The lesson of Blair Walsh

If you’re looking for a back-handed epitaph for Blair Walsh’s stint at Georgia, this’ll do:

“His problem will be consistency on field goals,” one coach said. “Good form and technique. It’s just his accuracy.” Kicked off much better at the combine than for the Bulldogs. “He’s got a great, I mean great leg,” another coach said. “He had a 4.64 hang time on a kickoff at the combine. That’s almost unheard of. Every now and then you’ll get a guy with a great leg who might get a 4.4. And they’re using brand-new NFL balls. That was incredibly impressive.”  [Emphasis added.]

Anything in there come as a surprise to you?

Walsh of the great leg never finished higher than third in the conference in kickoff average.  And while he did manage to lead the SEC in touchbacks and touchback percentage once, his standings in his three other seasons would be best described as being merely better than average.

Assuming there was a deliberate strategy behind that – and at least for some of that time, I do believe there was – it’s not as if it paid off with superior results in kickoff coverage year after year.  Georgia did finish second in the conference in 2010 (Belin’s one year coaching the kickoff team), but had nothing better to show than two last place finishes and an eighth-place result in Walsh’s three other seasons.  All told, it’s hardly the stuff of legends.

There’s no question he had something of a mental meltdown last season kicking field goals.  But you have to wonder how much of the inconsistency (or pig-headedness, if you prefer) of the coaching staff’s approach to how he was deployed throughout his career contributed to that.  And that’s a shame, because Walsh leaves Athens as the most talented kicker ever to play for Richt.

I’ve got this feeling that four or five years down the road, there will be plenty of folks looking at Walsh’s pro career wondering what happened during his time in Athens.  I  hope it’s a question that Richt is asking himself now.  The next kicker deserves better.

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62 Comments

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62 responses to “The lesson of Blair Walsh

  1. Just Chuck

    For three years we watched with a feeling of confidence every time Blair trotted out on the field. Last year was a real mystery. I hope Blair makes it in the NFL and enjoys a long and productive career. He deserves it.

  2. Skeptic Dawg

    Kickers and punters fall into a unique category, both in college and the NFL. No one can fault Right for the season Walsh had. The directional kicking issue a few years ago and the 46? yard FG attempt against MSU are head scratchers. Richt’s good guy mentality got the best of him in the bowl game, wanting to send Walsh out as a hero. He even said as much on local sports radio following the bowl game.

    • The directional kickoff stupidity can be directly laid at Richt’s feet. Whether he came up with that plan or not, he allowed it to happen, and kept letting it happen. Even though it both screwed up Walsh’s technique as a FR (which he was quoted as saying throughout the year) and that’s without going in to the absurd math that shows a corner kickoff is the same distance as putting one deep in the end zone.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        +1. And the MSU OT screw-up was on whoever decided on the strategy right before the attempted FG in OT that would have won the game (I assume that was CMR). Running backwards to get to the center of the field and losing yardage when statistically your kicker has been missing outside 40 yards is the right way to make your kicker the goat for a loss instead of the hero for a win. Absolutely idiotic.

        • Raleigh St. Clair

          One of the single dumbest things I have ever seen a coach a do.

          • Skeptic Dawg

            What was even nuttier was listening to CMR explain his actions. He was well aware of where Walsh stood in the record books as well as the fan perceptions. Richt choose to send the kid out as a hero instead of pushing for a win.

  3. Irishdawg

    Walsh’s senior year was one of the most puzzling things I’ve seen in all my years as a Georgia fan. The kid was money his whole career, then his senior season he’s all over the place. The kickoff cock ups can be blamed on the coaching staff, but his FG choking is all on Walsh, unfortunately.

    • Actually, he wasn’t money his whole career. Go back and read my earlier post. Walsh had a noticeable slump second half of his freshman year.

      My point about his senior year meltdown was that it’s not entirely his fault. Exactly who on the staff was available to give him confidence to correct his slump?

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        It gets back to coaching or rather lack thereof, Senator. Even the best player at any position, in this case PK, can go wrong if all you do is tell him to go to the other side of the practice field with the punter and “see you guys after practice.” I am absolutely convinced that is exactly what happened.

        • W Cobb Dawg

          +1 Mayor. When Walsh had a proven coach like Belin (who delivered results elsewhere) the results were considerably better. Once Belin left the picture, the performance returned to the prior condition.

      • Since we can’t have any more Bill Hartman’s, I wish we’d designate a grad assistant gig (it can be rotating among former Ks if we have to as they pursue grad degrees if we have to) to solely working with these guys.

  4. 69dawg

    The kickoffs are on the coachs but Blair was a head case on field goals. Richt is just too loyal and hard headed to yank him.

