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Post Let the second-guessing begin

Thursday July 30, 2015

It’s unavoidable that Brian Schottenheimer will be compared with Mike Bobo. Hopefully the transition will go well, and we’ll only have to tune out the minority that is already hard at work dreaming up the clever equivalent of “Coach Booboo.” If things go less smoothly, you can already hear the Bulldog Hotline calls asking about this:


Post An unlikely key to Georgia’s offense

Thursday July 30, 2015

Which player on offense could Georgia least afford to lose this season?

Yes, the discussion pretty much starts and stops with Nick Chubb. I’d put Malcolm Mitchell up there too.

But in terms of Georgia’s offensive identity, the running back position is still fairly deep. Productivity would reasonably fall without Chubb (knock wood), but I could see the approach remaining the same. I’m thinking more in terms of which players the coaches need in order to run what they want to run.

We’ve read more this offseason about the possible role of the tight end in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. The Dawgs targeted big, tall targets in the 2016 recruiting class including Garrett Walston and Charlie Woerner, and they might be back in the picture for the nation’s top HS tight end, Isaac Nauta. Georgia is placing an emphasis on the position in recruiting, and Schottenheimer won’t waste much time involving the current tight ends in his offense. With that in mind, I tend to focus in on Jay Rome.

Rome, now a senior, was as much a part of that heralded 2011 class as Malcolm Mitchell or Ray Drew. Rome made an impact right away as a freshman with 11 catches, 152 yards, and touchdowns against both Tech and Alabama. But that promising freshman campaign remains his most productive. Much like Mitchell, another key veteran in 2015, injuries have derailed Rome’s attempts to top that freshman season. And again like Mitchell, Rome is as healthy as he’s been. More important, Rome’s had time to regain the conditioning and strength that were missing last year in the wake of his injury.

With a healthy and conditioned Rome, Georgia is deep at tight end. He and Blazevich have starting experience. Jordan Davis has paid his dues and showed at G-Day that he won’t be lost in the new offense. Jackson Harris might be a true freshman, but he was an early enrollee who went through spring and was among the top 10 high school tight ends a year ago. Quayvon Hicks(*) is now in his second season at the position. It’s not hard to imagine some effective multiple TE combinations from that group.

Without Rome, the picture changes. The position becomes much younger. Though Hicks and Davis are upperclassmen, they’re very much unproven. Harris is a true freshman. Blazevich had a fantastic freshman season but is still only entering his second season. Can he carry a position from which much more is expected this season? There is still depth, but you start to wonder if the group behind Blazevich is ready for a multiple tight end look to be a regular and dependable part of Georgia’s offensive approach. With Rome, you’re much more comfortable with a younger or less-experienced player being used situationally.

For their own sakes, I really hope Rome, Mitchell, and also Keith Marshall can put their injuries and frustrations behind them and enjoy some personal success as seniors. If Georgia plans on using the tight end position to compensate for a thin group of receivers and a newcomer at quarterback, it would be much more difficult, if not impossible, without a healthy Jay Rome.

(*) – Hicks. Barrels of ink and enough bytes to fill a server farm were spilled last August with the news that Hicks was moving to H-back. Oh, the possibilities. I don’t think many of us expected he’d have fewer receptions as an H-back than he did in 2013 as a fullback. Maybe I’m still numb from his adventures on the kick return team, but Hicks is another player who can really change his legacy at Georgia with a productive senior year.


Post Preseason depth chart

Monday July 13, 2015

With SEC Media Days underway this week, news about the 2015 season is starting to trickle out.  Marc Weiszer has a photo of Georgia’s 2015 preseason depth chart.

Of note:

  • Of the freshmen and transfers, only the early enrollees are listed. So you’ll see Jackson Harris but not Trenton Thompson or Greyson Lambert.
  • Ramsey as the first quarterback listed (Weiszer noted that it was not co-#1s).
  • Kublanow starting at center, Wynn starting at guard.
  • Isaiah McKenzie as a starting WR.
  • Aaron Davis holding onto a starting CB spot. 

Not too many suprises – this is basically the post-spring depth chart and consistent with the little bit of news since then.  The newcomers haven’t shaken things up yet, and we know better than to chisel these things in stone before the season opener.  Still, it sets the pole position for some of the more interesting positional battles that will unfold over the next six weeks.   


