While I suppose it was inevitable that the Crowell dismissal would be the inspiration for another Jeff Schultz column in which he appoints himself Mark Richt’s scold, yesterday’s piece took a slightly different tack from where Schultz usually goes when the criminal element rears its ugly head in Athens town.
That may be the consequence, as Schultz concedes, of the fact that nobody can accuse Richt of sitting on his hands anymore when a player, even one as important as Crowell was, crosses a line.
Richt, to his credit, no longer responds to players’ criminal or just plain stupid actions by merely making them run stadium steps or suspending their dessert privileges. He has come a long way from enabling Odell Thurman. He suspends players. He kicks them out. He tries to make them understand that getting four or five stars stamped on your forehead by a recruiting site and the ego trip of a signing-day news conference shouldn’t be accompanied by a sense of entitlement (even if it too often does).
Or, it may be because certain issues are both beyond Richt’s control and not matters that Richt’s peers need address, again, as Schultz concedes: “Some of Georgia’s problems can be attributed to having a tougher drug-and-alcohol policy than other schools.”
But seven kids are gone, gone, gone from Georgia’s vaunted Dream Team class. And that means somebody’s got to shake a vigorous finger in Richt’s direction. Jeff Schultz is more than happy to supply that finger. It’s just that instead of tut-tutting about an out of control program, it’s now about not winning enough.
The problem now is that too many of the players Georgia is recruiting should be red-lined. The line of risk needs to be pulled back.
Obviously, Richt and his staff are getting a lot right. The Bulldogs are favored to win the SEC East. They’re projected to open the season as a top-10 team.
But imagine if they actually had everybody there.
So Richt’s a guy who needs to be held accountable when he tolerates bad behavior, and he’s also a guy who needs to be held accountable when he doesn’t. How does that work exactly? Well, it would seem to start by weeding out the bad seeds before they ever get to campus.
Have the negative headlines of this offseason given him reason to pay closer attention to a recruit’s personal blemishes?
“We do find out as much as we possibly can,” he said. “There are rules on how many times we can call a kid and see him in person. We try to maximize those things.”
Sorry. But losing seven of 26 kids from one recruiting class in one year screams that there’s a need for a better filter.
What sort of filter? Schultz doesn’t have an answer – and again concedes that there probably isn’t an easy one.
Richt was accurate when he said, “To say that issues aren’t happening around the country isn’t really realistic.”
Every major program in the country wanted Isaiah Crowell coming out of high school. There wasn’t a one of them which wouldn’t have taken his signature on the dotted line had it been offered. And there wasn’t a word of warning when Crowell hoisted that puppy in the air that Richt was making a serious mistake in signing him. Indeed, Schultz himself had this to say after Ealey and King left the program: “Fact is, the Dogs were going to rise or fall next season on the strength of freshman Isaiah Crowell, any way.”
So somehow Mark Richt is supposed to be able to reach into the hearts and minds of men (well, seventeen-year old men, anyway) and divine an evil purpose that no one else can see. In other words, Mark Richt’s biggest flaw as a head coach is that he’s not the greatest amateur psychiatrist on the planet.
That’s not a standard Schultz has failed to deploy before. If you’ll recall, he was very critical of Richt’s search for a replacement for Willie Martinez, not because Grantham was a poor choice, but because Richt got used during the search process by the likes of Foster, Chavis and Smart to get better contracts from their existing employers. As I pointed out at the time, that premise ignores the way the hiring process works. But in Schultz’ mind, it should have been obvious to Richt than none of those men were ever serious about coming to Georgia.
Of course, the beautiful thing here is that none of us know if Richt and his staff have turned down certain kids who they felt were too big a risk (although given Georgia’s alarming number of open scholarships, I suspect that’s been the case more than we suspect), kids who indeed went on to become problems in college. But I bet Jeff Schultz could write a doozy of a column about a talented kid whom Richt wouldn’t take a chance on, then went on to college and managed to become a success on and off the field. (I’m looking at you, Deion Bonner.)
Speaking of Bonner, maybe Schultz thinks it would be a good idea for Richt to avoid recruiting Columbus Carver entirely. After all, Bonner and Crowell make for two pretty significant flame outs in a short time. Here’s how another Carver grad might answer that:
“I hear that a lot. It ain’t Carver. It’s not Carver It’s the individual,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of great players that that have went on from Carver: Oklahoma State, Duke University, Ole Miss. I mean we’ve got a lot of players in Division I football. It’s the individual that makes mistakes. … It’s never the school, it’s the players.”
Jones, of course, is one of those players that has avoided trouble, despite a rough upbringing.
That’s why you take a risk, if you’re Mark Richt. It’s not just because you have to recruit where the talent takes you, although that’s certainly a large part of it. It’s also, though, because you honestly believe you can make a difference with the kids you bring into the program. You’re not always going to be right about that. But I don’t think that means you should give up altogether.
UPDATE: Michael Felder has a succinct rebuttal to Schultz – “Georgia doesn’t have a discipline issue. They have a getting caught issue.”