarrassed by Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer? He has a winning record over Phil Fulmer, one of the most successful coaches in the nation over the past 15 years. It is “unacceptable” for anyone, Athletic Board or not, to lecture Mark Richt in this manner while completely misrepresenting the state of the program. None of us knows whether the current slump is a temporary valley or a more permanent trend, but we also recognize signs that the staff isn’t complacent and satisfied with the status quo.
We also have the obligatory nod to academics. Though I believe a coach is not directly responsible for the graduation of his players, let’s say that he is. The most recent APR for Georgia football is second-best in the SEC and well above NCAA guidelines. As the APR is the NCAA’s measurement of eligibility and retention of current student-athletes, the “immediate and sustained improvement” that NeSmith sees fit to mandate is already underway. Anyone associated with the Athletic Board surely knows that fact.
None of us were pleased or even neutral about the performance we saw last Saturday. Most of us have vented about it one way or another in public or private, and we all have the right to voice our opinion no matter how vicious or blindly supportive it might be. But someone of NeSmith’s stature seeking out media venues at this time to air such vague and unverifiable claims of too often being “out-coached, out-hustled and out-classed” is different. When one’s opinion, especially in a public forum, is likely to be taken with such gravity, there is a responsibility to put a little more thought into it. You expect more than this fantasy compensation scheme.
As I noted up top, NeSmith is plenty connected. If he really desired a heart-to-heart conversation with Mark Richt or even Damon Evans, I doubt he would be turned away. I have to wonder about the motivation for dispatching this missive to the AJC and the Red & Black. Despite the backhanded “I believe in you,” is he serving public notice to Richt on his own or on behalf of a larger group of dissatisfied boosters? You can be fairly certain that the recruiting effort of which NeSmith so glowingly speaks will now have to deal with rumors of eroding support.
Sic ‘em, woof, woof!