Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post This isn’t South Carolina football

Saturday January 31, 2009

Bobby Knight might be interested, but hopefully the feeling isn’t mutual.

Post Lady Dogs send #4 Auburn to their first defeat

Friday January 30, 2009

A week ago, the Georgia women’s basketball team was reeling. They were 11-7 overall and 1-2 in the SEC. They hadn’t defeated a ranked team all season and struggled to break 50 points against the better teams they faced. Worse, two of their next three games were against Vanderbilt and Auburn. Both were ranked, both were undefeated in the SEC, and Auburn was a perfect 20-0 after running over Tennessee last weekend.

They pulled off the upset of Vanderbilt last Thursday. Then they survived a late game collapse against Alabama to come away with their first SEC road win of the season. But Auburn was an entirely different challenge. Georgia hadn’t defeated a top 5 opponent since Tasha Humphrey’s freshman season – a 78-64 win over Texas in November of 2004. It took over four years, but Thursday’s 67-58 win over Auburn couldn’t have meant more to a program that has completely turned their season around in just one week.

It started, as it has all season, with defense. An active 2-3 zone kept Auburn to more than 20 points off their season average, and the outside shot wasn’t falling for the Tigers. Player of the Year candidate DeWanna Bonner got her 27 points, but no other Auburn player could muster consistent offense. Georgia meanwhile found a balanced offensive attack with four players in double-figures. Angel Robinson was effective inside with 17 points, and a combined 25 from Marshall and Puleo gave the Lady Dogs a needed punch from the wing. A 15-4 run midway through the second half put them up by 11, and they hit free throws and avoided turnovers down the stretch to hold on for the win.

It was the program’s biggest win in a while and on the heels of last week’s win over Vandy gives Georgia a huge shot of confidence heading into February. Of course life gets no easier. Mississippi State is a tough team this year, and then it’s Tennessee in Knoxville next week. Georgia still has return games with Vanderbilt and Auburn left. They still don’t have the firepower on offense to overcome a letdown, but the defense has been a pretty consistent factor all year. Nothing is given though, and things would look a lot better with a win Sunday over Mississippi State.

Georgia is now 14-7 and 4-2 in the SEC. They’ve scored over 60 points in three straight games for the first time since early December. They’re just one game out of the SEC lead near the midway point of the conference slate. NCAA Tournament chances that seemed hopeless now, though hardly certain, seem much brighter. If they can win four of their eight remaining games, they’ll finish no worse than 8-6 in the SEC and 18-11 overall and in the top half of the conference. That would put them squarely on the bubble heading into the SEC Tournament, but with these very quality wins and with the fact that they are the host team for NCAA Tournament opening round games in Gwinnett, you’d have to like their chances.

Post As for the next coach…

Thursday January 29, 2009

The benefit of pulling the trigger now is that Georgia has plenty of time to consider prospective coaches. Most candidates will be coaching for at least another six weeks. Damon Evans can be as thorough as he needs to be with the decision, and the fact that Georgia is looking for a coach will be on the minds of interested candidates right away.

Rather than focusing on a random list of names at this time, I’ll be satisfied with this assurance from Evans’ press conference this morning (courtesy of Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com):

“I’ll say this. Our commitment and my commitment to build University of Georgia basketball is strong. And when I say strong, I’ll add very strong to that. We are going to go out and get the best possible person for this job. That may mean we have to commit more resources than we have in the past but I don’t want to hold us back from doing what we need to do to have a successful men’s basketball program.”

Translation: we’ll pay – and pay well – for the right coach.

Post Ultimately a failure of recruiting

Thursday January 29, 2009

The Dennis Felton era at Georgia is over. It began under a cloud and never really emerged. There were fits and starts but ultimately setbacks that eroded what progress had been made. A program that wanted to return its focus to the court couldn’t avoid damaging off-court incidents that cost it some of its best players. Fair or not, Felton was behind the 8-ball from the beginning, and his program never gained enough positive traction to bootstrap itself up from the pit in which it started.

