Mailbag, Part 2: Sure, let's talk about coaches

semerson@macon.comDecember 12, 2013 

Todd Grantham has been Georgia's defensive coordinator since 2010, and Mike Bobo has been offensive coordinator since 2007.

ROB SAYE

This week's second edition of the mailbag features some weighty questions. Hopefully the answers are just as weighty:

I have been a staunch defender of Mark Richt his entire tenure. I think Georgia has been very fortunate to have him as head coach. However, I lost a good bit of confidence in the urgency and direction of the program when it was announced that Todd Grantham would return. If the defense starts poorly again next year, should Richt take most of the blame?
- Jack

It depends on your definition of the word “blame.” If the defense is the undoing of next year’s team, then Grantham will be the one whose job will be on the line, not Richt. But a fan such as yourself could blame Richt for not having made a move after this year, and you certainly would not be alone.

Richt’s feeling is that next year’s defense, with nearly everyone due back, will be better off with continuity, and that Grantham has proven in the past (2011) he can get it done. I do understand your concern about urgency. But that also has be countered against the consequences of removing Grantham now. Who replaces him? Does he automatically become an upgrade? And is the defense better off next year as a result? Remember, a lot more goes into changing coordinators than the man calling the signals on Saturdays. There would also likely be new terminology, some new schemes, and new player evaluations. Richt had to weigh whether changing all that would be good (a fresh start) or bad (canceling out improvement that will come with continuity).

There is one thing that may need to be resolved this offseason: Grantham is the nation’s fifth-highest paid assistant coach ($850,000 annually), according to USA Today rankings. That’s fine, because it was what the market dictated. But Mike Bobo ($560,000) ranks way back, at 25th in the nation. Bobo already got a big raise after the 2012 season, but he may be due another one. So may Tony Ball and Bryan McClendon, who did a pretty marvelous job with their units after some major injuries this year.

No doubt the injury situation for UGA was a huge factor in the season ending record. I believe the Tennessee game was the turning point in the Dawgs’ year. The season ending losses of Marshall and Scott-Wesley were huge. Not alone the multiple game loss of Bennett. Putting the Mitchell and Gurley injuries aside (which are huge on their own). I feel UGA would have had great shots at winning both Mizzou and Vandy with Wesley, Marshall and Bennett available. I also think having Marshall and Wesley available for Auburn would have pushed UGA over the edge in that game as well. Don’t you think Marshall and Wesley would have been good for a big play or two in those games. I also feel the loss of Wesley, combined with already losing Mitchell, drastically reduced UGAs downfield passing ability. Let’s face it, Georgia’s offense this year was their defense. What say you?
- Andrew B. Carter

I agree with most of that: In fact, I wrote the day after the Tennessee game that Georgia may have “won the battle, but lost the war.” And after those injuries the Bulldogs did indeed lose to Missouri and Vanderbilt. A healthy Gurley might have been good enough to turn those two results, especially the Vanderbilt game. And either Bennett or Scott-Wesley, or both, would have gone a long way too.

Now the Auburn game is a bit more dicey: Georgia did have Gurley and Bennett, so I’m not sure how much Marshall and/or Scott-Wesley would have helped. That game still came down to a freaky play.

But of course we haven't even mentioned Malcolm Mitchell.

Lots of people are starting to point at 2014 as a “make or break” year for the Dawgs, given what they have coming back (and what will be leaving after next year). Fans are looking for Georgia to –at the very least– make the four-team playoff. Is next year the year that Richt and his coaching staff must prove they belong with the big boys?
- Bob Ho

Richt is at the point where he will be able to leave Georgia on his terms whenever he wants, barring some unforeseen off-field issue. Even if next year’s team cratered Florida-style, it’s a good bet there would be no change at the top of the program.

Do you think running a pro-style offense will hurt Bobo’s chances when other schools are looking for coaches? It’s not the “exciting” spread formation and needs a certain level of player to be successful. It would seem harder to have a one-year turnaround and get the alums excited running the pro set.
- Bob Ho, again

That’s not a bad point. Bobo has been pretty successful the past couple years and is respected around the coaching industry. But if you’re a school president or athletics director, selling a more traditional offense might be tougher. Yes, Bobo has added flare to that offense – the no-huddle, the spread and pistol – but at heart Georgia is a pro-style offense.

Of course a lot also depends on what kind of job Bobo needs to pull the trigger on leaving Athens. If he wanted to be involved at Bowling Green, which just lost its coach to Wake Forest, then he probably would have a decent shot. But a BCS-level school may be more attracted to someone like Clemson’s Chad Morris.

