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Post Diamond Dawgs’ future shaky. Perno’s is not.

Thursday May 24, 2012

Last year the Georgia baseball team needed a deep run in the SEC Tournament just to increase its overall record to .500 in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. They responded with a series of improbable wins and were rewarded with the program’s third NCAA Tournament bid in four seasons.

Georgia seemed in much better shape heading into the home stretch of this season. They had split with defending national champ South Carolina, and they had swept Auburn. They headed into the final series against a weak Alabama team needing to win two of three games to clinch a winning conference mark. Instead of closing strong as they did a year ago, Georgia awaits the NCAA bracket with four consecutive losses and a two-and-BBQ exit from the SEC Tournament.

The Diamond Dawgs took the first game in Tuscaloosa but haven’t won since. During the four-game slide, Georgia has managed a total of just seven runs. The final game against Auburn ended in a way that summed up Georgia’s year-long struggles plating runners. Needing just one run to tie, the Dawgs could not bring home a runner from third with one out. Georgia’s batting average is third-best in SEC games, but only Tennessee scored fewer runs. In individual games, the inability to drive in runs could be seen as bad luck. Sustained problems in this area over the course of a season, coupled with a lack of power hitting in general, was not a good sign for a team that entered the season with much higher expectations.

The Diamond Dawgs began the year ranked in the top 20 and rose to as high as #8 on the back of a 10-1 record. A sweep by UCLA hinted that Georgia wasn’t quite ready for prime time, and losing three of their first four SEC series raised further questions. Georgia’s strength at pitching never became dominant, and an injury to closer Tyler Maloof diminished the bullpen. The team was able to point to close losses against good conference peers at Florida and LSU, but the inability to break through in those opportunities helped to turn Georgia from a conference contender to a team sweating its NCAA Tournament selection.

It’s debatable whether Georgia fans have ever been truly united behind David Perno – except for a few weeks in 2008 of course. The native Athenian and former Bulldog player was a controversial choice to follow the legendary Ron Polk if only because of Perno’s relative inexperience. Perno’s first two seasons didn’t do much to ease concerns. The Bulldogs didn’t post a winning conference record in 2002 or 2003, and there was already grumbling about the need for a change.

If Perno was ever in danger at that early stage, the 2004 season all but extinguished that talk. Georgia finished atop the SEC East and rolled into its first College World Series since 2001. But if fans put one foot on the bandwagon after 2004, the 2005 season kept them from taking that second step. Georgia followed up the trip to Omaha with a sub-.500 SEC mark. Thus began one of the more black-and-white sequences of success and failure you’ll find in sports. The Diamond Dawgs reached the College World Series in 2004, 2006, and 2008. They followed up each of those seasons with SEC records at or below .500. You’d think a program that made three trips to Omaha in five seasons would have established itself as a conference – if not national – power, but those valleys in between the peaks have made fan opinion regarding Perno as disparate as the records.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing since the near-miss in 2008. The remnants of that 2008 team gave Perno his first consecutive NCAA Tournament bid in 2009, but that squad was only .500 in the SEC and fizzled out in the regionals. The program went off a cliff in 2010 and posted an abysmal 16-37 (5-23 SEC) record. Georgia bounced back somewhat in 2011, but it took some magic in the SEC Tournament to even get to an overall .500 record. A promising 2012 season hasn’t gone much better. The valleys of the past decade were at least followed by memorable teams and deep postseason runs. It’s now been a while since 2008, and Georgia hasn’t been much more viable than a bubble team since.

To be sure, there have been some tough moments for the baseball program recently. The catastrophic injuries to Veazey and Taylor left deep marks not only on the emotional state of the team but also on the lineup. Maloof’s season-ending injury took away another key asset this year. These events, not to disregard their human toll, had real implications on Georgia’s competitiveness. At what point, though, do those tragic events become crutches for unrelated performance problems?

This stagnation led to more and more questions regarding Perno’s future, and it’s come to the point that athletic director Greg McGarity has had to address those questions. McGarity confirmed in no uncertain terms that Perno would return for 2013. “It’s not even an issue,” McGarity declared at a meeting of the athletic board.

This isn’t meant to be a defense or an indictment of Perno. It is, though, an attempt to understand the expectations that the athletic department has of the Georgia baseball program. McGarity will be held to his own rubric for evaluating coaches which includes this expectation: “Develop a program that is competitive in the SEC and nationally, understanding that the definition of ‘competitive’ is different from sport to sport.”