In the short-term, the most important thing will be keeping much of the current team and recruiting class in place. This isn’t 2003 – there is no scandal from which to run away. Any releases this time, if requested, should be evaluated much more closely than during the "let ’em all go" period following the last coaching change. The collapse and loss of an entire recruiting class put Dennis Felton in an even tougher spot when he took over, and this is no time for history to repeat itself. The new coach will have enough challenges out of the gate, and keeping the core of the team intact should be a priority. The news that Pete Hermann will be taking over as an interim coach is a good sign. Hermann is respected and is the best person to keep the team from disintigrating.

A college head coach wears many hats, but the job boils down to this: get good players and put them in a position to succeed on the court. Much of the analysis of the Felton years will focus on the latter (win totals, lethargic offense, etc.), but what did him in was the inability to attract and retain enough quality players to field a consistently competitive team.

It was a two-fold problem. First was getting the players to begin with. The stigma around the program in 2003 didn’t help, and it begat a cycle where no one wanted to play for a bad team, so the team remained bad. There were a handful of recruiting successes. The first was Sundiata Gaines, a point guard from New York. Felton landed a handful of the top players from talent-rich Gwinnett County. Channing Toney, Louis Williams, Mike Mercer, and Billy Humphrey were all quality signings. The Dawgs even pulled in a top JUCO forward, Takais Brown.

It’s there that we come to the second part of the problem – retention. If you look over the list of Felton’s better signings, few lasted four years in the program. Louis Williams of course went right to the NBA as expected. Toney transferred, and Mercer, Humphrey, and Brown were all dismissed from the team. Georgia was actually making progress two seasons ago, but the knee injury to Mercer started a freefall that saw the 2007 season end just short of the NCAA Tournament, the dismissal of three key contributors within a year, and put Georgia in its current situation of almost no backcourt production. In this sixth season under Felton, only four players made it through four years with the program (Gaines, Bliss, Newman, and Stukes).

Is Dennis Felton a good coach? We might not be able to answer that. I don’t think anyone can argue that he had a complete team with which to work except for maybe a brief period in 2006-2007. But that of course is as much a part of the job as anything else. He was, by my own observation, an intelligent man with a good grasp for the game. That didn’t matter as long as the personnel remained incomplete.

To be fair and clear, this is not a new problem that began with Felton. Even Georgia’s more successful coaches faced recruiting problems. Tubby Smith did well with a solid senior class in his first season, but there is no question that his second team overachieved. Good coaching? Sure. Good recruiting? Not so much.

Even Jim Harrick couldn’t turn the tide. In fact, the situation Felton inherited was exacerbated by Harrick’s own recruiting problems. Between the 2000 class that gave us Rashad Wright and Chris Daniels and Felton’s first class in 2003 that included Levi Stukes and Steve Newman, Georgia did not add a single four-year player in 2001 or 2002 that stuck with the team. The Hayes twins were the only significant additions during those lean years. The result was that after the departure of the 2004 senior class, Felton was left to rebuild a program with only his rising sophomores.

When top-rated Atlanta center Derrick Favors chose Georgia Tech over Georgia recently, his reasoning was an indictment not only of Dennis Felton but also of Georgia basketball history.

"Just the history, how many guys Georgia Tech put in the NBA and how many guys Georgia put in the NBA."

Ouch. It’s that simple. Over the lifetime of a current high school senior, how many Bulldogs have made any kind of impact in the NBA? Maybe three: Shandon Anderson, Jumaine Jones, and Jarvis Hayes. Anderson and Jones aren’t in the league anymore, and Hayes is an 8 PPG guy. Georgia’s most celebrated players since Hayes are tough point guards Wright and Gaines – solid and admirable college players but not exactly pied pipers for NBA-quality talent. That legacy didn’t start with Felton, but it certainly didn’t improve with him either.

