Reinvention

Good piece from Brandon Larrabee on how Steve Spurrier turned the South Carolina program around includes this observation:

In a way, it’s not really surprising to say that facilities, recruiting and coaching all played a role in South Carolina’s emergence as a power in the SEC East. What is perhaps somewhat surprising is that Steve Spurrier — who won a half-dozen SEC titles and a national championship at Florida doing things his way — was able to oversee that kind of reinvention in the twilight of his career.

Larrabee is referring to the reinvention of the program there, but I think Spurrier also reinvented his approach to running a program as well.  Not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re somebody who’s had a great deal of success over a long period doing things in a particular way.  You have to tip your hat to Spurrier for pulling that off.

You also have to wonder if Mark Richt can pull off the same trick.  It’s apparent to me that Richt is in the second phase of reinventing his approach to running the Georgia program since the dark days of the 2009 season, although I’m not sure whether it’s best to characterize what’s been happening this offseason as a continuation of what he started when he dismissed Willie Martinez and the rest of the defensive staff, or if this is a separate development.  In any event, it’s apparent that in some ways, business as usual in 2014 isn’t the same business as usual we saw over the previous four seasons.

2009 saw a complete breakdown in confidence between the staff and players.  That breakdown has largely been mended, I feel.  But it may have masked other issues that came to light later, issues which I would sort of group together under the heading of not paying enough attention to details.  That’s how you get the nitpicking crazy stuff about special teams breakdowns I’ve highlighted this week.  It’s also how you get poor roster management.

So maybe the new blood that’s arrived has put a charge into Richt, a charge leading him to focus on the details more than he did before.  Last year was a valuable experience in that we finally saw a Georgia team that may have lost its composure now and then, but never failed to show up for a game – something we couldn’t say about the prior two seasons (or many seasons before that, honestly), even if both 2011 and 2012 saw SECCG trips along the way. That’s the sign of a team that’s bought back in to what the coaches have to offer.  The next step from that is to keep up that focus on all the details, which is over time what separates teams with talent from teams that win consistently.

Is Georgia there yet?  I am skeptical you can turn a battleship that quickly, but Richt has surprised me before.  Even if there isn’t a complete transformation, there should be early signs of it we should see in the opener if all the preseason talk we’ve gotten is more than just that.  I’ll be rooting for reinvention.

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“Nothing can unify a community and alumni base of a university like college football can.”

Too bad schools are losing touch with their students on that front, then.

Average student attendance at college football games is down 7.1% since 2009, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of stadium turnstile records from about 50 public colleges with top-division football teams. The decline was 5.6% at colleges in the five richest conferences.

The decrease even at schools with entrenched football traditions and national championships stands in contrast to college football’s overall popularity.

What’s the problem?  Not enough wi-fi?  Nah, it’s the usual suspect.

The growing number of empty seats in student sections across the U.S. is a sign of soaring ticket prices, more lopsided games and fewer matchups against longtime rivals, and the proliferation of televised games that make it easier than ever for students to keep tailgating long after kickoff.

It’s money that they love.  Schools, I mean.  And students usually don’t have that much, at least in comparison to older alumni and ESPN.  And perhaps that’s why ADs like Joe Alleva don’t sound that upset.

“There are so many other things they can do that maybe going to the game that day isn’t the most important thing on their agenda,” says Louisiana State University athletic director Joe Alleva. Student attendance fell 5.5% to 8,508 in 2013 from 9,000 in 2012.

By the time LSU notices that those students aren’t buying season tickets down the road, Joe will be off enjoying retirement somewhere and it’ll be somebody else’s problem.  Of course, by then college football may be sporting a 24-team playoff, so maybe nobody will notice.

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A fine line

Just curious about something, based on a debate some of y’all had in the comments this week.  Take a look at this:

Of the 12 winningest coaches in SEC history, as judged by winning percentage, are active in the conference. Nick Saban‘s .804 on-the-field winning percentage at LSU and Alabama ranks fourth in conference history behind Urban Meyer (.813), Gene Stallings (.810) and Frank Thomas (.805). LSU’s Les Miles is fifth at .798, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier is ninth at .750 and Georgia’s Mark Richt is 12th at .739.

