I gotta admit, Seth Emerson hooked me from the get-go with this:
Shaq Wiggins liked to sing. During practice last year it wasn’t unusual to walk by Georgia’s defensive backs, often lazing about during a drill, and hear the dulcet tones of Wiggins, the freshman cornerback, belting out a tune.
It’s his intro to a larger point, one that’s entirely expected after the news of Wiggins’ departure from the program.
Either way, there is a larger trend: High-profile transfers and a dismissal have now replaced off-field incidents as an issue on head coach Mark Richt’s team.
Yes, arrests and suspensions have continued, but arrests have been relatively minor — the lone felony charge the past four years was later dismissed — while the suspensions are largely self-inflicted. Georgia’s drug policy, and its harsher discipline for failed marijuana tests, are chiefly to blame.
The amount of quality players leaving the program, however, is not easy to dismiss.
Well… yes and no.
Certainly it hurts losing a bunch of kids who could have been contributors this season in what looks right now like a depleted secondary. But as Emerson goes on to note, context matters, too.
Let’s be clear: Many of these dismissals and transfers had to happen. Wiggins’ situation is a bit cloudier, but with many of the recent situations, Richt and Georgia are to be commended for taking a harsher stance than many of their competitors.
The result has been more transfers and less serious off-field problems, as well as better locker room chemistry. Yes, Georgia is still the butt of jokes from Steve Spurrier and some media types, but those closer to the program know this is a tighter ship now.
Hard to fault Richt for engineering that.
Several years ago, Richt had a change when it came to dealing with discipline. Gone was the Bobby Bowden philosophy of rehabilitating players under your watch. The rash of arrests between 2007-10 forced the change.
“I’ve probably had a little less patience than I’ve had in the past,” Richt said in July of 2011.
Wiggins’ situation isn’t discipline-related, but it, too, is understandable in the context of the sea change on the defensive coaching staff. It wouldn’t surprise me if he isn’t the last to have a change of heart, either.
In the end, all of this reinforces my belief that the most important lesson Mark Richt has had to learn in the past few seasons is roster management. As bad a cumulative effect as the departures may have this season, imagine how much worse they’d be if coupled with the severe reduction of numbers the program was facing in, say, 2011 or 2012. If recruiting is the lifeblood of any successful SEC football program, it’s because quantity is as important as quality. Staying on top of that 85-scholarship limit is the best way Richt can manage to be less patient and still prosper.