I recently read that Coach Richt decided to reduce the number of bowl practices in order to have his staff on the road for recruiting before the dead period. First, how many of the allotted 15 will we miss? And second other than Florida and Tennessee who will have zero due to not qualifying for a bowl (ZZZZZZing) how does this number stack up to the others in the SEC?
- Dale Krambier

Gentry Estes had a story on this over at Dawgs247.com. Go check it out for more in-depth details, but the gist of it is that with a more condensed recruiting calendar - and a different finals schedule - Georgia will only be holding a dozen bowl practices. I'm not sure how it compares to other SEC teams, but I'm not sure it really matters, honestly, at this point in the season.

It seems a pretty easy call to me: Would you rather practice three or four more days, or have your coaches on the road trying to haul in recruits to make the 2014 and 2015 teams better? You've got the spring and preseason to practice with next year's team. This year's team has already practiced enough. And as far as preparation for Nebraska, there will be the same amount of bowl-week practices as in previous years: The team arrives in Jacksonville on the 26th and goes every day until the game.

How will the bowl selection process under the playoff system differ from the current bowl selection process?
- Al Dawkins

Basically, the conference office will be much more involved. The SEC has had a role up until now, but it’s been more of a backroom-dealings kind of role, whereas from 2014 onward it will be very upfront.

First, there are no limits on how many teams from a conference can go to the bowls formerly known as BCS bowls. (The four-team playoff, plus the Sugar and Orange next year.) So for all anyone knows, four SEC teams could be going to a marquee bowl. In that case, everyone is likely to end up happy. Other than the lower-tier bowls, but oh well.

After the top tier of bowls, the Capital One Bowl retains first choice of available SEC teams. (The Cotton Bowl will be hosting the national championship after the 2014 season.) Then the SEC, to quote what it said in August, will determine which team goes to the remaining bowls “in consultation with the schools and the bowl games.”

Rick Catlett, the president of the Gator Bowl, described it to me as everyone sitting around a table – not literally, but close to it – and deciding who goes where. It sounds like it could still get messy. But for a conference like the SEC, which can probably put three or four teams in major bowls every year, it sounds more likely to result in happier outcomes. Vanderbilt, for instance, won’t be relegated to a minor bowl despite having a pretty good season.

A few weeks ago, season ticket holders were asked by the Athletic Association to complete a survey rating their experiences with various aspects of game day and the program in general. Can you find out if the results of that survey will be made public and how the Athletic Association plans to use the results and suggestions?
- Michael

It’s unsure if UGA plans to release the results, but when you send out such a survey, it’s with the intention of looking hard at whatever you hear most about. Across the nation, improving the stadium game experience is a huge priority, with game attendance having slipped. Georgia officials I’ve spoken to, including Greg McGarity, have been very concerned about it. That’s why you’ve seen improved use of replay on video boards, and in-game video updates from other games. So I’m sure this is just looking for more possible ways to get people in the stadium and keep them there.

Now if one of the most prevalent suggestions from fans is to improve the quality of opponents, I wouldn’t bank on McGarity rushing to get his counterparts at Florida State or Stanford on the phone. If Georgia ramps up its non-conference schedule, it will only do so if it believes that will help it get into the playoff.

I was wondering if there has been anything said about Gurley's health during the Tech game. That was an unbelievable and gutsy performance by Todd. Is it just me or was he hurt in that game or still dinged up because it looked to me that he was hurting but fought thru with his heart and determination. I thought he was maybe 70% but just wouldn't be stopped.
- GM

I don't think Gurley has been 100 percent at any point this year, other than his 75-yard touchdown run at Clemson. He hurt his quad on that play, and was still dealing with it up until the moment he sprained his ankle. I'd estimate Gurley at about 80-85 percent during the Georgia Tech game. Given a month, he should be close to full health for the bowl.

What's happened to Xavier Ward? In spring practice, he was #1 RT wasn't he?
- Steve

Ward just continues to struggle to come back from the knee problems. When you’re 6-foot-7 and don’t have that much weight, any knee issue is exacerbated, especially at a position where planting your feet and thrusting your legs is so vital. So Ward wasn’t a factor from August on this year, and it remains to be seen if he will be in the spring. Right now I’ll believe it when I see it.

My biggest complaint about the UGA coaches is that they seem to rely too much on a player’s raw ability, and don’t seem to do well "coaching them up" and developing them. Vanderbilt recruits far less talent than us, but seems to have no problem matching up with us and beating us. Grantham used youth and inexperience as an excuse for the poor D, but other teams succeed with the same issues. Seth- is it fair to blame freshman/"green" players for the failures of the defense or is it simply a matter of the coaching staff doing a poor job of coaching up the experienced players so that we don’t get stuck with "lost" players on the field.
- Glenn Schatzel

You may be overstating your first point a bit. I’m out at practice, and trust me, they’re drilling players and coaching them up. Plus, Vanderbilt didn’t really have “no problem” beating Georgia. It was a four-point game. But as for the criticism about blaming youth too much on defense, it’s a more complex issue. The secondary and defensive line both had youth and inexperience, but the line did much better this season. So was it all about coaching in the secondary? Not necessarily: Schematics and play calls are more important back there than up front, so the inexperience back there burned Georgia more than it did up front.

