Tucker, the Board of Regents member, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his freshman year at UGA. He spoke to USA Today before the 2015 Alabama game about Georgia football trying to do things the right way.
Two years later, Tucker said nothing has changed from his perspective. He’s supportive of Smart but also still supportive of what UGA says its athletics mission should be: Recruit high-character athletes who “have the academic wherewithal to succeed” at UGA. From what he can tell, Smart is doing a good job with that.
“I don’t think anybody that I know of, who’s been in any leadership position in the university system or the University of Georgia, is saying, ‘Let’s water down anything,’ ” Tucker said. “Let’s get the best people we can to fit our student-athlete role at Georgia. It appears we’re doing that. Now whether we’re successful remains to be seen.”
Tucker also supported the upgrade in facilities.
“We were sort of lagging behind our other conference competitors, relative to the indoor facility, which has been planned and talked about for a long time. It’s finally a reality,” Tucker said. “And this west end zone project is needed. The athletic association is doing a great job of raising money and spending money to spend for its student-athletes. …
“Our facilities haven’t always maintained pace with our aspirations. And now they have.”
NeSmith, the former Board of Regents chairman, said two years ago that he didn’t want UGA to “sell its soul” to win championships. He hasn’t changed his tune, either, but seems glad the spending has increased.
“Like it or not, big-time college football is an all-out arms race. The over-the-top spending is just part of the game,” NeSmith wrote in an email. “I have been a Kirby Smart fan before he was named the Bulldogs head coach. As a Georgia alum, I want two things: 1) Win more championships. 2) UGA to be a leader by setting an example of how to win the right way, with honor. Go, Dawgs!”
They know they want everything. They just don’t have the first clue about how to get it done, bless their hearts. And these aren’t the guys sitting in the stands behind you on game day, bitching about Mike Bobo. They’re Regents! These are supposedly the people who give Morehead and McGarity their marching orders about the football program.
So where were they back when this was happening?
As Jeremy Pruitt prepared for the moment that would shake up UGA athletics, he knew what he was about to do. Georgia’s football team had just conducted a half-hearted practice in its half-baked indoor facility, dodging windows and walls in the process, and Pruitt was exasperated.
It was the week of Georgia’s game against Georgia Tech, three seasons ago. Pruitt, the defensive coordinator at the time, normally was reluctant to speak to the media. But this time he walked out with a purpose.
“This is gonna be the last team [that Georgia doesn’t have a real indoor facility] because those guys upstairs, they’re serious,” Pruitt said. “They’re trying to figure out the fastest way they can get us one. And as soon as they can figure out how it can be done, they’re gonna be doing it. And I want the recruits to know that they’re not gonna suffer because of it.”
The only problem was it wasn’t quite true. A design study had been approved a few months earlier to “explore” building a real, full-length facility, and an architect had been hired. But things were not going to move as fast as Pruitt said.
Three years later, Georgia officials bristle at the idea that Pruitt was the one who got the $30.2 million indoor facility built. Indeed, the long-sought building would have arrived eventually either way, they say.
Georgia broke ground for the indoor facility shortly after Smart was hired, becoming the last in the SEC to get one. So in that way, the thinking already had begun to change at UGA. As recently as December 2013, athletics director Greg McGarity had expressed ambivalence about building an indoor facility.
McGarity declined comment for this story. In an interview in December 2013, he said:
“You can count on your hands how many times we would have needed it this year. You can probably count it on one hand. Two days against Tech. Probably the first day of bowl practice. So that’s a significant investment for something that is used infrequently.”
That contrasted with a coaching staff that believed it would use one a lot more. Then-assistant coach Mike Ekeler said in late 2014: “I mean, it’s crazy. It’s amazing we don’t have one. It’s absolutely crazy. It’s absurd.”
Nah. It’s just the Georgia Way.
Which brings us to a couple of Frank Ros quotes…
Frank Ros, a member of the 1980 national championship team, is a successful businessman and donor to UGA athletics. Ros said UGA has the basics in place – a great alumni base, recruiting base, the right athletes and a “strong” administration – to succeed.
“You’ve got to be who you are,” Ros said. “But, at the end of the day, there’s no reason why the University of Georgia can’t compete for the national championship in all sports every year.”
Ros, whose son was a football recruit, said he once met with Saban. From that conversation, his takeaway was this: Saban knew what he wanted and was going to make sure he got it.
“I think Kirby learned that and understands that you have to advocate on behalf of what you want, in a way that is convincing to the administration,” Ros said. “And I think you’re seeing some of that happening now.”
“I’m one of those who, yeah, you look at your competition, but you don’t let them determine what you do,” Ros said. “You better have a strategic plan, and you better have goals and aspirations, and you work toward those. … You set your own road map. And, you know, Georgia has been very successful. Now what’s happened is Alabama has been extraordinarily successful. …
“Mark did a great job. Now Kirby is pushing the envelope, making sure that we continue to evolve as an athletic department and football program. It’ll be interesting to see what happens this year.”
The Regents’ “strategic plan” amounts to win big and win clean, with a dash of Alabama-envy tossed in for flavor. The administration’s plan is to write checks for whatever they can convince the boosters to pay for. Combine them both, and you get Fran Tarkenton.
Tarkenton was asked if he thought the administration was supportive enough.
“I think it is, but if the alumni base doesn’t get off our collective asses and give money to this program and support this program, then we won’t compete against Alabama,” Tarkenton said. “To compete against Alabama, we’ve got to give Kirby the resources. And we’re starting to do that. But we’ve got a long way to go there. We really do.”
Where was this attitude ten or twelve years ago? Oh, right — the big shots didn’t think it was needed.
I’ve said this before, but right now Kirby Smart may have more dumped on him than any coach in Georgia history. He’s not only expected to win big and win clean, but he’s also expected to lead a clueless, spineless bunch to the way to run a big-time football program in the era of Saban. If he doesn’t pull all of it off, they’ll just shrug their shoulders, throw all the blame Smart’s way (“we gave you that money…”) and proceed to the next clueless, spineless hire/fire move. Because that’s how folks with no accountability operate. It’s what they’ve always done.
It’s the Georgia Way, peeps.