The situation at Georgia is and always has seemed ideal for success. You’re smack in one of the most talent-rich basketball regions in the nation. You have an athletic department with deep pockets that has shown its commitment to basketball with one of the best facilities in the nation. You have a large fan base that has shown it will support a winner and can turn Stegeman Coliseum into a vibrant home for college hoops. Thanks to a strong overall program, you have instant brand recognition. Even though the SEC is down this year, you still play in a major conference with plenty of TV exposure. Yet for all of these advantages, Georgia basketball has never been a consistent winner, and it starts with recruiting.

Job #1 for the next Georgia coach will be to do what no recent Bulldog coach, not even Smith or Harrick, was able to do: stop the flow of Georgia talent out of the state. Get that done, and all of the pieces are in place for a successful program.

On a personal note…

I can only speak for myself, but I found Dennis Felton to be an engaging and passionate man who had the highest goals and expectations for Georgia basketball. He jumped into a dire situation with great enthusiasm. Even with the wheels coming off he handled himself with professionalism and class. Though it didn’t work out, he ran his program openly and above-board. He’ll be just fine.

Post Felton out?

Thursday January 29, 2009

There is word this morning that embattled Georgia basketball coach Dennis Felton has been terminated. A press conference is set for 11 a.m.

Post Will Georgia be able to field a team this spring?

Wednesday January 28, 2009

ESPN will be at the G-Day spring game, but how many players will be available for the game? We already knew that 14 players would be unavailable for spring, and that number continues to grow with some pretty big names added to the list this week.

The latest Bulldog to join the roster of the injured is tailback Richard Samuel. Samuel had wrist surgery to repair ligament damage suffered during the Capital One Bowl. He will be in a cast for three months but should be fine by the start of preseason camp.

UGASports.com previously reported that DT Brandon Wood (shoulder/wrist) and OL Josh Davis (shoulder) will have surgery and should be unavailable for the spring.

Post Maybe Searels has it right

Wednesday January 28, 2009

Dawg fans have pounced on incoming freshman quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s observation about the already-noticeable difference in this year’s Bulldogs.

Last year I was around a lot, and the leadership wasn’t too great last year. I’ve been here three weeks and I can already tell that the leadership and the seniors, they want to win a championship again. They want an SEC championship. They want a spot to play for the national title. So far, the leadership has been outstanding in my opinion.

His comment is getting a lot of favorable play because it gives us another plausible explanation (and scapegoat) for what went wrong last season and also gives us hope for the coming season. The coaches remain the same and we lose several key contributors, but maybe a little shift in leadership and attitude will help to turn things around. It certainly helped Florida (though a couple of new coaches didn’t hurt the Gators either).

You didn’t have to be an Elite 11 recruit to wonder about Georgia’s leadership issues last season. We’ve been over that ground several times. We’ve also heard that things are a bit different this offseason, and the imperative is coming as much from the coaches as it is the player leadership. It’s positive to hear all of the right things coming from the players, but the leadership and attitude has yet to be tested against a very difficult 2009 schedule.

But seriously – three weeks? It’s not that Mettenberger might be entirely off-base, but is an incoming freshman who hasn’t even gone through a full practice yet really in the position and the place to contrast team leadership? Mettenberger’s proximity to campus and family ties to the athletic department did give him a chance to be around the program much more often than a typical prospect. There’s still a difference between being around the program and being in the program.

Post Slouching towards Corey Moon

Tuesday January 27, 2009

Yesterday’s news about defensive end prospect Toby Jackson turned out to be half-true and not in a good way. It’s true that Jackson will be headed to junior college instead of UGA next fall, but his destination has changed. Instead of playing for Georgia Military College, Jackson has enrolled at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana, Tex.

The story gets more interesting (and discouraging) with further details provided by UGASports.com. It’s no secret that Georgia coaches would prefer someone like Jackson at a friendly JUCO program like GMC, but apparently the quasi-military environment of Hargrave prep school turned Jackson off enough on the thought of another military school that he headed out to Texas.

Jackson maintains that he’ll still play for Georgia down the road if he is qualified and if the Bulldogs are still interested. Jackson, again, is someone who might have contributed as a true freshman in 2008, so it’s likely that Georgia will continue to recruit him if he stays on track. But as time and distance continue to increase between Jackson and Georgia, the odds of him ever showing up on campus decrease. Whatever negative experience he had in the structured environment at Hargrave, the path to major college football is still going to require a good bit of dedication, focus, and discipline on his part.

