ATHENS -- Georgia begins preseason practice Friday, and it’s fairly safe to say that no football program in the nation is more ready to change the conversation.
In the annals of Georgia football, last week will rank as one of the worst.
There was an ugly arrest for a player (Jonathan Taylor) charged with hitting his girlfriend. Taylor was dismissed a day later. There was a DUI for another player (Davin Bellamy). Even when Georgia seemingly didn’t do anything wrong -- a highly recruited visitor was charged with stealing from two female Georgia athlete’s dorm room -- it was lumped in.
It quickly canceled out all the positive press and goodwill generated by Georgia’s turn at SEC media days. Chris Conley the quintessential student-athlete? Mark Richt the good man who lets his players transfer anywhere they want? Old news.
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The week of bad behavior capped -- or Richt hopes it capped it -- an offseason of turmoil. There were seven player arrests, four of which came at the same time. Three players were dismissed. A highly regarded freshman cornerback (Shaq Wiggins) transferred. That almost all of the above occurred to defensive players didn’t matter when it came to the perception that once again Georgia football overall has a behavior problem.
Sometimes, however, we reach too hard to find a deeper meaning. And sometimes the result is a litany of observations that miss the mark.
Contention: Georgia has more arrests than anybody else.
Texas A&M has more this year, as do a few other programs according to the folks who compile the notorious Fulmer Cup. Georgia earned that unwarranted title in 2010 but hasn’t come close since. Not that Georgia has trumpeted that in its game notes.
The suspensions and dismissals have not stopped -- they’ve actually increased, mainly because Richt reacted to 2010 by adopting a harsher hand.
But too many people conflate those with the arrests, when often they’re not related. Josh Harvey-Clemons has never been arrested, to our knowledge. He was felled mainly by Georgia’s stringent protocol on marijuana, as have plenty of other impact players. Steve Spurrier famously quipped that he liked facing Georgia earlier in the season because the Bulldogs had players suspended; but if South Carolina had Georgia’s rules on marijuana, Spurrier might have the same problem.
Contention: This is all Todd Grantham’s fault.
Yes, the former defensive coordinator had an NFL mentality, and yes he recruited and coached the vast majority of players who got into trouble this offseason. You can’t dismiss the idea that some of that mentality seeped into his players and the defense overall.
But Richt recruited these players, too. They were under the umbrella of the entire program, which has plenty of other staffers, and Grantham and his coaches have been gone for months.
Contention: Georgia only has more arrests because the university police and local police target athletes.
This is an emotional take that has little basis in fact. Those who check the Athens-Clarke County jail log on a daily basis can attest that it is long and filled with many college-age kids, the vast majority of whom aren’t on scholarship.
You can argue that the police could let certain offenses slide without jail time. Throwing someone in jail for not having a valid driver’s license, for instance, seems a bit harsh. But Georgia football players are far from the only ones who have been jailed for that during the past few years. And an alleged assault on a girlfriend and a DUI are not things to brush under the rug.
Contention: Georgia recruits too many bad kids.
This point is easy to make in hindsight, but it’s too simplistic. Georgia hasn’t exactly been recruiting players with checkered histories. The only two players it signed since 2010 who had a known incident in high school were quarterback Christian LeMay (suspended his senior football season) and punter Collin Barber (a misdemeanor for hitting mailboxes). LeMay didn’t get into trouble during his three-plus years at Georgia, only transferring for playing time. Barber hasn’t been in trouble either.
Georgia is signing players who were wanted by Florida, Alabama, Auburn, Clemson you get the picture. Something might be in the water in Athens, but it’s too simplistic to just chalk it up to faulty recruiting ... or the police ... or Grantham ... or Richt failing to dish out enough discipline.
If there is something bad in the water, however, Richt and company need to sift through and find it. Football season starts Friday, but living in the real world is a year-round proposition, as the Bulldogs are painfully aware.
Contact Seth Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org