The canary in the coal mine

There’s a basic question that most fans of the program have been asking of late, and will continue to ask through the winter.  It may differ a little from blog to blog and from message board to message board, but it’s some variation of what the hell’s happened here?

I think it’s fair to say that the initial reaction has been fairly negative, looking for targets to point fingers at.  One target in particular has stood out.  The tenor of the conversation has ranged everywhere from Bring Me The Head of Willie Martinez wrathful to Kyle King’s calm rationality about why a change is needed.

Of late, I’ve noticed a differing tone brought to the debate.  Two examples of that can be seen in this post of Paul’s and this lengthy examination of the season that was by David Hale.  Both point to the huge number of season-ending injuries that the team suffered through on its way to a 9-3 record.  Is the injury situation enough to offer as total absolution for the disappointment of this year?  No.  As David writes in conclusion,

… injuries aren’t the only excuse, but you would be hard pressed to find a team that had a better reason to use them as one.

But I guess that’s what I’m getting worried about.  I find myself in an awkward middle ground right now – not ready to run anyone off the reservation, but uncomfortable with the idea that there’s something unique about what the team faced this season, sort of a non-excuse excuse that will allow the coaches to write off the experience.

Yeah, the injury situation was brutal this season.  David does a thorough job of outlining the ripple effect it had on the program.  But I also agree that it doesn’t explain everything.

One of the things it doesn’t explain is what I’m referring to in the post header – the alarming tendency for this team to disappear for a quarter or a half, with disastrous results.  And the primary reason for that is that this isn’t something that we saw just this season; you can trace it all the way back to the ’05 Sugar Bowl.  It’s cropped up steadily each year since then.  The only notable thing about it this year is that it was more pronounced than ever.

I don’t pretend to have the answer to the question above at this point.  The only thing I’m convinced of right now, though, is that there’s a problem that Richt needs to address.  I’ll give any head coach with an 80% winning percentage the benefit of the doubt this offseason, but if the only lesson he takes from 2008 is that the team handled the adversity of injuries and scheduling (which, while credible, wasn’t nearly as ominous as we feared at the beginning of the season) as well as could be expected, color me skeptical that Georgia comes roaring back in 2009.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “The canary in the coal mine

  1. Pawleys Dawg

    During Van Gorder’s tenure, the only occasion I recall the team ‘disappeared’ was the 2003 SECCG against LSU. That wasn’t quite as bad as the more recent big game debacles: UT twice, West Virginia, this year’s cringers. There is still nobody with a better road record than Mark Richt, but you have to adjust that judgment for Jacksonville games.

    LSU was even or a slight favorite in 2003. In the recent blowouts Georgia was arguably annointed as victor before the games.

    If Martinez were the only problem, wouldn’t some of these blowouts have been more like the Flutie-Kosar BC-Miami game, i.e. both offenses score at will? Our blowouts are on both sides of the ball. WVU only won by 3, but led by 28-0.

    Good leaders can keep learning and change mid-career. Look at the year by year records of every legendary SEC coach & you’ll see down periods. These men became legendary because they changed and adapted in their 40’s and 50’s. I think that’s what angers a lot of people about Tuberville getting fired; he never got the chance to adapt and have a second successful run.

    The next 2 years will tell us more than this year about the leadership. Let’s see what changes they can make. Even Bear Bryant had 2 consecutive 6-6 seasons. If 9-4 proves a down year, we’re lucky.

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  2. Joe

    Senator, I am with you on the recent write-ups. Are we Notre Dame now, with this rampant excuse-making?

    The single most hard hit position was the offensive line. It was also the position that was totally neglected by Neil Call*way for 4 years. Yet, that unit played well this year.

    CWM had his starting safeties, corners, 2 of 3 LB’s, all of his DT’s (save Owens) and a bunch of DE’s. They failed miserably. There are no excuses for that. Searels managed to get his unit to play above their heads; CWM, Garner, Fabris and Jancek failed.

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  3. baltimore dawg

    I think the canary up and died a while back, but Richt doesn’t know it yet. I’m old enough to remember Dooley being savaged by fans, so I’m always amazed by the way fans today defend Richt at much greater lengths than Dooley *ever* enjoyed until the 1980 season. I guess that’s what a decade of Goff/Donnan will do to a fanbase, and understandably so.

    You didn’t say this, senator, BUT. . . .I believe that if you’re not optimistic about 2009, then you’re not optimistic about the sustainability of a long tenure for Richt, because if the same problems persist through next year and the team continues not to compete in meaningful games, then the conversation is likely to focus on Richt rather than Martinez. After all, it appears that Richt has leveraged the program on his friendship with Martinez.

