Why I whine.

As someone who’s run a fan blog about Georgia football for over a decade, I rarely feel the need to explain myself any more, as there’s plenty of material posted here to do that kind of lifting.  But in light of recent comments I’ve seen here questioning my support for Kirby Smart, it seems like one of those moments is upon me.  So let me take a couple of minutes to clear the air.

I said immediately after Smart’s hire — actually, I think I may have even posted the sentiment before the hire — that Kirby is Georgia’s head coach and that in and of itself makes him worthy of my support.  End of story.  Nothing in that regard has changed; to suggest that I’m rooting for him to flop out of a sense of cynicism, or bitterness arising from Mark Richt’s dismissal is ludicrous.  I’ve been a Georgia fan for decades.  I want Georgia to win games and titles, pure and simple.  Not only that, but my fandom clock is running late.  I don’t have time to sit through a mediocre four-year run and then wait to see if the next guy is the one to pull the program’s proverbial nuts out of the fire.

So, please, stop with that bullshit.

That being said, there’s a big difference between supporting the football program and the head coach and being critical of shortcomings in both.  I simply don’t see how the 2016 season is worthy of being exempt from criticism on just about every level.  That doesn’t mean there haven’t been positive developments, many of which I have noted on more than one occasion, or that there isn’t reason to have expectations for better times coming soon.  But I’m not going to sugarcoat.  It wouldn’t feel right to me and I doubt you’d appreciate my lack of honesty.

I will say that for those of you who claim to detect a rise in my level of cynicism about Georgia football, you may have a point, even if it’s misdirected.  What’s fed into that isn’t Smart’s first year performance, which in the cold light of hindsight, could have been expected.  It’s the organization to which Smart is a part.

2016 did nothing to change my opinion about how the athletic department is run.  If anything, it reinforced my worst impressions.  Talk about cynicism — the way B-M milked our enthusiasm over the new coach’s honeymoon period with the state legislature and our pocketbooks with increased ticket pricing in the face of mediocre home scheduling could teach me a few lessons.

Then there’s the process that led to Smart’s hire.  Feel free to dismiss it in your enthusiasm, whether that’s due to Smart himself, the importation of the Process, Richt’s dismissal, or some combination of the three, but I’m not of the same mind.  There’s a reason that matters, too.  Greg McGarity’s track record as an evaluator of coaches, when it comes to hiring and firing, is consistent in that he has yet to find a single head coach who’s delivered excellence.

Doubt me on that?  Check out the current Learfield Directors’ Cup fall standings, where Georgia stands a proud 71st.  That’s actually a slight uptick from the previous fall. Yes, Georgia’s standing will improve after the spring, largely because results from the quality programs with coaches who weren’t hired by McGarity, like swimming and tennis, will kick in.  But that hardly changes the underlying concern I have.

Maybe you can separate that, but I can’t. For one thing, it’s hard for me to accept that Smart escapes that history, other than as the result of sheer, blind luck.  Maybe that will turn out to be the case, but that’s one helluva way to run a railroad.  Speaking of which, that’s the other side of my attitude coin.  Even if Kirby Smart proves to be every bit the quality hire we hope he is, to succeed, he’ll have to beat fourteen SEC schools to do it — Georgia’s conference competitors and Georgia’s athletic department.  That’s a lot to ask of the guy.

So you’ll have to forgive me if I seem a little more negative at times than you’d prefer.  You’re not Kirby Smart, but don’t take it personally on his account.

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Who pushes Eason in 2017?

If you start with the premise that, while Jacob Eason is a tremendously talented quarterback who had his expected struggles starting as a true freshman in the SEC, he is being counted on by the coaching staff, his teammates and the fan base to take the next step forward in his second season, then the question becomes what’s the lever that moves him there?  Is he sufficiently self-motivated to push himself to the next level, or is he someone who’s wired to do that by competition?

If it’s the latter — and as Eason enjoyed a stellar high school career without being pressured by competition, that’s far from a given — it’s a little hard to see where that might come from.  Lambert, who lost the starting position to Eason by the second game of the season, is gone.  Brice Ramsey, who wound up a second straight season as the starting punter, is by some accounts wavering between staying and going.

Then there’s Jake Fromm, the other five-star recruit who’s now sitting in quarterbacks meetings with Eason.  While you can never say never, it’s hard to see how replacing one true freshman who had to learn the ropes with coaches, players and an offense he’d never played in before with another who would have to experience the same learning curve would be a recipe for success.  You’d have to think the coaches are fervently hoping the light goes on for Eason, which would allow Fromm the benefit of a redshirt year getting comfortable.

But that gets me back to the question in the header.  If Eason needs to be pushed towards greatness, who’s gonna do the pushing?

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When life imitates snark

I thought I was just kidding the other day when I mentioned that Tennessee’s AD search should turn its eye Phillip Fulmer’s way, but it turns out somebody’s taking that seriously.