Post Ruga Retirement

Monday July 13, 2015

It was mentioned almost as an afterthought at Saturday’s Countdown to Kickoff event in Athens: “Oh, yeah.  Uga IX will be retiring this year.  Here’s his likely successor.”

Details of the relatively low-key announcement were soon reported.  Uga IX, formerly known as Russ, will hand over mascot duties at some point during the 2015 season.  The successor hasn’t been determined yet, but there is a pool of three candidates.  At Saturday’s event, fans got to meet Que, a two-year-old grandson of Uga IX, and Que was observed to see how he’d handle crowds and the heat.  It wasn’t mentioned whether the other candidates would get a similar tryout, but Picture Day in August would be one possible opportunity.  

[Click here for a gallery of pictures of Que from UGASports.com]

At over 11 years of age, Uga IX has had some health issues and is in the later years of the lifespan of an average bulldog.  Russ served as an interim mascot beginning in 2009 between Uga VII and VIII, and he resumed interim duties after Uga VIII died in 2011.  He was promoted to Uga IX in 2012 and has served as mascot since.   

The date of the transition wasn’t announced either.  Sonny Seiler indicated that it would likely happen later in the season after the weather cools. But that brings up a very important question:


Post SEC Network Takeover on July 3rd

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.


Post What I meant to say…

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.


Post Bulldog Bytes blogger roundtable

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.


Post The IPF location of the day

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.


Post IPF timetable taking shape

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.


Post UGA-GT hoops game gets a later date

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.


Post Joni Crenshaw introduced as new Lady Dogs head coach

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.


Post Andy Landers steps down after 36 seasons

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.


Post UGA and UNC to open the 2016 season in Atlanta

Friday February 20, 2015

Georgia and North Carolina will open the 2016 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome on September 3, 2016.

It’s been a long time coming. Georgia and Carolina have played 30 times with Georgia holding a 16-12-2 advantage. Outside of current SEC members, only Georgia Tech and Clemson have been more frequent Georgia opponents. In fact, the Dawgs have faced North Carolina more times than they’ve faced four SEC West schools. But the Dawgs and Tar Heels haven’t met since the 1971 Gator Bowl when brothers Vince and Bill Dooley squared off in a 7-3 Georgia win.

Rekindling the series has come up several times in the 40+ years since, most recently in 2009 when talks were underway for the 2010 and 2011 Kickoff Classics. UNC ended up playing LSU in 2010, and of course Georgia opened with Boise State in 2011.

Personally, this is the best matchup I could ask for – the team I grew up supporting against my alma mater. My only quibble is that this was a missed opportunity for a series. The history between the two programs is there. Athens and Chapel Hill are iconic college towns with two top public Southern universities. The stadiums even share a common heritage. Kenan Stadium isn’t huge, but its picturesque setting among the pines is worth visiting. It was built by T.C. Atwood who then designed our own Sanford Stadium. I’ve said my peace before about giving up home games for neutral sites, but it especially applies for these two teams: fans of both schools are giving up the chance to visit another classic college town and stadium in order to close down a soon-to-be abandoned dome in downtown Atlanta.

I get why a home-and-home would have been tough to do. Georgia is headed to South Bend in 2017, so the return trip wouldn’t happen any time soon. The neutral site game gets us off the hook at the cost of a 2016 home game against a lesser opponent. Neutral site games also charge a premium for tickets, so there will be a minor financial windfall. Georgia received $1.7 million for the 2011 game against Boise State, so we’d expect at least $2 million this time around. Those 2011 tickets were $55 – higher than a $40 home game but still towards the low end of neutral site games.

If this is the only way to make a game between UGA and UNC happen, so be it. I hope it’s a starting point to consider an on-campus series in the future.


Post A possible indoor facility compromise – at what cost?

Tuesday February 17, 2015

Discussion of Georgia’s eventual indoor practice facility (IPF) has always come back to this tough choice: do you sacrifice existing outdoor practice fields for the on-campus location, or do you sacrifice convenience to build exactly what you want out on South Milledge Ave?