    As I said, I think the canary is dead and a process of decline has begun, but I don’t think it’s irreversible at this point either. But another season of mindless penalties, special teams insanity, and a look of utter ill-preparedness in the face of obviously much better coached teams, and, well, I might not feel that it’s irreversible anymore.

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  4. Heyberto

    A lot of good points in that post Senator, but I just think that the injuries are a more valid reason than anything else this season, and the issue isn’t solely Martinez. This coaching staff has earned a right to stay where they are, and until we see a massive breakdown in a season where we have no reasons (excuses) like injuries, the coaching staff will get the benefit of the doubt. So we might as well resign ourselves to it and move on.

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  5. LRGK9

    Buy In – Get It

    ——————————————————————————–
    The reports of the demise of Vince Lombardi have been greatly exaggerated.
    The competitive level of excellence of Georgia’s competition has been raised beyond ‘Finish the Drill.’

    Vince Lombardi is alive and well, at least the commitment to meeting his demands of excellence. The commitment to excellence lives in Tuscaloosa, the Swamp, and it lives on the Flats at Georgia Tech. How does Paul Johnson win national championships and against superior opponents without the most talented, fastest, biggest players – How did Nick Saban’s Alabama team walk into UGA’s Sanford stadium and humble a talented, well coached, and motivated Mark Richt team? How did the Bar of Excellence get raised so suddenly that Tommy Bowden and Tommy Tuberville both lose their jobs over ramifications of losses to Alabama –

    “BUY IN” and “GET IT” that’s how.

    “Buy In” – Saban means that each player and coach pays a dedicated and disciplined price to be a member of the Alabama team of excellence. Paul Johnson’s team pays the ‘Buy In’ price with 6:00AM practices. Paying the price makes you a part of TEAM Excellence – a Tech or Bama team that no other team wants to play. The continuous dedication, discipline, and excellence of their football programs are such that opponent’s schemes, coaching, and talent are overcome. Nobody takes a play off – not in execution, not fundamentally, not physically, and not mentally. Each and every play of each and every down the entire squad plays under control and hits so hard and so fast that the opposing team dreads and hates every play.

    “Get It” – means that each player and coach performs at their highest level possible for every play, in every practice, and in every game. “Get It” is a continuous level of excellence, discipline, and physicality without let up.
    Players who have superior talent or superior understanding – if they fail to execute, if they are not aggressive, if they are undisciplined – even SOME of the time – then they don’t “Get It.”

    Tech and Bama have a place for those who fail to BUY IN and GET IT. That place is not ’just’ the bench, it’s the Scout Team.

    http://blog.al.com/rapsheet/2008/09/saban_if_players_dont_buy_in_t.html

    “I challenged our team,” Saban said on the show. “You need to look at everything as an opportunity to do things the way they need to be done. I want all of our fans to buy into it, because I’m going to tell you, if (the players) don’t do it this week and don’t buy into it the way I just said it, they’re going to the scout team. And from the scout team, they may be going out the door.”

    And for the fans? He requested a loud stadium.

    “I would hope the fans buy into it, too,” Saban said, “because I can’t really fire them and don’t want to, because we have great fans. But we really do want to raise the standard of excellence.”

    Think Saban means business?

    Oh, before we go, how about some links:
    This post was edited on 12/21 1:14 PM by LrgK9

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  6. JasonC

    This is why I keep coming back to you, Kyle, Paul and David. I think all of you bring good insight, opinion and thoughts about the Dogs.

    I totally agree with Hale’s points that all injuries, even to walk-ons, can impact a team, especially when the numbers are so great. However, if I remember correctly, when Sturdivant went down, Florida had lost its star TE and at least 2-3 other players for the season to ACL or Achilles injuries, not to mention that Harvin was also banged up much of the year. I wonder what kind of overall injuries the gators had to overcome.

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  7. Ally

    Joe – best comment in the thread! +1 to you sir and thank you!

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  8. NM

    Schedule doesn’t get any easier next year, either. We lose that weird month on the road, but the quality of opponent increases. Even though we drop Bama, we pick up quality team Oklahoma State, and Arkansas is better than Central Michigan, one can only assume. LSU and Arizona State return, both of which should be improved. Tennessee and Auburn may still be down, but for how long? (They made poor hires but you never know…) And Tech will have had another year under Paul Johnson, although I will always believe that Tech can only win our game if we let them through atrocious play.