  5. Spike

    Walsh the most talented kicker? Did you watch him last season? I’ll bet Kevin Butler, Billy Bennett and some others would give you an argument on that.

  6. Matt B.

    Give me Brandon Coutu to kick a deciding field goal if I have my choice.

    • CoastToCoast

      That kid was a beast. Whatever happened to him in the pros? I always figured he’d have a long career there.

  7. Another lesson here… don’t waste scholarships on specialists, especially when you could have an offensive tackle or two, or maybe even a cornerback. Someone has to take the reigns on ST. CMR’s strategy seems extremely laissez faire given his penchant to lean on them in key situations. It blows my mind. It has to be a focus, but seemingly it’s just a passing thought.

    • gastr1

      You don’t think Drew Butler was worth a scholarship?

    • hassan

      SOS doesn’t believe in scholarships for specialists and the lack of a kicking game has cost the chickens more than a few games. Walsh was a bit of a blem on a pretty darn good run of kickers this past decade. All of which deserved a scholarship in my opinion.

    • Mayor of Dawgtown

      Given the fact that CMR almost never uses all available scholarships anyway how can it hurt to use one on the best kicker coming out of HS?

    • Bobby

      You should never “waste” a scholarship on a specialist. If it’s b/w giving a scholly to a lineman or a kicker, you should probably go w/ the former. However, I don’t think that’s typically been the situation.

      Furthermore, I doubt the recruitment of a kicker requires the time and resources that recruitment of another position does. For one, big programs almost always can get a serviceable specialist through walk-ons. A kicker can impact the outcome of a game but not as much as a quarterback or defensive tackle during the other 98% of the game clock.

      If the scholarship spot is available, and the player has great potential, go for it. Why the hell not? While we whiffed on Andy Bailey, Walsh and Butler certainly earned their scholarship spots, last season notwithstanding.

  8. D.N. Nation

    Credit does go to Walsh for sucking so bad around the Florida game that we had no choice but to go for it on 4th downs. The result = 2 TDs in a game we won by 4.

  9. If you’re going to give these guys scholarships, put them in a spot to succeed – don’t give the ball to Carlton Thomas on 1st and 10 up the gut in OT then have your QB take a 2 yard loss on second down so you can kick a 42 yard FG when your guy has had the yips all year.

    • Cojones

      Yeah, it sorta pisses me off that coaches don’t see God’s Hand against the sky drawing those “X”s and “O”s. Yep, it’s amazing how they don’t know what we know about players, psychology and coaching. And how we know all the answers to their players. Where do they get all these successful SEC coaches from that keep repeating the same mistakes? You would think they don’t have prescience as we do.

      • Anybody who couldn’t see at the time what a train wreck Fabris was with Walsh was deluding himself.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          +1.

        • Cojones

          Why are we laying the confusion at Richt’s feet? Because he didn’t stop Fabris from training Walsh? Fabris was a train wreck in a lot of places and accounted for a great deal of the confusion on D that was laid at Martinez’s feet when crosstraining other coach’s players was necessary to shore up from injury loss. Not getting rid of Fabris during the year of confusion was certainly obvious from hindsight, but the circumtances were tough on all the coaches. Why wasn’t this question raised when everyone focused on Martinez like he was Frankenstein? I have always considered the confusion was at the base of our problems that arose out of injury at that time.

          What were Walsh’s practices like? Anyone know? His inability to perform most of the directional kickoffs are attributed to poor training? I would like to see practice pieced together with game performance before making a judgement like that. I don’t think any of us know. It certainly never came up in practice or after game interviews.

          • AthensHomerDawg

            There was that onside kick he called against Lou . Richt gave him credit for that…. and seemed to defer to him long after that.

          • Why wasn’t this question raised when everyone focused on Martinez like he was Frankenstein?

            Who says it wasn’t? Feel free to do a search at GTP on the terms “directional” or “Fabris”, or just review three golden oldies here.

            It’s not a matter of calling Fabris incompetent in hindsight. It was clear then that whatever his philosophy was, it didn’t mesh with the personnel Georgia had to play special teams. And Richt was Fabris’ enabler.

            • Not only with the personnel Senator, but simple geometry blasts Fabris’ theory as idiotic. Directional kick high, between the numbers and the sideline, inside the 10. The distance it takes the ball to travel, excluding the desired high for hang time, if simply blasted straight away, leaves your opponent fielding the kick deep in the end zone. It wasn’t just a poor use of personnel, but it required a kicker to screw with their stroke AND was poor decision based on the simple math involved.

          • OKDawg

            It is not a mortal sin for a Dawg fan to lay some blame at CMR’s feet. He is not perfect, nor does he claim to be. The history with Fabris is one clear example.