Seth Emerson, previewing a Tuesday Athletic Board meeting at which an IPF will be on the agenda, suggests that another location has emerged as a possible compromise that provides both a convenient location and a way to retain the outdoor fields. This location though raises another set of concerns. Emerson writes:

…one site has emerged as a possibility: The area just beyond the existing outdoor practice fields, off of Lumpkin Street, leading up to Stegeman Coliseum.

Other locations had not been ruled out as of last month: An off-campus area off Milledge Avenue, or tearing up one of the existing outdoor fields and building it there. But the location off Lumpkin seems a good compromise, keeping the existing facilities but not having it far from the Butts-Mehre building.

That location, “just beyond the existing outdoor practice fields,” is the block bordered by Lumpkin Street, Carlton Street, Sanford Drive, and Smith Street. It’s the site of the Hoke Smith Building, the Hoke Smith Annex, and a large parking lot that serves the Hoke Smith complex as well as athletic events during off-hours.

The location is ideal until you consider the buildings already occupying the site. Displacing typical academic buildings would be a tough enough sales job to the University community. These buildings house the University’s Cooperative Extension Service – essentially the state’s home base for CES outreach and 4H. It’s not as if these services would go away, but relocating them would draw statewide interest.

The political cost is just the start. The expense of a new CES location would obviously add to the cost of the practice facility. Would UGA or the athletic department foot that bill?

Would there be a way to preserve the buildings? Not realistically. If you try to shoehorn in a facility with the exact footprint of a practice field, the hulking football facility would just about touch the buildings and require the closure of Smith Street and Sanford Drive. And of course the facility will take up more space than the outline of a practice field.

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So we’re left with this: if you take over the block completely, there seems to be ample space for a full-size indoor field with a nice buffer of greenspace around it. Personally, as someone who attends a lot of events at Stegeman, I’m not looking forward to losing those parking spaces, but that’s something I’ve said every time a new University building goes up. It’s worth pointing out that this solution is just one of several being considered, and we’ll learn more as the board discusses the future facility.

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Post Georgia names Brian Schottenheimer as new offensive coordinator

Friday January 9, 2015

The Georgia football program announced on Wednesday the selection of Brian Schottenheimer as the team’s new offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer will replace Mike Bobo who took the Colorado State head coaching position back in December. Schottenheimer, who served as the offensive coordinator for the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams, had considered other opportunities to coach college ball in the South and finally pulled the trigger when the Georgia position became available.

I have to admit that my first reaction was reflexively negative – perhaps it had to do with an aversion on principle to NFL coaches, or as Dawg Sports put it, “Schottenheimer joins the ranks of other NFL offensive coordinators who have gone on to have great careers as offensive coordinators in the SEC, such as ________. And _______.” Or, in the words of Blutarsky, “Bobo’s departure doesn’t come as a relief.” I was in no rush to see Bobo leave the program and would have been just fine paying him Schottenheimer-level money* to keep the status quo.

(* – We don’t know yet the terms of Schottenheimer’s deal, but this was a guy making $1.5-2 million as an NFL coordinator. He might be willing to take a cut to get his foot in the door of the right situation if coaching college ball is his objective, but he still figures to command a deal worth more than Georgia has been paying its coordinator. It will be interesting to learn, if we ever do, whether Bobo was indeed offered a similar deal to remain in Athens or if the rumors that Georgia didn’t do much in the way of a counter-offer are true.)

So after the mixed results with Grantham and after watching Weis flame out at Florida, we are understandably jaded about plucking another coach from the NFL. He might well be the exception to the rule – I am only aware in the most general sense of his track record in New York and St. Louis, the personnel issues he dealt with in both situations, and the coaches for whom he worked. One benefit of our Grantham experience is the learned lesson that an NFL resume in itself is no talisman. The college game has its own unique demands and challenges, and there’s not much to go on when we try to map Schottenheimer’s experience to our expectations for what he’ll do at Georgia.

One of the key dynamics to watch will be the Schottenheimer-Richt collaboration. Schottenheimer’s head coaches in New York and St. Louis were defensive guys who (within reason) delegated the offense. It’s the opposite at Georgia. Richt has (again, within reason) been hands-off with his defense and even allowed fundamental scheme changes like the switch to a 3-4 system in 2010. That’s not happening on offense. Richt was clear heading into this hire that “were gonna continue to do what we do offensively.” Though Richt may have handed over playcalling over eight years ago, he still has very specific expectations for the offense, and anything Georgia runs will have Richt’s stamp of approval and oversight.