Long-time recruitniks will surely remember names like Cletidus Hunt, Andre and Peppi Zellner, and Corey Moon – all promising defensive linemen whose academic struggles kept them from ever enrolling at Georgia. The story doesn’t always end badly (Hunt and Peppi Zellner made it to the NFL), but Georgia’s history hasn’t been very good with prospects who don’t qualify out of prep school.

Post Things I don’t get

Monday January 26, 2009
  • How the UGA Athletic Association can use the “sovereign immunity” defense with a straight face and no shame against Decory Bryant. Come off it, UGA.
  • How this “100-0 win” story ends up with the winning coach getting canned for refusing to apologize for his team’s accomplishment. I doubt you’d find this outcome next fall after any lopsided Texas high school football games. The best lesson from all of this comes from the team that was held scoreless. They brushed it off and moved on – losing and losing big was nothing new to them. Too bad everyone else felt the need to manufacture outrage and go after the scalp of the guy put in the position of playing such a mismatched opponent.
  • What’s so wrong about Rep. Jack Kingston opposing a resolution honoring the national champion Florida Gators. Congrats to the Gators and all, but that doesn’t mean that Georgia fans have to like it. It’s a “no” vote, folks, and about as meaningful as any other rubber-stamp resolution that goes through the Congress. It’s not like significant (any) time or money was put into this thing.

    For those who like to complain that the Congress should find something more important to do with their time, the representatives don’t seem to be the only people with their priorities out of whack.

    Kingston spokesman Chris Crawford said the congressman got more phone calls on that vote than just about anything else he did that year — from Georgia fans congratulating him, and Florida fans chastising him.

Post Bad case of the Mondays

Monday January 26, 2009

Most areas of the 2008 Bulldog team were far from perfect, but I doubt I’d be alone in naming the pass rush as one of the top positions for improvement going into 2009. The defensive ends were hit by preseason injuries as hard as any group, and they struggled to make an impact during the season.

Prospects for upgrading the defensive end position took a big hit this morning when the recruiting services reported that Toby Jackson will not qualify out of Hargrave prep school and will instead enroll at Georgia Military College next season. Jackson was considered a likely contributor as a true freshman in 2008 before he failed to qualify out of high school, and Georgia coaches and fans had big hopes for him in 2009.

Georgia will continue to recruit Jackson, and he’ll have the option to be a JUCO transfer should he stay with it and complete enough hours at GMC. But that won’t help Georgia in 2009. The Dawgs have only one defensive end commitment in the current class – Montez Robinson. Robinson is a fine prospect, and it’s huge in hindsight that Georgia was able to get him away from Auburn after the coaching change over there. Robinson’s impact notwithstanding, Georgia is going to have to hope that improvement in the pass rush comes from a healthier group of relatively inexperienced returning players. As Anthony Dasher notes, a couple of position changes might not be out of the question.

Post Big win for the Lady Dogs

Friday January 23, 2009

It hasn’t been the best of seasons for Andy Landers and his team, and the reasons why are a subject for another day. Georgia got a badly-needed win and confidence boost against #18 Vanderbilt last night to move to 2-2 in the SEC and show that they still have a pulse. This was as good as quality wins get; Vanderbilt had already defeated Tennessee and LSU this season.

Georgia’s formula for success centered around post play. Vandy, already undersized, lost All-SEC candidate Christina Wirth for much of the game due to foul trouble. Georgia was able to attack inside with Angel Robinson and Portia Phillips from the opening tip, and Ashley Houts added enough punch from outside to challenge the Commodore defense. The Lady Dogs held a good-shooting Vandy team to under 40% from the floor and won both the rebounding and turnover stats.

