At this point in time, I’m going to assume that the vast majority of you have surfed every Georgia football-related website in existence for spin and analysis regarding Mark Richt’s decision to cut ties with Martinez, Fabris and Jancek. I’m not going to waste bandwidth here speculating on their replacements, although I will say that I find most of the names being put forward as a potential replacement for defensive coordinator are either unrealistic (Tommy Tuberville? Seriously?) or just plain dumb (I’d rather Richt have retained Martinez than hire John Thompson).
So let me do what I tend to do in response to situations like this here at GTP – throw out some random thoughts and observations and see what sticks.
- Mark Richt. The first thing that struck me reading the transcript from Richt’s teleconference yesterday is the genuine decency of the man. You can fault him for taking time in coming to a final decision if you’d like, but you can’t say he hasn’t been thoughtful about it. Hindsight is always 20/20 as the saying goes, but looking back on things from today’s plateau, it’s clear that Richt thought Martinez deserved to be judged in the end on a year that wasn’t as seriously marred by injuries as was 2008. It also strikes me that Richt’s more recent comment about how this year might have been better if the turnover situation wasn’t so horrendous turned out not to be an exercise in excuse making, but rather an observation that his program should have performed much, much better than it did. I don’t take any pleasure in these three men – who did, after all, bust much ass for the program – losing their jobs, but I think it’s fair to point out that Richt spent a significant of good will in his caution and loyalty to them. I hope at least there aren’t any hard feelings over the decision.
- Willie Martinez. Honestly, he had to go. I say that not because of schemes or adjustments or any of the other nuts and bolts brickbats tossed in his direction with increasing frequency over the past three seasons, but simply because his players had stopped listening to him. The steady decline in defensive performance under his direction has been well documented – witness the fact that under Martinez, Georgia’s defenses have allowed increasingly more points each season: 14.6, 17.1, 21.0, 25.6 and 26.4 points per game – but what makes it even more alarming is that the recent clock changes instituted for the last two of those seasons favor defenses. I’m sure he’s a good man, but in the end, Martinez’ legacy for me will always be these two bookends in his stint as DC: the decision to deploy Greg Blue in his standard cover two defense against West Virginia’s spread option attack along with his decision to stay with Bryan Evans as the starter over Bacarri Rambo.
- Rodney Garner. I think the observation that if Garner were going to be promoted into the defensive coordinator position, it would have been announced yesterday is correct. I think Richt feels it’s necessary to go outside the program to find someone to take that slot. I also have no idea if Garner is ready for that position even if Richt was of a different mind about the hire. Even so, I don’t get the criticism being tossed Garner’s way these days by many. He was the glue that held things together when Donnan was canned and Richt was hired, he’s done an admirable job as recruiting coordinator and he’s turned out his fair share of competent to excellent defensive tackles. Has he looked around with regular frequency to see what other jobs might be available out there? Sure, but I have trouble faulting a guy for having ambition like that. Given what sounds like a somewhat prickly relationship with Damon Evans, it may be that Garner moves on this offseason, but if he stays, I hope that Richt promotes him by giving him responsibility for the entire defensive line so that a slot on the staff can be opened up to hire a full-time special teams coach.
- Jon Fabris. I don’t know him and I don’t want to say too much here. But the way he screwed with Blair Walsh’s head in 2008 is inexcusable, in my opinion.
- Damon Evans. It’s clear now that he and Richt have had discussions about this for some time. It’s also clear that Evans is aware this process is likely to result in an increased commitment, both in terms of salaries and multi-year contracts. It’ll be interesting to see how far he’s asked to go, though.
- What’s to come. If anything surprised me about the announcement, it’s that Richt has asked the three to stay on and coach through the bowl game. To me, one thing about a quick hire now, at least at the defensive coordinator position, is that it would provide an opportunity not so much to install a new package but to begin an evaluation of the personnel that would carry over to the spring. It would also cut down on the strain that Richt will likely be under to hold the 2010 recruiting class together. (You can hear Junior’s pitch to Georgia’s defensive commits, can’t you?) What I don’t worry about is the quality of the men Richt will bring in. He did just fine the last time he worked from a clean sheet of paper in hiring a DC.
As I wrote in the header, it is the end of an era. We’re moving on to the third phase of the Richt regime: the period from 2001-2004 of the two Davids and VanGorder which saw the program restored to relevance as an SEC power, followed by the run from 2005-2009 which has been marked by erratic results and a steady decline in defensive prowess have concluded. Richt knows where he wants to get the program back to.
“The bottom line is we want to get back to the top of the Eastern Division and the top of the SEC, so we’re — that’s the ultimate goal, that’s what we’re going after, so we want to bring in the finest coaches and men we think we can.”
Whatever else you can say about Mark Richt, he’s not a dumb guy. He knows what happens to head coaches at Georgia who don’t produce good defenses. And when he looks at the final results from 2009, which show Georgia at the top in point production in conference games and at the bottom in scoring defense in those same games (at nearly three touchdowns per game more than SEC leader Alabama!), some degree of self-preservation has to kick in.
The good thing from our selfish standpoints is that Richt and the program have much to offer in this job hunt: lots of young talent to mold, a significantly easier schedule in the next two seasons and a national profile upon which to display the results should all make things very attractive to the right kind of coaches. Even a recovery to being merely above average by SEC standards would make the next DC a hero. And I have a very hard time believing that there aren’t a few candidates out there capable of at least that level of competence.
One last thing. What pleased me most out of reading the teleconference transcript was this very brief answer to a question that I’m sure has been on the minds of many about the decision:
On how much influence public or booster pressure had…
Maybe I’m naive, but I believe that. I do think the time he took to reach this point, as well as the time he spent in discussion with Evans, are indications that Richt made the call on his own. And that’s how I want my head coach to manage a program.