That’s the question Keltic Gator asks at Orange and Blue Hue today. He looks at the resources available to the school – money, facilities, in-state talent – and wonders why Georgia isn’t a consistent top three power in football and basketball.
It’s not a totally unreasonable question to ask. Even for a Gator fan. (I can’t help it, whenever I think of Gator fans and sports talk, my mind wanders to this.)
Seriously, though, some of this is a little closer than you might think at first glance. Meyer’s having the year in ’06 that Richt had in ’02; the only difference is that Georgia had the unfortunate reality of two unbeatens in front of it that year instead of one. And as for basketball, how much difference is there between the two programs historically, other than Donovan (admittedly, not a small point as of late)?
That being said, I think there are a few reasons you can point to in response to the question, at least from a historical perspective.
Men’s basketball has been the bastard stepchild of Georgia sports for as long as I can remember. Sure, there are rare periods where it grabs the public’s attention – Dominique Wilkins, a couple of moments of glory under Durham, Tubby ball – but those are brief times in an otherwise humdrum existence.
If we’re lucky. If we’re not, we get things like the wreckage from the Harrick debacle.
And, as for facilities, as nice as Sanford is, Stegeman’s a … well, it’s a livestock facility masquerading as a basketball arena. Really. And as much lipstick you can try to put on a pig, at the end of the day, you’re still stuck with the pig.
Then, there’s the coach. Felton looks like he may be turning the corner (and he had one helluva mess to dig out from under), but many Georgia fans look at him and wonder if he turns out to be The Guy, how long does he stay until a higher profile program comes calling, a la UK and Tubby? That’s a hard factor to deal with in terms of building a program.
I hope that Damon Evans, the AD, has a game plan in mind to build the program to a place of sustained prominence. If I had to guess, he’d like to see Felton get Georgia back to the NCAAs on a consistent basis and then springboard the positive momentum that should generate into building a new arena (we’ve already got a new state of the art $30 million practice facility coming on line soon).
Is that in the works? Who knows. The program has had so many slips and misses in the past that it’s hard to be optimistic. That being said, I’ve been impressed with Evans so far, so I’m willing to wait and see.
Talking about my expectations for Evans brings me to my bigger point in response to KG’s question, a point that’s probably going to PO some Georgia fans.
Don’t get me wrong – he’s done a lot of great things for the school, both as the head coach and as AD. But his record has its weak points, too, primarily with his hiring and firing decisions of head coaches for the two programs.
Things began sliding when he was allowed to become the AD while still head coach. There was no higher up at Georgia to evaluate the performance of the program under VD, and (after Erk Russell left for Georgia Southern) in the ’80s when it became apparent that things started going downhill as recruiting suffered and the quality of the coaching staff diminished there was no one to hold VD accountable.
The hole in management became glaringly apparent when Dooley resigned both positions in the late ’80s to consider a run in politics. There was no one prepared to deal with the vacuum resulting from Dooley’s departure and, in the end, after a series of missteps made by a hiring committee, the school wound up with Ray Goff.
Dooley abandoned his interest in politics and came back to UGA and resumed his AD duties. His tenure in the ’90s was marked by a series of hiring and firing decisions that were inconsistent at best. In basketball, Durham gave way to Tubby Smith (excellent) who begat Ron Jirsa (silly and stupid) who in turn led to Jim Harrick (horrible). Sounds kinda biblical, doesn’t it?
In football, Dooley dithered over Goff, finally let him go after letting him twist in the wind at least one year too long, hired Glen Mason for a day and wound up with Jim Donnan. Donnan incurred the wrath of Michael Adams and was unceremoniously dumped leading to Dooley’s best hire of his AD career: Mark Richt.
Because the Richt decision turned out well, and because many folks at Georgia don’t like Michael Adams (me, for example) and took Dooley’s side in his power struggle with Adams, he’s seen more warmly now than he was, say, in the mid ’90s when all we saw was a series of poor hiring decisions. There was a lot of unrest among the fan base then.
Down the road, I think VD’s stint as the AD will be largely judged by his last two hires, Harrick and Richt. I don’t think that’s unfair. And in my mind it bears directly on KG’s question.
In the end, it’s hard to criticize a guy who’s winning at an 80% clip and is making regular appearances in the SECCG. But there are other college coaches with terrific winning percentages who never got over the final hump. I hope Richt is more of a Jim Tressel than John Cooper. Certainly, he’s going to be given every chance to do so.
Basketball is the mystery. It may very well turn out to be Evans’ big legacy as Georgia AD. I just can’t tell right now.
That’s probably more than KG wanted to hear… any other thoughts would be welcome.