It won’t surprise you to learn there’s plenty of shallow analysis regarding the coaching changes in Athens and Miami out there right now – if I had a buck for every “Jesus comes to ‘Da U” piece I’ve seen already, I could buy a nice dinner for two – but there are a couple of intelligent pieces I’ve come across with some observations worth sharing.
First, here’s what Bruce Feldman has to say about some of the events leading to Mark Richt’s dismissal:
This season, though, Richt’s program backslid, going 9-3 and getting blown out by rival Florida and by Alabama. The Dawgs didn’t defeat a single ranked team. As FOX Sports reported in early November, Richt had lost some of the support of the big UGA boosters after the 27-3 debacle vs. Florida and first-year coach Jim McElwain. Beyond that, sources told FOX Sports that Richt was dealing with lots of friction inside the Georgia football program, some of it stemming from the old-guard Bulldog staff vs. the new guard regarding many of the changes in how the Dawgs program is run.[Emphasis added.]
Many of these changes, from staffing moves to operational decisions to how the team gets ready for its games, were pushed for by second-year Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, a Nick Saban disciple who came to Athens after helping lead Florida State to the national title following the 2013 season.
None of which should come as any real shock to those of us who have been following the program closely this season. Hell, Richt pretty much confirmed that at his last press conference when he said,
If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t say so much as going backwards as much going forwards, if I do decide to coach again that especially as a head coach and trying to do these things, which I would want to do, I have to make sure there’s enough support around me to do certain things. Also let people on the front end, I’m going to be coaching in the offseason too. I’m going to be preparing for the season and just get the expectations to where everybody understands where I’m at on the front end.
When I first came here, I had never been a head coach. I didn’t know anything. Well, I knew a little bit, looking at Coach Dooley over there. There’s a lot of things I didn’t know. I didn’t know the Georgia culture. I didn’t know a lot of things. I’ve learned a lot. I learned a lot…
How does a change of head coaches, in and of itself, mend the culture? Answer: it doesn’t. So, then, is it reasonable to expect Kirby Smart to succeed in ways Mark Richt didn’t? Let Andy Staples take that question.
… The hope is that, like Fisher at Florida State, Smart can replicate the recruiting system, player development program and infrastructure of Saban’s program at Alabama.
The Bulldogs tried to incorporate elements of Saban’s program in 2014 by bringing in former Saban and Fisher assistant Jeremy Pruitt to run the defense. But, as any Breaking Bad viewer knows, half measures rarely produce the desired result. Pruitt agitated for bigger changes to make Georgia more like Alabama, but that didn’t necessarily jive with the culture put in place by Richt. For this approach to work, everyone in the program must be pulling in the same direction.
And athletic director Greg McGarity had better be ready to spend some money. The Bulldogs are already building an indoor practice facility, but Smart will likely want to beef up the staff with a host of analysts and quality control personnel. When Fisher took over at Florida State prior to the 2010 season, he beefed up the academic advising staff, the analyst/quality control staff and the strength staff. He hired dietitians to monitor what players ate. He also helped raise money for a new dorm for players and for the indoor facility that the Seminoles opened in ’13. Muschamp, by comparison, didn’t get everything on his wish list at Florida. When he was fired, the Gators had no indoor facility. McElwain, however, got the indoor facility he wanted and has been allowed to create some—but not all—of the support staff positions he wants.
Georgia already has most of what Smart will need, but he’ll want more. One thing Saban and Fisher stressed when I interviewed them for that Sabanization story is that program infrastructure is as important, or possibly more important, than a team’s X’s and O’s.
It’s not simply spending more money that solves things. It’s spending more money wisely. That, by and large, should be within the exclusive purview of the football coach. It’s the AD’s job to set a budget; it’s the coach’s job to maximize the resources made available to him. That hasn’t been the Georgia Way.
And that hasn’t changed, at least not yet. If the rumors about the negotiations between Georgia and Smart’s representatives are accurate, this is what the haggling is over. It’s a big deal if you care about the direction the program takes from here. If you want change, you shouldn’t be rooting for Smart to walk away from the deal. You should be rooting for Smart to win.