The latest twist in Tennessee’s saga of a search for a new athletic director certainly is an intriguing one.

The possibility of former Volunteers football coach Phillip Fulmer becoming the university’s athletic director gained traction this past weekend, and ESPN on Monday reported that Fulmer was a “prime candidate” to replace the outgoing Dave Hart.

When reached for comment by ESPN’s Chris Low, Fulmer neither addressed the athletic director job nor ruled himself out as a candidate, according to the report.

“Since I was 18 years old, UT’s best interests have always been my interest,” Fulmer told ESPN. “I want what is best for UT. (New chancellor) Dr. (Beverly) Davenport has laid out a clear process, and we have to respect the time and her vision to complete that process.”

USA Today also reported Fulmer’s emergence as a viable candidate.

Tennessee’s search process, according to USA Today, has been “murky at best and highly political,” and now “a group of influential boosters have been working behind the scenes to help install” Fulmer as the new athletic director, the national newspaper said.

One can only hope for the resurrection of donut jokes, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here.  Fulmer has no previous experience as an athletic director, but at Tennessee, I’m not sure he could do any worse in certain regards than the last two guys he would succeed in the position.  Certainly, he would usher in a new relaxed relationship with the local constabulary.

But all falls short of the single best take on his potential hire that I saw yesterday, which would be this.

Now that’s an area where Fulmer has experience.

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Truer words were never spoken.

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The land of second chances

In case you’ve forgotten the somewhat checkered history of the newest member of Nick Saban’s coaching staff, here’s a helpful summary.

The coaching doesn’t matter that much either if you can recruit.

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Does Georgia football need a change of perspective?

We all heard about Georgia’s buzz phrase for this past season.

Junior cornerback Aaron Davis met with the media after Wednesday’s practice and talked about the new mantra.

“We have this new motto: ‘Attack the Day,’ ” he said. “So just take each day for what it has and try to have your best practice every day.”

The new slogan has been put in as a reminder that the team just needs to improve on that day of work. It is meant to lead to incremental improvement throughout the offseason, season and, hopefully, into the postseason.

Under Mark Richt, Georgia used “Finish The Drill” in the hopes of the program reaching its first goal, which always was to win the SEC East. Richt constantly said when that if his team won the division and got to Atlanta, it likely had a great chance to play for a national championship.

Davis says Smart has not even brought up the idea of the championship game since he took over in January.

“Every team in college football wants to win a championship. But winning a championship has never been stressed,” Davis said. “That’s nothing he’s ever expressed to us.”

Davis said the coaches constantly remind the players to “ATD.”

“During workouts, during practice, all the coaches remind us, especially Coach Sinclair (strength coach Scott Sinclair),” Davis said. ‘He reminds us ‘attack the day.’ Get better today and just do all you can.”

Whether that was a successful approach for 2016 is a question I will leave for the subject of another post in the near future.  What I’m somewhat curious about is whether that’s the way Georgia needs to go about its business next season.

It’ll be the second year for the coaching staff.  If recruiting the class of 2017 plays out the way it appears to be headed, that, plus the attrition hit that most of the other schools in the SEC East are taking, would leave the Dawgs in the position of being arguably the most talented team in the division.  Add to that another potentially weak schedule and Georgia is likely to be pushed as the 2017 East favorite, regardless of how Kirby Smart wants to frame things.

Much is likely to be expected.

Expect Georgia to get the full-fledged Tennessee Vols treatment next summer, as the club that could make the leap from “uninteresting bowl team” to “playoff contender.” For Kirby Smart’s sake, let’s hope things work out better for the ‘Dawgs than they did for the Vols (who finished 9-4 overall).

Still, the hype will be justifiable for Georgia, a club that benefitted more than any other from a handful of players turning down NFL opportunities to return to college. Nick Chubb will be back for a fourth season after rushing for 1,130 yards this season and Jacob Eason is back after tossing 16 touchdowns as a true freshman. On defense, a number of key players, including linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive tackle Trenton Thompson return.

You can attack the day all you want, but if you coach your team to another year of missing the trip to Atlanta, the day isn’t all that’s likely to be attacked at season’s end.

I’m not mocking Smart’s day-to-day approach.  It’s a sensible tack to take for a team that’s settled into excellence mode and needs to stay on an even keel instead of racing ahead of itself.  But for a team that’s young and unproven on the one hand, that faces rising expectations on the other, is it wise to pretend to ignore those expectations?  (And let’s be honest, if the chatter gets loud enough, pretend is all they’ll be doing.)

Or is it better to adopt a mindset that embraces the expectations?  That’s the argument made here.  I don’t know the players as well as the coaching staff does, so I’m not sure it’s for me to say one way or the other.  But I don’t see how being labelled the 2017 version of Booch is a good look for Kirby.

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Does Booch need a scapegoat?

Your team, expected to contend for a conference title in 2016, didn’t even win its division.