That’s what’s puzzling about McGarity’s statements about the state of the program. Over the long term, and that matters, Perno has taken Georgia to half of its College World Series. His teams have been competitive, but whether they are now and will be is up for discussion. What’s troubling is that McGarity seems to be defining “competitive” down when it comes to baseball. Pointing out that most everyone, save for a few top teams, is roughly .500 is fine – unless your goal is to be one of those top teams. Imagine a discussion of Georgia football’s competitiveness that began by excluding Florida or Alabama. Yes, the Diamond Dawgs are competitive relative to the middle of the pack in the SEC, if that’s how the definition of ‘competitive’ works for baseball.

The timing is also important because there’s more at stake than the immediate well-being of the baseball program. In addition to some minor work slated for Foley Field in the short-term, McGarity spoke today of his plans for about $10 million of more significant improvements to the long-neglected facility. McGarity plans to raise the first $5 million before coming to the board for the rest. It stands to reason that the head coach would be central in any fundraising activity. Even with Perno’s position secure for another year, this major facilities project begins with a polarizing coach at the helm whose future will be a topic as soon as the tarp comes off the field next season.

Post Athletic board tackles contracts, facilities, student tickets

Thursday May 24, 2012

Georgia’s athletic board met today, and as usual personnel and facilites issues dominated the agenda.

The glacial pace of contract extensions for Mark Richt and Todd Grantham continues. Athletic director Greg McGarity outlined the details of Richt’s new contract, but the contract remains incomplete and was not voted on by the board. Richt’s base salary would remain more or less steady, but his performance bonuses would be doubled. The contract will also allow Richt additional opportunities for money from “off-field sources,” including commercials. Meanwhile, Grantham’s deal is agreed to in principle but still remains “in the lawyers’ hands” and incomplete.

The board also approved several minor facilities upgrades. Scoreboards at the baseball, softball, and soccer fields will be improved. Gate 10 at Sanford Stadium (the field-level “Dawg Walk” entrance) will also receive attention. Foley Field will get $1.35 million in minor work that will touch everything from the press box, entrance, Kudzu Hill, and the trees behind left field.

The topic of student tickets came up. We’ve encouraged McGarity and the board to look at the issue, and I’m glad it was discussed. As President Adams noted, “the students have not held up their end of the bargain” in efforts to increase student turnout. This will likely remain a problem as the 2012 schedule lends itself to unattractive opponents and early kickoffs. Still, if the problem with student attendence is less about interest and more about allocation, it’s right for the board to consider action. It seemed odd though that one of the proposals would give freshmen priority in obtaining tickets. Adams was concerned about rewarding 5th-year seniors through a seniority system, but should freshmen receive priority in anything?

Post Missouri quarterbacks line up to avoid Georgia

Tuesday May 15, 2012

Georgia’s defense has to have the quarterbacks of the SEC a little on edge this year, but Missouri’s signal callers are going to new lengths to avoid being under center when Georgia visits early in the season. Due to a combination of arrests and injuries, the availability of each of Missouri’s top three quarterbacks is now in question.

First, third-stringer Ashton Glaser was arrested back in March for failure to appear, and he got a punch in the face for his trouble. No suspension has been issued yet, but we’d be surprised if the hammer came down for some unpaid traffic tickets.

Soon after Glaser was arrested, the program announced that starter James Franklin would miss the rest of spring and much of the summer after undergoing surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder. The Tigers don’t expect that Franklin will miss any games in 2012, but any change to the recovery timetable could affect his readiness for the first game, if not the Georgia game.

And today we learn that backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser was arrested on charges of leaving the scene of an accident. As the Kansas City Star reports, “Berkstresser, a redshirt freshman, spent most of the spring as the team’s No. 1 quarterback” in relief of the injured Franklin. No disciplinary actions have been announced yet.

We’re looking forward to a game in which one team has no defensive backs and the other has no quarterbacks.

Post WBB adds two assistant coaches

Friday May 11, 2012

Andy Landers has filled the two vacancies on his staff with a pair of nice additions. Angie Johnson has been an assistant at the D1 level for 18 years with the last 15 spent at FSU. Assistants with that kind of seasoned experience aren’t common and don’t become available often, and it’s something that’s been missing from the Georgia program for the past several years. She also served as Florida State’s recruiting coordinator and will join another solid recruiter, Joni Crenshaw, who remains on the Georgia staff.

Johnson is joined by former University of Alabama assistant Robert Mosley. Mosley has only been a college assistant for two seasons, but he built one of Alabama’s most successful high school programs with four state titles in seven seasons.