Will that dynamic constrain Schottenheimer or will it allow him to grow? Richt has always run a “pro-style” offense, but that vague label has applied even as the offense evolved during the Richt-Bobo partnership. Of course there was plenty of the usual I-formation or shotgun, but we’ve also seen the use of pistol and wildcat. We’ve seen the use of tempo as a strategy. Those are just a few of the wrinkles that gave Georgia the flexibility to go from featuring one of the conference’s most prolific passers to producing eye-popping results on the ground without skipping a beat. So even as Richt insists on a certain identity, there’s still room for creativity,innovation, and growth within that framework.

With scheme more or less settled, there are a few other challenges for the newcomer.

Recruiting

Jeremy Pruitt has gone on a tear restocking the defensive side of the roster. He’s pretty much had to – attrition and recruiting shortcomings had left things in a state where walk-ons and freshmen have been forced into action. Schottenheimer comes into a better short-term situation. The tailback position looks great, there are returning veterans at receiver and tight end, the line will be about as seasoned as it gets, and there will be a good pool of quarterback candidates.

Schottenheimer will have a similar opportunity to recruit the next wave of stars for Georgia’s offense, but, again, Richt has established the parameters. “The skill sets that we’ve recruited for, they have nothing to worry about, because we’re gonna use them to their fullest.” Schottenheimer’s first job is holding together some important 2015 and 2016 commitments, and Richt’s promise is a none-too-subtle message to reinforce Georgia’s position with those commitments and prospects. The recruiting services have already reached out to those prospects, and the responses have been positive for Georgia and Schottenheimer.

Bobo’s role as a recruiter was about as important to Georgia as his playcalling role. The Thomasville native had the connections to make deep inroads for the program into South Georgia. Bobo wasn’t only involved with quarterbacks and other offensive skill prospects; he was Georgia’s man for many high-profile South Georgia defenders from Ray Drew to Trenton Thompson. It’s going to be tough for Schottenheimer to take over without the same homegrown network, and it’s going to take a collaborative effort to maintain Georgia’s advantages in that important area of the state.

Teaching

As the quarterbacks coach Schottenheimer will be asked to continue what’s become the golden age of Georgia quarterbacking. Four of the seven quarterbacks who started for Bobo and Richt earned an NFL roster spot, and even in the transitional seasons of 2009 and 2014 Georgia won at least nine games. Georgia’s top five quarterbacks in terms of career efficiency have all been from this era (Murray, Mason, Shockley, Greene, Cox). Georgia might be blessed with a fleet of tailbacks, but it’s no coincidence that Richt found a coordinator with experience working with quarterbacks. Modern offenses require competent quarterback play first and foremost, and Schottenheimer has a high standard to follow at Georgia.

Former boss Jeff Fisher calls Schottenheimer an “excellent teacher.” Even though that’s said in the context of defending an embattled coordinator, it’s worth something that Fisher would single out that attribute. Similarly, Schottenheimer is praised for his organization, and he’ll have to be organized to get the most out of limited practice opportunities. He’s worked with some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he’s been able to involve new talent (like Tre Mason this season) quickly.

There are adjustments for an NFL coach making the transition to college. Near the top of the list is the understanding that most college players don’t start with a basic fluency in fundamentals. When Pruitt began a year ago, he had to spend time stressing even the most mundane details. The time required just to build that fundamental foundation means that what’s build on that foundation can’t be particularly complex. Adding to the time crunch are the built-in NCAA time limits, the requirements and distractions of college life, and the fact that you’re instructing nearly twice as many players as you would with a 53-man NFL roster.

A year ago, there was nearly universal accord for Georgia’s new defensive coordinator. We were ready to move on from the predecessor, and Pruitt had done exactly the same job for the national champion. There seems to be a lot more wait-and-see with this hire, and we’ve outlined some of the reasons for that above. Considering the recent success of the Georgia offense, I imagine that anyone hired to follow Bobo would make us a little nervous. In his favor, Schottenheimer is more than qualified for the position. He’ll have some of the best talent in the nation with which to work and all of the resources he’ll need. He’ll have input into the hiring of a new offensive line coach. If Schottenheimer is ready to prove himself at the college level, he’s set up for success.