    But with 3 BCS non-conference opponents — two that could finish this year in the top 15 and the third coached by Dennis Erickson — plus an SEC schedule, it doesn’t get any easier…

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  9. Pingback: DawgsOnline » Muddy waters

  10. Bryan Carver Dawg97

    Groo makes the good point that you can’t let the record create a blind spot. Which is why I’ve been grumbling – not that we were 9-3, but HOW we got to 9-3. Is the HOW going to change? Is CMR going to be satisfied with continuing to just “take the win” and move on to the next game or is he going to decide that it is time to start stepping on some people’s throats?

    Let’s say that next season, the team plays the same (penalties, shoddy special teams), have another 1st or 2nd half meltdown, squeaks out a game or two we should have lost, the defense continues to give up 30+ in 2 or 3 games. We go 10-2 and win the SECeast, maybe the SEC, but no NC. This is basically what what we’ve done since 2005. Is winning the SEC enough to put up with the same continued issues? Is it enough to put up with the idea that we learned nothing from this season (or the previous 3)? I don’t ask this as to whether we should get rid of CMR (I think we should keep him). I ask this in terms that as a UGA fan, should this be the best I can expect over the next 20 years?

    I don’t want the “stars to align” and rely on last day of the season losses to back door into the NC (although I’d never complain). I want to UGA take charge, to do what USC, Texas, OSU, OU and Florida have done in the same time that we’ve had CMR – just destroy people, leave no doubt who the best team in the land is and walk into the NC like we own the place.

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    • Is winning the SEC enough to put up with the same continued issues?

      I’ve got to say that if you had asked me that question ten years ago, I would have responded by saying that I’d be willing to put up with a helluva lot more than that.

      And that’s not to say how I would answer now. But Georgia hasn’t won the SEC in three seasons.

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  11. baltimore dawg

    “Is winning the SEC enough to put up with the same continued issues?”

    Uh, hell yeah—I’d take it every chance I could get it. The point is that we weren’t having these issues when we were winning the SEC (or contending otherwise), so reason dictates the implausibility of winning the SEC as long as we are.

    I think next year is pivotal for the long-run sustainability of the program under Richt. I don’t think he has to win the NC, SEC, or even the SEC East next year—I think next year will be tough anyway. But he can demonstrate that he continues to be the right guy for the job by fielding a team that competes *relentlessly*. If he can recapture some of that clarity of purpose that his first several teams definitely had, the winning (in the long run but probably in the short run, too) will mostly take care of itself.

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  12. Baltimore Dawg, I can’t say I was quite old enough to see how the fans badgered Dooley but I understand it was significant. IMO, that would be reason enough to give Richt the benefit of the doubt following this season. If we are going to put up a shrine for Dooley then maybe we should support our current coach who is likely on his way to an equally impressive career. And if the canary is dead, as you suggest, then are you advocating immediate change. Because the analogy suggests we’d better get the hell out.

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  13. Sparrow

    It’s being hinted at here, but I can’t believe more people aren’t coming out and making this point – regardless of Martinez’s failings, Richt runs our program and the responsibility is his. I know we are all up in arms about defense right now and WM’s inability to call and coach a consistent game, but I think there are bigger, more unpleasant things at work here. This is a top-down issue and the defense is only one example of the problem. Look at the celebration penalty last year. We all loved it and approved, particularly because it pissed off the jorts-wearing set and we won the game. But in light of the 2008 season, it now looks like Richt just does not know how to motivate a team. Not that he does it badly, he literally doesn’t know how to do it. He stabs wildly: days in the pool during pre-season, blackouts, etc. CMR may have the biggest football brain out there and he clearly has the some of the best recruits, facilities, and so on. However, getting the team to want to win is not enough. Look at Tebow and his reaction after the Ole Miss loss. As much as I hate him, I wish anyone from our team reacted that way; not just in a press conference, but in game after game following the loss. We need to own our losses more than our wins to insure that they are as infrequent as possible. It does not seem that anyone on our team understands this.

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  14. Bryan Carver Dawg97

    And I’m not saying I’d rather not be winning/in contention for the SEC. If that was the case, I’d be a USCeast fan. I do feel blessed to have CMR as our coach. But it is the things being pointed out – like “Georgia hasn’t won the SEC in three seasons” and the issues that have gotten us to this point that has me thinking about the “long-run sustainability of the program under Richt”. That is my question. There is just a difference between what someone like Carroll, Stoops or Tressell (and Meyer and Saban) has done with essentially equal talent over the same period of time as Richt.

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  15. Dawgy45

    “Look at Tebow and his reaction after the Ole Miss loss. As much as I hate him, I wish anyone from our team reacted that way”

    Sort of.

    I want our players to have that same fire in their belly. I want them mad as hell after a loss. I want their anger tempered into a resolve that will not accept another loss.