The Lady Dogs’ staff took a hit during the offseason with the departure of Cameron Newbauer (Louisville) and Travis Mays (Texas). The hires announced this week do a lot to fill those voids and bring new strengths and experience to the Georgia bench. They should be well-received by Georgia fans, and they’re right in line with what Georgia needs to capitalize on a strong and veteran roster in the upcoming season.

Post Jarvis Jones makes the Phil Steele cover

Friday May 11, 2012

The anticipated 2012 Phil Steele magazine launches on June 5th. Today Steele previews his covers and the 41 players who will grace the various regional versions of the magazine. Georgia’s All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones is featured on the SEC cover.

Phil Steele cover

Post Summer reading

Friday May 11, 2012

During the summer break, Georgia’s football team, like most students, scatters. Many remain in Athens to condition and attend summer classes. Others head home or to camps for some specialized training. Rising seniors Christian Robinson, Ty Frix, and Arthur Lynch are spending the semester in the University’s study abroad program in Cortona, Italy.

Robinson has started a blog to chronicle the experience. It should be an entertaining journal – give it a follow.

Post Bigger stadiums look better on TV

Thursday May 10, 2012

Maybe it’s because I’m caught up in this malaise of being a Georgia fan awaiting this home schedule, but I’m having a tough time reconciling what’s going on elsewhere in the SEC. About half of the stadiums in the SEC are increasing capacity. I suppose it’s necessary in the never-ending facilities race, but can Ole Miss even in its best years support a capacity of 70,000?

There seem to be two diverging vectors. You have the additional money pouring into a sport that’s as popular as ever, and that money gets turned into bigger and better facilities. On the other hand, attendence nationwide is stagnant at best. Games are ubiquitous on television, and that generates much of the massive windfalls associated with the sport, but that same widepsread coverage provides a pretty powerful incentive to stay at home – especially when it’s not a hyped game. Add crystal-clear HDTV, climate control, restrooms, a grill, a stocked fridge, and a few friends, and watching the game in Media Room Stadium can be very appealing. Attendence, especially at a major program, can’t be described as anything but a hassle. Climbing ticket prices, donation requirements, parking fees, and traffic all combine to make it an expensive and trying hobby. Even the experience of tailgating comes with a price tag at some schools (and soon ours?)

So why do we go? There’s still nothing like being there. You’re willing to put up with a lot for that moment when the team runs on the field or to be a part of the explosion of noise when Rambo turned Sanford upside down against Auburn last year. You’re less likely to put up with it for an early kickoff against Buffalo.

I don’t really think kickoff time matters. A weak schedule isn’t going to generate much more excitement at 1:00 than it is 7:00. Fans who struggle to arrive at such games on time will be the first ones to get on the road for a night game when the Dawgs have a 30-point halftime lead. And, as much as we put this on Adams and anti-tailgate people, I don’t really blame the school. Georgia’s campus has seen a construction boom (with more to come), and that means fewer places to park people for one of the nation’s largest stadiums. There aren’t many good solutions, and some of the better ones might involve a fee.

Maybe Ole Miss and other SEC schools putting money into bigger stadiums haven’t hit this critical mass yet. Alabama’s unprecedented demand seems like it could go on forever, but all it takes is the wrong coach to turn the expanded Bryant-Denny into what’s happening at Neyland.

Post How 92 yards passing makes you a top NFL prospect

Thursday May 10, 2012

Since I seem to be questioning SEC quarterbacks this week, here’s another. CBS has updated its 2013 NFL prospect rankings. Here are the quarterbacks. The list makes as much sense as any arbitrary set of rankings, but then you come to the seventh name on the list.

That’s right – it’s a guy who couldn’t break through the muddled LSU quarterback picture last year and finished the season with 92 yards passing against Northwestern State. He now rates as a first or second round prospect according to CBS.

I understand all the usual caveats. It’s based on potential and not production. Potential has been the watchword with Mettenberger since high school. He has the stature and the arm that scouts drool over. The production has yet to catch up. Oconee transitioned from an option offense to feature Mettenberger, but he only put up 29 touchdowns over his two seasons as starter. (By contrast, Murray, LeMay, and Mason all had at least 28 touchdown passes as high school juniors alone.) He failed to make a splash last season, but, OK, we’ll grant that Lee and Jefferson were pretty entrenched (but not good enough to hold off a worthy challenge).

