Tony Barnhart chimes in with a suggestion on how to rein in player misbehavior.
… But I don’t think you ever get a handle on that subset of problem children unless you have a conversation with them that goes something like this:
Young man, you are blessed with enormous talent. But you have a decision to make. Which do you want to do more: Play football and go to school OR engage in anti-social and potentially criminal activity? You can’t do both. If you want to play football we have a great opportunity here and we would love to have you with us because, as I said, you are very talented and we believe you could be very successful as an athlete and as a student.
But if you embarrass our football program and our university, your athletic career can be ended right here and right now. You know that NFL dream you’ve had since you were little? It won’t happen because the pros have decided they are fed up with the Michael Vicks and the Ben Roethlisbergers, and the Pac-Man Joneses of the world. These guys do more background research on a potential NFL Draft pick than the U.S. Senate does on a future Supreme Court justice. They will come to us and ask us what we think of you. And we will tell them the truth.
So on draft day, when you go in the fifth round after your agent said you were a lock to go in the first, you’ll know why.
Sounds good on the surface, but I’m not sure how effective that winds up being. Kids with legitimate pro prospects have options and if they don’t feel like they’re going to get the love they want from a program, they’ll go elsewhere. And maybe that’s okay with many of you, but, as Barnhart notes, there will be consequences.
… But on this issue, fans and media are often guilty of wanting to have their cake and eat it too. When the left tackle gets into trouble and embarrasses your university, you want him gone–right now. But when the backup left tackle gives up four sacks in the next game and your team loses, the coaches suddenly become stupid people and should be replaced.
We can’t have it both ways. Like we just told the athlete who behaves badly, we have a choice. We either want discipline or we don’t. If we do, then we have to be adults and live with the consequences. And if we don’t, we also have to be prepared to live with the consequences as well.
The problem is that Georgia won’t operate on a level playing field if it adopts a Michael Fitzpatrick-like scorched earth policy. Dismissing Tavarres King for underage possession may make you feel saintlier in the short run, but King will certainly find plenty of other places willing to take him and his receiving skills. In the end, the only lessons to be learned from that sort of move will be the realization that Georgia isn’t a very forgiving program and that there are more attractive options to develop NFL skills.
And as for Jeff Schultz’ suggestion – “But if Richt believes he is doing everything he can to discipline his players, maybe the problem is he’s picking the wrong players.” – hey, if it’s so easy, Jeff, you do it. Richt is trying to manage 100+ eighteen to twenty one-year olds from varying backgrounds, and in the summer he’s stuck trying to do it during a period when his contact with his charges is limited by NCAA rules. That’s yeoman’s work as it is. But to expect that a football coach can predict every player’s future consistently… well, I’ve raised three daughters and they’re all great kids whom I trust. But they’ve each done stupid things away from home. Hell, I did stupid things in college. In fact, I’m not sure I know anybody who didn’t do something stupid in college. Why would we expect these players to behave differently?
None of which is to suggest that certain actions aren’t beyond the pale. But if we’re simply going to toss all player arrests into a common hat and in so doing equate not giving a police officer a middle name, underage possession, DUI and physical assault with each other, the results aren’t going to be constructive.
Mark Richt’s job isn’t to eliminate misbehavior. That’s a task above his pay grade. All he can do is make sure that every player in his program knows there will be consequences for crossing a line and that the rules are consistently and fairly enforced. A player makes a mistake, that’s on the player. A coach doesn’t enforce proper discipline when a player makes a mistake, that’s on the program. People need to recognize the difference between the two.