Bottom line: It was a lot of factors, which tend to come back to youth. But the secondary needs to show improvement next year, or the inability to “coach ‘em up” will be very valid.

Your take on UGA adding some zone read elements into the '14 playbook, maybe with Faton Bauta? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
- Harold Waters

Those elements are already in there, though not to the extent as at other programs who use that as their base offense. The question is whether Georgia would expand and actually use those plays. My guess is it will only happen if Bauta becomes the No. 2 quarterback, because they’d want to be ready in case something happens to Mason.

I do have to quibble with the reasoning of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Well, the offense wasn’t the problem the last two years, was it?

Any chance UGA ditches 3-4 scheme in favor of 4-3 or some variation? Star position concept better on paper than on the field.
- Harold Waters, again

The last point hits on one of the big problems with the defense this year: Grantham envisioned Josh Harvey-Clemons playing a huge role as the star, but as it turned out the defense was much better in a traditional 3-4 or 4-2-5 nickel set. Given that so many players are back next season, it’ll be interesting to see if Grantham tries the Harvey-Clemons experiment again. But to answer your first question, Grantham is a 3-4 guy, and they’ve recruited for that scheme for four years, so no change next year, and probably not after that. Still, they use the 4-2-5 so much, it’s not like they’re completely wedded to a 3-4 on every down.

What are the black stickers on the back of the helmets for? Why does Gurley’s jersey have Gurley II instead of Jr.?
- Adam McCullough

The black stickers are for academic achievement. Gurley goes with Gurley II because … well, it’s not very clear. We asked him about that earlier this year, and his answer was pretty confusing, but I think it boils down to he likes the way it looks, and wants to be different.

I find the bottom of your rankings confounding. You vote for 4 teams with 4 losses. You placed Texas A&M the highest even though its best win is against Rice. Iowa was second highest with its best win being Northern Illinois. You voted Vandy ahead of Georgia based on head to head but the resumes are not comparable. Georgia beat 2 top 15 teams, was 5-3 in the SEC, and 3 of its 4 losses were to top 15 teams. Let us into the inner workings of your mind.
- Jimmy

Northern Illinois actually beat Iowa. But thank you for the civil manner of your criticism, rather than the "your an idiot!" stuff I normally get on Sunday mornings. (And by the way, it's "you're an idiot," not "your." Good grief.)

Such arguments about team resume’s can be rather circular. One person cites one team’s advantage (Vanderbilt head-to-head, or Georgia’s more quality wins) and argue it trumps anything else. In comparing Vanderbilt and Georgia, they’re close enough that putting one above the other is defensible. Personally, I have Vanderbilt one spot ahead because of head-to-head, but I wouldn’t use head-to-head if Georgia’s resume’ were vastly better than Vanderbilt. It’s not. Two of Vanderbilt’s losses are to top 10 teams (Missouri and Vanderbilt), and another is to a top 20 team (Texas A&M). Its worst loss is at home to Ole Miss, back in August. Georgia’s worst loss is to … Vanderbilt.

Iowa is ahead of both teams because its four losses are all to top 20 teams, two of them to top 10 teams. And while it doesn’t have any wins over ranked teams, it does have four road wins, including by 21 at Nebraska to finish the season. Georgia only has two road wins (three if you count Florida) and Vanderbilt has three.

Texas A&M is ahead of all the four-loss teams because a) all its losses are also to top 20 teams, three of them in the top 10, b) it beat Vanderbilt, one of those other four-loss teams, c) just overall eye test.

So to sum up, Jimmy, if quality wins were the only criteria, then yes, Georgia would be the highest-ranked four-loss team. But it’s not the only criteria.

Your tweet referenced dealings with Bobby Cox, so I assume you have some background in baseball. Now that Dale Murphy is no longer on the traditional Hall of Fame ballot, is he eligible for selection by the Expansion Era Committee that just picked Bobby?
- Kevin, Washington DC

Yes, Murphy will be eligible, but he wasn’t on this year’s Expansion Era Committee ballot. I assume he will be at some point, considering his production is comparable to the players who were on this year’s ballot: Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry and Ted Simmons.

(I should point out I don’t have any special knowledge of this. I got all this via a Google search. I just covered Bobby Cox and the Braves back in my Albany Herald days. I found Cox to be a pretty nice guy to interview, as were many of the Braves, and that Kevin Millwood belched very loud.)

By the way, no one asked me but I think it’s a crock that Marvin Miller isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He was also on the Expansion Era ballot this yea rand didn’t get in. Miller, for those unaware, spearheaded the end of the reserve clause and initiation of free agency. I know people may not like how much money has come into the process now, but until Miller arrived on the scene players were treated as well-paid slaves. (Not my term. Curt Flood’s, the player who sued MLB, and also deserves recognition for it.)

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