        • Cojones

          Wonder who Saban blamed it on when his kicker didn’t win the first Bama/LSU contest?

      • Raleigh St. Clair

        What a ridiculous response. The numbers were plain to see after an entire season’s worth of football. And, yes, it is the coach’s job to take into account all of the various factors that impact the outcome of a huge tactical decision. In the MSU game, every single one of those factors indicated that playing for a long Blair Walsh field goal attempt was not the money play. It wasn’t even close.

  10. Saint Johns Dawg

    Might be the “Dome” advantage playing out for Walsh @ the combine. I haven’t checked but this theory might make sense if anyone knows how well Blair kicked off in the Georgia Dome vs. Boise and in the SECC game.

    Wind, humidity, head-case … all play into this type of skill (anyone who’s played golf understands this). Give me a kicker with a head full of rocks who is a robot at the moment of truth.

  11. UNCDAWG

    Directional kicking is a great idea as long as you don’t have guys with jersey numbers in the thirties, nineties, and duplicate 6’s (aka skinny white guy who aint john jenkins), 3’s etc trying to cover the kick. The one year we led the conference in KO coverage was last was the only year we used starters to cover kicks instead of “preferred” walk-ons.

  12. Comin' Down The Track

    Dollar to a doughnut there was a girl involved.

  13. FRED

    CMR screwed this kid up

  14. Cojones

    Yeah. What is it with these Head Coaches? Saban and Miles are in the same duffus class with their kickers. Wonder if we all shouldn’t demand that they go back to that kicker’s instruction school part of their career we hired them for. They don’t care about us. They think it’s funny to be able to make your kicker lose confidence by the way they snicker at him in practice. Yep, those kicker-training whores should have to give up coaching for duping us so badly. And kickers are a dime-a-dozen. Every team could have two or three if they wanted them. Wouldn’t help anyway since those joker coaches always never send the best kicker they have out there; not even with a psychologist’s certificate. Hell, on kickoffs they train them as gunners. Then assistants train them to wave their hands at the runner.

    And then there’s the real kicker coaches like that johnson over at NATS: When Blair didn’t get it right, he called time out to make sure our kicker had another chance. Now that’s some kinda coachin’!

  15. hassan

    I heard that he caught his girlfriend cheating on him. Hence the turning into a headcase.

  16. Cojones

    Yeah, but one of the coaches made her cheat.

    Directional-kicking training is laid to an asst coach’s feet who worked with Blair to try a new technique for the team. Since kickers are such automatons in most eyes, how can Blair allow someone else dictate that he should miss? The automaton has no mind of his own? Wonder why those lousy kicker-training coaches “freeze” opposing kickers and get into their heads if they aren’t vulnerable to outside influences? Is it because you can do that with some kickers?

    Folks, this ain’t no rare psychological disease we are speaking of here. Why do we have to attempt the synapse and lay the problem at a coach’s feet out of our frustration? Because it didn’t work very often? Must have worked in practice, else we all are crazy to tolerate such outlandish coaching behavior. Unfortunately, coaches still can’t take the field “in the arena” and kick it themselves.

    • “It’s not like it was here the past two years directional-wise,” Walsh said. “It’s a lot more use of my talent I would say. I was fine doing what they wanted me to do. I’m a team player, and I can go along with it. But it’s a lot more use of my talent, and I’m happy about it. I don’t feel like there’s a restraint on me anymore. Without giving too much away, it’s different.”

      That doesn’t sound like an automaton to me.

      Is it just a coincidence that Walsh’s 2010 season was better than the two which proceeded it?

  17. Spike

    Couto was more reliable, and hence, more talented than Walsh. His leg was just as strong and did not flame out his senior season. And was there while CMR was there.

  18. Spike

    So was Billy Bennett, no?

    • Billy had nowhere near the leg strength Walsh, or Coutu, among others had. Although he does bring up the scholarship point. It’s a bit of playing with fire, as other programs have had nowhere near our success with walk-ons winning the job. But Coutu, Bennett, Ely-Kelso, Mimbs, among others in our past. We have had tremendous success under Richt using walkon kickers and punters.

  19. Hackerdog

    I always thought that maybe part of Walsh’s problem was that Richt was always willing to try kicks that were too long. A miss has to hurt your kicker’s confidence. So why try an improbable 58-yard kick if it will hurt your chances on your next 48-yard try?

  20. IveyLeaguer

    I don’t think Walsh’s meltdown had anything to do with Richt or any of the coaches, for that matter.
    I heard that his longtime girl dumped him, and that is what lies behind the meltdown. Never confirmed that, of course, but it makes more sense than any other explanation I’ve heard.
    ~~~