You hired a hot-shot defensive coordinator who was expected to shore up that side of the ball for you; instead, it finished finished 95th in total defense.  But he’s got a big contract and it’s only one season, so it’s not like there’s much you can do about him right now.  (Especially since you’ve already lost your offensive coordinator to Indiana.)

Your secondary was ravaged by injuries, which caused you to deploy 11 different starting combinations during the regular season.  Bad luck.

So, given all that, what’s the next step?  Why, put Willie Martinez on the hot seat, of course.  At least it’s something he’s used to.

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On the clock again

Really, I’m surprised that members of the pundit class have begun beating the drums for shortening the length of college football games so quickly after we heard some initial grumblings from the grand poobahs running the sport.  You’d almost think it’s about making deadlines or something as banal as getting enough sleep.

Two plays before Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson rolled to his right, scanned the field long enough to notice outside receiver Artavis Scott run into Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, clearing the out route and his expertly thrown pass for slot man Hunter Renfrow and the game-winning touchdown, I did something I consider quite lucky.

I woke up. Just in time to see college football history live. Just in time to see mighty Alabama fall and the underdog Tigers finally reach the sport’s mountaintop. Just in time to say I saw the end of one of the best games in big-time college football this season, and maybe ever.

Good news for a guy like me. Bad news for college football, though.

If you’re making the argument that maybe college football shouldn’t be showcasing its premier event during prime time on a Monday night, you’ll get no argument from me.  But assholes wanna get paid, and ESPN knows where the money is.

So if you’ve got that late start and you want to tuck yourself in before midnight, what’s left?  Blame the clock, of course.

… When too many kids have no hope of staying up the entire game — my 10-year-old and 7-year-old lasted until halftime — college football has an issue to address.

The games are too long. They’re too long for the players, too long for the fans and too long for the long-term growth of the sport.

ESPN and the College Football Playoff want the championship game to reach the point where viewership isn’t impacted by yearly matchups. They want it to be a mini-Super Bowl where it’s appointment television no matter who plays. How can that possibly happen when the dramatic Clemson-Alabama finish occurs after midnight Eastern on a Tuesday morning?

Jesus, is there any CFB-related crisis that can’t be reduced to think of the children?

What’s particularly irritating here is the effort to dress the problem up in fan-concern clothing.  The problem is that it doesn’t really sell.

Now, it’s debatable who really finds this to be a problem. Commissioners clearly do. So do reporters, who are more and more often pushing increased work on deadline than they did in the past. So do many fans at home, who don’t particularly want to block out four hours every week to make sure they are seeing their favorite college football team play. But when we’re talking about the fans who are paying more exorbitant fees to attend games, there naturally seems to be less angst over game times.

It’s a catch-22 in a way for college football, which doesn’t want to fundamentally change the game for the paying customer, but knows it ultimately has to do so to placate the television networks.

This is supposed to be troubling for fans who show up hours before a game to tailgate?  The only problem we’re feeling is the incessant breaks for commercials during games. And I do mean incessant.

The networks could cut down on their 30-second commercials (average of 68 per game). Who hasn’t attended a game when the fans and players are anxiously waiting for the restart but television isn’t ready? It’s particularly troubling with so many night kickoffs because fans have to drive home very late. Now, whether TV wants to reduce the number of commercials while rights fees continue to increase is another question.  [Emphasis added.]

When you’ve got 34 minutes of commercial time interrupting a 60-minute game, you’ve got an issue.  Unfortunately for us paying suckers… er, fans, the people who have a problem with game times are those who have a stake in making sure that kickoffs fall neatly into broadcasting schedules.  They’re also the exact same folks who have zero interest in reducing the number of commercial breaks.  So there’s that.

Now if you read both linked pieces, you’ll see a lot of the same solutions to the problem being pushed — shorter halftimes, no clock stoppage after first downs until late in each half, reduce reviews, etc. — most of which come from that bastion of giving the networks what they want, the NFL.  The problem with most of that is again, it’s a strategy of lopping off things that make the college game different, like halftime shows from school bands.  It’s also shortsighted in that college football has parity issues that the NFL doesn’t have; an inferior opponent that is challenging for an upset win may need that extra time from the stopped clock after a first down to mount a comeback.

But my real cynicism about the benefits from moves to reduce the amount of time the game gets played is that it’ll be perceived as creating a vacuum that ESPN and its ilk will be more than happy to fill with more commercial time as the opportunity presents itself.  And why not?  If this is all about making the game more attractive to a certain audience…

The alternative is games continue to creep longer and longer. That could result in casual fans (but likely not the die-hards) losing some interest.

… that is happier with a shorter overall broadcast time frame, it’s likely those are the same folks who won’t care much if the networks can jam seven or eight more of those 30-second pitches into the three-and-a-half hours allotted.

As for the rest of us, we’ll have to be satisfied with being sold on the concept that games with less content represent an enhancement of the sport.  Not that you’ll get a discount for that…

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