It was far from a perfect effort. Free throw shooting was atrocious (19-35). Unnecessary turnovers continue to plague the team. The offense was stagnant for much of the second half, and production from the wing continues to be lacking. Those shortcomings which had contributed to losses earlier in the season proved not to be fatal on a night where Houts, Robinson, and Phillips all clicked. That trio is going to have to carry this team in many more games this year if Georgia stands a chance of finishing in the top half of the conference.

The Lady Dogs are in action again on Sunday at Alabama. Though Bama is 0-5 in the league, the road hasn’t been especially kind to Georgia this season. An 0-5 bottom-dweller should be easy pickings for most Georgia teams, but nothing has come easy this season.

As bad as the year has been for men’s hoops in the state, Thursday night was a bright spot for the women. Both Georgia and Georgia Tech notched significant upsets over ranked opponents.

Post David Greene to retire

Friday January 23, 2009

As one Bulldog quarterback prepares to enter the NFL, another has decided that his professional football days are over. The Albany Herald is reporting that David Greene has decided to retire. Greene was offered an opportunity to try out for the New York Giants but declined. “In my own heart,” he said, “I knew it was time for me to kind of move on.”

Though his pro career never really got off the ground, Bulldog fans will remember him for these accomplishments:

At Georgia, Greene started all four years (2001-04) and is NCAA FBS’ winningest quarterback with 42 wins in 52 consecutive starts. His career statistics for the Bulldogs were school records of 11,528 passing yards and 72 touchdowns and was the SEC’s 2001 Offensive Rookie of the year and 2002 Offensive Player of the Year. He also made a conference record of 214 consecutive pass attempts without an interception.

But what really sets Greene apart among Bulldog greats can be summed up in two plays.

Greene plans to settle in Gwinnett County with his wife and young son and work in the insurance field.

Post Hey, it worked for Florida

Thursday January 22, 2009

The ABH reports that ESPN will be in town to televise the April 11th G-Day game. You can count on them focusing on the QB and RB position battles, but hopefully they’ll pick up on some of the more subtle story lines too.

Of course G-Day conflicts with the Masters again, so I’m going to guess that attendance shouldn’t be more than the usual 20,000 or so. We’ll see if the ESPN presence will encourage a little higher turnout or if fans stay at home and watch the broadcast. It will also be interesting to see if Coach Richt livens things up a little more with the national spotlight on the game. G-Day has become more or less a let’s-get-through-this vanilla scrimmage over the past couple of years.

A national broadcast of the spring game and the exposure that comes with it is nothing but a good thing for the program. Will Joe Cox have his own magic moment with Erin Andrews?

Post Transitivity

Thursday January 22, 2009

It’s been a tough basketball season, so allow us to bask in the meaningless glow of being a team that beat the team that knocked off #1 last night. Congrats, Hokies. That December 9th win is looking to be Georgia’s highlight of the season thus far.

Post Juxtaposition

Thursday January 22, 2009

Haves and have-nots on the same campus

University of Tennessee officials are discussing how the athletic departments could increase efficiency and possibly generate more funding for academics as the UT system grapples with a projected state funding shortfall of at least $66 million.

In fiscal 2008, the UT athletic department generated a net surplus of about $5.04 million before making transfers of $4.54 million to support the UT system and Knoxville campus programs. Its operating budget is $87.8 million. Surplus funds go into what is “essentially a rainy-day fund” for the department, spokeswoman Tiffany Carpenter said.

You had to figure that in these tough times the disparity between athletic department performance and academic budget shortfalls would emerge as an issue. Georgia is in a similar boat as the university system faces large budget cuts while the UGA athletic department enjoys surpluses that makes Tennessee’s surplus look meager. Both the Tennessee and Georgia athletic departments are more or less distinct entities that aren’t supported by public money, and they do contribute millions of dollars back to their respective universities.

Regardless, the contrast between the financial performance and needs of the academic and athletics departments of these major universities will only continue to sharpen. Tennessee’s athletic department has made its own cuts and is looking at other ways to raise money for the university, but they have been anything but frugal when assembling their new football staff this month. SEC athletic departments will have even more money to spend as new television deals kick in, but public universities dependent upon taxpayer money will have to fight for their share of a smaller pie.