ATHENS - The past offseason was quite the tumultuous one for the Georgia football roster, leaving it low on scholarship players and high on criticism from the outside.
Rodney Garner, Georgia's defensive line coach, is the man who led the recruiting effort for the players who left, and is leading it to replenish the talent well. Following Sunday's practice, Garner - who carries the titles of recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach - had some blunt thoughts on the subject.
"We've had a lot of attrition," he said. "It's the way we run our program, I don't know what other people do, but I know we run a pretty stringent program. We've had some unfortunate things pop up. I'm not saying it's a common occurrence but there's probably other programs that are going through similar things depending on what kind of structure they have. I really like the quality of the young men we've got in the program."
Georgia dismissed four players this past season, and had several more transfer out. The result is just under 70 scholarship players for this season, while most of the team's SEC opponents will be at the NCAA limit of 85.
"Do I wish some of the guys that we've lost - and we've lost a lot of guys - you wish you could have been able to save a few of those, and it definitely would have helped the situation," Garner said. "But a lot of those guys, we made the decision to cut and move on. It wasn't a university decision or whatever.
"It's what do we want this program to be. It's a double-edged sword, but what do you want. You can sweep this under the rug, you can have this, you can have that, but is that really want you want. It's like what I tell my (defensive linemen): Who do you want to be teammates with? Do you want to be with good guys when you get old, that you enjoy being around? Or do you want to be around whatever? It's the way coach Mark Richt wants to run this program. And I think he does a good job. And I think just because of our philosophy we take some undue criticism, because I really do believe in my heart we have good kids."
Garner was asked if this has affected their decision-making when it comes to recruiting.
"You're constantly trying to evaluate character," he said. "But it's just like - do you have kids? I raise mine, I try to make them, I want them to do this, I want them to do that. But shoot there's some days where they annoy the heck out of me. They don't always do what I want them to do what I want them to do. And I whoop them. ...
"If you've got 125 (players), I promise they don't always do what you want them to do. You've just gotta discipline them. And you've gotta hope you teach them a lesson, make them learn from it and try not to make the same mistake."
The Bulldogs are trying hard to make up for the attrition, and so far have notched 24 commitments for the 2013 class. He was asked if, depending on early enrollments, the maximum number Georgia can sign this year is 34.
"It's based on different factors," Garner said, but added: "You're in the neighborhood. You're in a good neighborhood. It's a moving number. There's a number of factors that play into it."
One of those is early enrollments - Georgia can back-count about nine players to this year's class if they enroll for the spring. But Garner indicated it goes deeper than just that.
"You're just trying to manage your roster, that you're making critical decisions. Trying to project not just this year, next year, two years, three years. Trying to see the overall picture, where the class stacks up at each position," he said. "That's why you have those meetings, talk about where we're at, this is how many we've got left, these are the guys that are first on the board that we want to take. Just try to get a pecking order. We don't have the luxury of the NFL where we can go and draft and get on the wire, trade, get all Plan B and stuff like that. You wish you could but we can't."
Georgia also made an effort - though apparently an abbreviated one - to get immediate help in the way of Penn State players. It sent a letter to Penn State two weeks ago notifying it of the intention to recruit 19 players off their roster. But when the letter was made public five days later, the result of an Open Records Act request, head coach Mark Richt released a statement saying they were no longer recruiting Penn State players.
On Sunday, Garner laughed, incredulous that the Penn State letter even got out.
"I guess our compliance office set us up," he joked. "We were the only one that had to send out a list that (we) were even interested in. We didn't even contact (any players except) probably a fifth of them."
Then Garner asked media members how it got out. Georgia's quick response to Open Records requests, he was told.
"They need to call Nick and see what list they sent in," Garner said.
That would be Nick Saban, the Alabama head coach.
Garner said there was a misconception that Georgia, because of its low scholarship numbers, could recruit anybody it wanted. He pointed out it would still effect their numbers for next year, when they plan to take a full class and get back up to 85 scholarships.
"There were a couple guys that were some need positions that we looked at to see if there were some interest where it could've worked," he said. "I just think there was some false reporting on how it works. ... We had to sit there with the number of kids we've already got committed, to the ones we feel good about it, and (decide) if you take one, it's gonna take away from the (overall) number. That's the strategy when you look at it. Everyone's like: Why doesn't Georgia take them, roster management ... It's going to effect what our wish would be if we could get everyhting the right way in January and February. There were a couple guys where we felt if we could get these one or two guys, then hey, that would offset and be fine."