Where do you draw the line between good and great there?  Fifth?  Ninth?  Eleventh?

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Sweatin’ the small stuff

To reiterate a point made in a post the other day,

What has changed, according to players, is the intensity of teaching.

“Definitely stressing more fundamental-wise and trying to focus on some of the little things,” said senior Kosta Vavlas, a special teams standout. “I mean prior (to this year) we kind of just jumped in, going all the way through without breaking each phase of each game down.”

Defensive players, especially in the secondary, have talked often about the detailed coaching that they’re getting from first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and receiver Reggie Davis made it sound like that was happening — from all coaches — on special teams.

“Coaches are definitely paying attention to details this year,” Davis said, adding for emphasis, “Small, small details.”

Davis muffed three punts last year.

“They’re really cracking down on just looking the ball all the way in, especially because of what I did last year,” Davis said.

Sure, a lot of that can be characterized as happy talk.  And who’s to say it’s going to pay off in a big way this season?  But tolerating that kind of stuff sure goes a long way towards explaining the many moments of special teams epic fail, 2013 version.

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Hot, hot heat

Here’s something to chew over.

In the estimation of first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, the 6-4, 230-pound Floyd was the most under-utilized talent on Georgia’s defense last season. Even so, the sophomore from Eastman managed to start eight games and collect 55 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Pruitt wants more out of Floyd.

Hopefully that will start with Pruitt not having Floyd drop into coverage, where he looked like a fish out of water last year.

Now, it’s drool time.

[Lorenzo] Carter, as it turns out, may allow the Bulldogs to do just that. Carter’s incredible physical prowess and 4.6 speed has allowed Georgia to put him into situations in which they’d normally be counting on Floyd. That, in turn, allows the Bulldogs to move Floyd around and play a game of “Find 84” with opposing offensive lines.

That’s not to mention Jenkins, who at 6-3, 252 has lost 20 pounds since the end of last season and is moving around better than ever. He plays the new “Jack” defensive end position that usually lines up opposite the Sam.

“He looks like a totally different player from the spring and some of last year’s game to now,” Sherrer said. “He’s a lot quicker, he’s a lot more explosive, he’s made a lot more plays. He struggled to finish some before; he was right there but just couldn’t finish. Now he’s finishing some plays. He’s playing with more confidence and he’s had a sensational camp.”

If you’re Pruitt – hell, if you’re me – you know the best way to protect a shaky secondary is to generate a fierce pass rush.  Given that the best rusher on the d-line seems to be in the coaches’ doghouse, where do you turn to generate the heat you need?  So, will Pruitt get creative with the deployment of his OLBs?  Does he have a choice?

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Les is so Miles.

Honestly, I wouldn’t put it past him.

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A Stewart Mandel teachable moment

Interesting hypothetical from this week’s Mailbag, which riffed off an earlier prediction of his that this year’s predicted playoff field would be comprised of No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 Georgia:

Of course I will admit the UGA/Auburn scenario might be a tad far-fetched. While we know it’s entirely possible, if not likely, that two SEC teams will get in, we assume they’d come from the same division. In this case, I’m picking the Dawgs and Tigers to both get in after meeting twice. I have Georgia winning the Nov. 15 meeting in Athens, then Auburn winning the Dec. 7 rematch in Atlanta.

If this were the BCS, Georgia would be done. In the playoff, however, if the committee feels the Dawgs are still one of the best four teams, then so be it. They’d have a strong case, too, having beaten three preseason Top 15 teams in Auburn, Clemson and South Carolina. They probably would have to be undefeated going into the SEC title game, though, and maybe that’s a stretch. But hey, the committee’s going to pick the best four teams; as of today I think FSU, Auburn, UCLA and Georgia are the best four teams.

That’s really the big question we have right now, isn’t it?  What kind of selection committee do we have?  Is Mandel being realistic here?  I have my doubts, even if Auburn and Georgia both finish with only one loss, because that SECCG result is going to be fresh on the minds of a number of people who are going to be prone to spreading the playoff slots around to the power conferences.  Not to mention that if the committee let both in, it could be setting up a potential third meeting between the two in consecutive months.

I’d like him to be right, even if the two schools are from another conference.  I suspect his buddies from Montana would agree.  But none of us are serving on that committee.

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