    I just don’t think I can stomach seeing a Bulldog cry about it. Just thinking about Timmy’s welling tears makes my lunch crawl up.

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  16. JWDawg

    I agree with Sparrow. Richt’s got a great football mind, but it seems like the past 2 years he’s blindly stabbing w/ gimmicks to try to motivate from time to time and I think it costs him credibility with the players whether they realize it or not. More over, when the team loses while perpetrating “the gimmick” (i.e. the blackout this year against AL); it hurst that much more. It seems like Richt has had to overcompensate as a motivator since the departure of VanGorder. I for one would love to see a “get in your face”, fire breathing assistant added to the staff in the offseason. Oh and Santa… please keep Stacy Searels in the Red and Black!

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  17. JaxDawg

    I agree alot with what has been posted above. There were alot of reasons combined that made this season what is was. Poor intensity, season ending injuries to starters and back-up players, Coaches not adjusting, and the other team adjusts to the Dawgs etc, etc. the list goes on and on. My humble opinion is, that it started with the off-field discipline issues. These young men need to realize that it is an honor and a privledge to be a part of the program they are. and Yes, they are held a cut above others on campus because it is a high visibilty program. Suspensions take away from the time it takes perfecting exceution and TEAMWORK. It just seemed by watching them the intensity, and hungry attitude the Dawgs had at the end of last season left with the players that ignited it. Someone needs to step up on that team and bring the fire back next year, I`m a loyal Dawg fan I just want to see them come out with that “it`s gonna be a bad day” for the other team.

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  18. ecdawg

    The injuries are a symptom rather than the problem. More injuries happen to the inadequately conditiioned player. The recent comment of the “pro observer” that UGA players are not strong is a realization of the conditioning problem. To play with ferocity for 60 minutes the team must have the mental clarity that can be obtained only when the body can go the distance against quality opponents without objection. When the QB is gassed after a scramble he throws at the receivers feet and fails to pick the first down. When the safety is gassed after fighting of a block and getting to the runner on the sideline, he fails to wrap-up and the runner (in shape) goes 60. The problem is not X’s and O’s, it’s preparation.

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  19. jimmydawg

    I agree with Jaxdawg in that there really were a lot reasons for our season to go the way it did. Coaching, injuries, adjustments, off-field problems, disciplien, penalties, etc. All of these areas have to improve. One thing I don’t hear a lot about is our talent and leadership. It’s either not be what we thought or maybe, just maybe, it hasn’t blossomed yet. We have a pretty young team and we really haven’t seen a lot of them on the field.

    “CWM had his starting safeties, corners, 2 of 3 LB’s, all of his DT’s (save Owens) and a bunch of DE’s.”

    I don’t know what Joe was thinking about. I’m no CWM fan but we lost both starting safties from last year’s team – Kelin Johnson and Tra Battle both team leaders and leaders of the defense. Reshad Jones and Quinten Banks were going to be the next Thomas Davis/Greg Belue but one was basically injured all season and the other just doesn’t “get it” or hasn’t bought in to it yet. It is not his lack of talent as he was in position to make plays all year long and frankly didn’t make very many – missed tackles, dropped interceptions come to mind. I give him the benefit of the doubt as sometimes it takes a while for these KIDS to “get it” and they have to learn from their mistakes. This is where we’ll find out about our coaching, and hopefully Reshad will be one of the most if not the most improved players on the team next year.
    In reference to the Muddy Waters post below http://www.dawgsonline.com/2008/12/23/muddy-waters/
    In wondering about our season if we had not made 3 plays – KY, SC, & Vandy – I could make the case in any given year there are 3 games that were decided by 1-3 plays and the season turned on the ability to make or not make those plays – what if Herchel hadn’t run over Bill Bates or Belue to Scott or Terry Hoage not blocked that kick? You can’t really look at things like that.

    The reality of our season is that the 3 teams we lost to all were able to pressure the QB and create turnovers. They had playmakers on defense that made plays and we didn’t have that ability, which is not to say that we won’t next year though. Defense & special teams wins games and the lack of production at DE, safety, and special teams is what sticks with me. We all agree coaching has to step up overall in every area, specifically CMR needs to wake up and hire a true DC with some intensity and a mean-streak so to speak – someone to put the fear into those guys. CWM needs to go back to DB’s and call him Co-DC. The deeper issues of team chemistry, discipine, “getting it” and “buying into it” are much more complicated as it falls as much on the players stepping up as leaders and taking responsibility for their play/actions. They either get it at some point or they don’t. Look at the NFL, where talent isn’t the difference but rather it is the emotion, intelligence, teamwork, and effort that is the difference.

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