Now and then, I think about something I posted when Mark Richt was fired by Georgia.
If you manage an SEC football program, there’s a difference between being committed to winning and being financially committed to winning. Everybody wants to win. The hard part is figuring out how to allocate resources to make sure that happens. And, no, that doesn’t mean spending money like a drunken sailor. (We’re looking at you, Tennessee.) It simply means that if you think your rightful place is among the Alabamas, Floridas and LSUs of the world, you’d better take a hard look at what they’re doing and make sure you’re giving your coaching staff the opportunity to keep up with them.
That wasn’t the Georgia Way of doing things. Here’s something AirForceDawg posted at a message board I frequent:
While UGA’s Football program is in a very good spot now, it wasn’t supported well under President Adams (1997-2013), AD Damon Evans (2004-’10), and AD Greg McGarity (2010-’20) until 2016.
In a 1998-’99 letter to donors, UGA Athletic Administration promised a full-sized $12M Indoor Practice Facility (IPF) “soon”. It took 18 years to finally build one (last in the SEC).
On 30 June 2004 President Adams forced AD Vince Dooley’s retirement despite the athletics program ranking #1 in the SEC and #5 in the nation per NACDA for the 2003-’04 season (success the athletic department hasn’t realized since then).
On 18 September 2004 Richt stated his #1 priority was a full-sized IPF, but AD Evans said UGA couldn’t afford one (despite the athletic department being in the black financially since at least 1997 per Adams). 21 months later UGA’s Athletic’s Department was declared “national financial champs” after earning a $24M profit the preceding year. Not bad for a 501-c-3 non-profit entity.
In 2009 UGA assistant S&C coaches were paid the conference’s lowest avg. salary (i.e., $39,405.25). Not surprisingly, later that fall former NFL 3x All-Pro OL Randy Cross stated after analyzing a UGA game: “There’s no excuse for not being a very tough football team. There’s no excuse for looking weak and I mean weak. They don’t look very strong.”
On 28 December 2009 UGA reneged on its traditional bowl bonuses to coaches citing “difficult economic conditions being experienced by the university”, despite the UGA Athletic Association transferring $16M in profits over the previous four years to the school. To fill the void, Richt paid his assistants and staff $63,556.50 in bonuses/compensation out of his own pocket. Since no good deed should go unpunished, on 20 December 2011, CMR, his assistants, & several staffers received a Letter of Admonition from AD McGarity.
On 18 February 2011 President Adams and AD McGarity asserted, “We will not oversign at Georgia.” This contributed mightily to CMR’s roster management issues through the remainder of his tenure (i.e., next five seasons) at UGA. Richt was only allowed to sign an equivalent # of those that graduated and/or entered the NFL Draft. Adams/McGarity failed to account for post-NSD attrition (e.g., transfers, dismissals, medical exemptions/hardships, academic casualties, non-qualifiers).
In 2010 one of our wide receivers said UGA Football’s temporary S&C facility was a “dungeon”. In 2011 UGA Football operated w/ 3.5 S&C coaches (i.e., JTII, Keith Gray, Thomas Brown, and John Kasay [part-time employee]) while some SEC teams operated w/ as many as 12 S&C coaches. On 1 August 2012 the NCAA limited teams to a maximum of five S&C coaches, yet UGA only employed four from May 2012 – January 2015. During that time ADGM felt UGA could fill the fifth position w/ an intern, if necessary. In 2014 UGA Football’s S&C program was so inadequate 19 of our players supplemented their workouts at GATA Training in Duluth, GA.
In fiscal year 2015 (i.e., 1 July 2014 – 30 June 2015) UGA Football’s operational expenses ranked #7 in the SEC.
In 2015 Richt’s salary ranked #12 in the SEC, despite UGA having earned a 146-51 record (74.1%) and two SEC Championships (the first one breaking a 20-year drought) under his leadership.
The Georgia Way was more than just Greg McGarity, as I noted in another post, written well into Smart’s tenure.
While Georgia claims it is more financially stable than its counterparts, it still remains to be seen whether this will translate into winning. Georgia’s athletics programs had one of its worst runs in quite a while during the 2016-17 season.