He’ll get another chance this year with LSU to show why he remains a favorite of those who stress measurables. His 2012 spring scrimmage was a mixed bag, but Mettenberger did show the ability to bring a vertical passing game to the LSU offense. If he does have the kind of a year that makes him a legitimate first or second round pick next April, the Tigers should have a much smoother experience with their quarterback this year. It will take a heck of a transformation though.

Post Vote of confidence

Wednesday May 9, 2012

The interesting part about this isn’t the comment about Spurrier’s handling of Garcia. Garcia’s nine lives are the stuff of comedy legend. It’s the “We frankly didn’t have anybody else.”

The “anybody else” that South Carolina didn’t have is now the starting quarterback for a team with top 20 and perhaps even SEC East title hopes and expectations. Connor Shaw did well last year once Spurrier finally parted ways with Garcia. South Carolina lost only once, at Arkansas, after Shaw took over. He performed especially well in the Gamecocks’ final two games against good Clemson and Nebraska teams – 5 passing TDs, 2 rushing TDs, and zero interceptions.

Still, this is a guy who spent the first half of last seasons with as many DNPs as he had appearences. Now he enters his first season as the established starter. Of course it’s not unheard of for seldom-used reserves to become effective starters when given an opportunity. Shaw’s chances for success will be bolstered by a stout defense and one of the nation’s best tailbacks. Is the comfort level with Shaw at South Carolina more or less settled science after the way he finished 2011, or does he still have something to prove?

Post Hail to the chief

Tuesday May 8, 2012

I have nothing much to add as the Big East leadership struggles with being a basketball conference bankrolled by football. It is another reminder, though, that when we talk about the SEC, Big East, or even the NCAA, we’re talking about the collective will of a group of college presidents. Athletic directors are hired as operating executives, but it’s the presidents who are charged with oversight and charting the strategic course for college athletics.

A college president’s outlook on college athletics is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty far down the list of priorities when you’re looking to fill the office. Still, Georgia’s next president will share governance of the nation’s most powerful conference with just thirteen peers, and his or her influence could reasonably be expected to be greater than a 1/14th share. Michael Adams used his time as chairman of the NCAA executive committee to beat the drum for changes to the college football postseason over four years ago. His ideas were panned as sour grapes following the 2007 season, but, well, here we are.

Post Adams to step down, now what?

Thursday May 3, 2012

Adams - UgaUniversity of Georgia president Michael Adams will step down effective June 30, 2013. Dr. Adams will have been at Georgia’s helm for 16 years when he leaves office and takes on a new role with the University.

Adams, for better or worse, has been very involved in Georgia’s athletics during his 16 years. That involvement has included everything from policy and personnel decisions to putting his tail in a seat and being as much of a fan as any of us. As enrollment and stadium capactity has grown, Adams has also had to be active in areas where the interests of the University collide with the fan experience. Adams has been especially visible in combating Georgia’s party school reputation both on campus and on game day. Those clashes have made Adams a very polarizing figure, and that’s even before we look at the purely academic side of things (which we won’t).

I know there are those doing cartwheels over the announcement this morning, but this is very much a wait-and-see moment. The process to select a replacement will be, as always, as much a political one as anything. The focus will be on the governor and the Board of Regents, and if you trust those parties to approach this decision without considering their own interests, you also likely think that a college football playoff is all about the fans. A polarizing president is one thing, but behind-the-scenes power plays by relatively anonymous and unaccountable regents isn’t a better condition.

I’m not sure a lot of people know what they want the next president to be – other than “not Adams.” At this level of academic leadership, there’s a rather narrow spectrum of possibilities. Certain personalities stand out – think Gee or Machen – but it’s rarely for the better. “Ego” comes with the job. Shrinking violets don’t rise through the ranks to become department chairs and deans and seek out the leadership of a major research university. The next president will have to be a political animal. With budgets constantly under scrutiny and many constituencies inside and outside of campus, he or she has to be ambitious, savvy, and – at times – ruthless.

Maybe folks just want someone who will leave the football program alone, but we know how unrealistic that is considering how many points of contact there are between the highly-visible program and the University. The president will speak for Georgia’s interests in the SEC and the NCAA. The policies he or she supports and implements will affect the student-athlete experience and the future of coaches like Mark Richt. Adams was outspoken and controversial at times, but his departure leaves a very large vacuum. It’s not a given that this vacuum will be filled by some ideal benevolent football-friendly president who instructs the campus police to chauffeur football players home from downtown and who lets you park an RV on the North Campus quad on Wednesday afternoon.