… It’s hard not to notice that the losses that have piled up play a part in the notion that the athletics department isn’t spending money on upgrading facilities at a fast rate. And until the wins start adding up, fans will be wondering what more can be done to fix the situation Georgia athletics has found itself in.
“I know our program is not reaching its full potential,” McGarity said.
Tucked along the west side of Stegeman Coliseum, there’s a dark stairwell. It leads to a narrow hallway that smells a bit of mildew and leads to a small room stuffed to the walls with weights and workout equipment. It’s a gym that would be substandard for most successful high school football programs, but for the Georgia Bulldogs, it’s home — for now.
Affectionately called “The Dungeon,” by Georgia’s players, the room features benches with torn padding, worn weights and dingy walls. During last week’s storms, the room flooded, and by Thursday, large dehumidifiers were taking up valuable real estate in the cramped quarters.
“There’s no windows, and it’s basically a dark broom closet,” wide receiver Kris Durham said. “But it’s what we have, so we’re taking it the best we can and we’re going to work hard there.”
The sad thing about that article was that it went on to pump Georgia’s state of the art new facility, which included this white elephant:
The most noticeable addition is a multi-purpose room that can be used to hold banquets and camps but also will serve as a de facto indoor practice facility. The room is two stories high and will house a field that is 20 yards wide and 60 yards long. A curtain will be outfitted along the roof that can split the room in half, allowing Georgia’s offense and defense to hold pregame walk-throughs in the facility.
Yeah, that worked out well.
Maybe the program wasn’t reaching its full potential on the field, but, shoot, it was at the bank.
As recently as 2009-10, Georgia made a larger profit on its football program than all but one school in the nation; UGa’s $52.5M take came during the salad days of the Mark Richt era, in the midst of a disappointing 8-5 season but after a 21-5 record the previous two years. Sanford Stadium, 10th-largest in the country at 92,746 seats, is still filled to capacity every home Saturday. But Richt had outworn his welcome by the 2015-16 fiscal year with some underwhelming performances by his Bulldogs in big games and some grumbling preceded his evacuation to Miami. It remains to be seen how Kirby Smart fills the void. But Georgia fans remain resolute in showing up.
Georgia is in a happier place now, primarily because Kirby Smart figured out how to hack the Georgia Way. Per AFD,
– UGA Football recruiting expenses:
— FY2014: $717,091 (HC Mark Richt)
— FY2015: $1,340,000 (HC Mark Richt)
— FY2016: $2,195,966 (HC Mark Richt/HC Kirby Smart)
— FY2017: $2,270,960 (HC Kirby Smart)
— FY2018: $2,626,622 (HC Kirby Smart)
— FY2019: $3,676,858 (HC Kirby Smart)
— FY2020: $2,738,389 (HC Kirby Smart) – note: COVID-19 impacts
— FY2021: information hasn’t been released yet
But here’s the thing, before some of you go on the usual tack that Richt wouldn’t have known how to spend the extra money if it had been there all along: Richt with his hands tied behind his back, fiscally speaking, was doing pretty well on the recruiting front, anyway.
Again, as AFD notes,
CMR’s recruiting classes avg. 8.8 nationally from 2001-’14 per Scout/Rivals. On the day he was fired, 29 November 2015, UGA Football’s 2016 recruiting class ranked #1 in the country per the 247Sports Composite (including 5* QB Jacob Eason and 4* OG Ben Cleveland; 5* TE Isaac Nauta and 5* ATH Mecole Hardman, Jr. were “silent” commitments at the time per “insiders”). Thus Richt wasn’t slacking as he neared the finish line and left Kirby Smart w/ some good pieces.
The point isn’t that Smart hasn’t done a better job running Georgia’s football program than Mark Richt. He clearly has; the proof is in the national championship pudding. The point is that as much as they tried to talk otherwise, Butts-Mehre was never committed to winning, at least not in the college football world Nick Saban wrought, until they got desperate enough to listen to Smart. In the SEC, a head coach isn’t going to grab the brass ring without an administration’s full backing. Richt never got the chance Smart got and we resolute Georgia fans suffered as a result.
But having a chance isn’t everything, as Graham notes.
Winning begins at home. Just ask Kirby Smart. And Mark Richt, for that matter.