“Good afternoon, everybody. Nothin’ going on here!”

Nice, classy tribute to Verne Lundquist from ESPN here, with a few Georgia touches.  It’ll make you smile.

It’ll also make you a little wistful that we’re losing another voice that is part of what makes football in the South special.

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Filed under SEC Football

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Check out number eight on this list.

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Filed under Georgia Football

Making a bad situation worse

I hope Georgia Tech’s new AD doesn’t read this post, but it’s worth noting something MaconDawg wrote over at DawgSports yesterday.

From Clemson’s Deshaun Watson to current Bulldog commit Jake Fromm, to nationally ranked recruits like 2018 Cartersville quarterback Trevor Lawrence (and even younger players like Marietta freshman Harrison Bailey, recently offered by the Bulldogs) the state of Georgia has undergone a renaissance in high school quarterback play over the past few years. USA Today asked those who would know, including some of those top flight quarterbacks themselves, about what has changed.

Not to spoil the answers, but they generally focus on the rise of passer-friendly offenses, 7-on-7 tournaments, and the availability of elite private QB coaching. I think those all play a part. One overlooked answer however may be the rising tide that has lifted the number of elite recruits in the state at every position: an exploding population, especially in the metro Atlanta area. The fact is there are more, bigger high schools, many of which have vastly more athletic resources, than in the past.

But the population boom has been going on for decades. The evolution of high school offenses in the state has been a more recent development, and a rapid one at that. Of the eighteen Peach State high school quarterbacks with the most career passing yards, seventeen graduated in 2004 or after (the lone exception being Americus standout and FSU Seminole Fabian Walker). Only one of the top seventeen seasons in terms of touchdown passes occurred before 2009, the year Hutson Mason’s 54 touchdown passes blew past the record previously held by Charlton County’s Jeremy Privett.

To put it another way, gone are the days when football Friday nights in the Peach State are dominated by the power-I and the triple option (sorry, Tech fans). Not mentioned in the article is the fairly self-evident proposition that Georgia is in position to benefit disproportionately from this phenomenon.

Even given that, as Johnson himself admits, Tech’s recruiting in the era of the triple option has been shabby, this strikes me as a pretty big deal, at least in the near future.  Quarterback, no matter what offensive system you run, is the most important position on the field, and if high school offenses are drifting away from running to passing schemes on a widespread basis, that’s going to make it ever harder for Tech to find in state quarterbacking.

It’s not just the one position, either, of course.  Offensive linemen that train to block in offenses that throw the ball all over the place aren’t going to be ready to cut block like mad overnight.  And some of those high school running backs are either going to find their skills deployed at other positions or running out of a lot of shotgun sets.  Either way, that’s not a good trend for Paul Johnson.

What makes it worse is that it allows schools besides UGA that can attract the new blood being developed by Georgia high schools to make inroads there.  And once you establish relationships with high school coaches for some of their offensive players, you can grow that to players in general.  I don’t see how Tech can prosper ceding much of the talent in as rich a state as this one to out of state programs.

As MaconDawg concludes, though, it sure is a good thing for Kirby Smart.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Georgia Tech Football, Recruiting, Strategery And Mechanics

Nick Saban’s ruined it for everybody.

In my mind, there’s a difference between being a great coach and being one of the greatest coaches ever.  Bear with me here — the SEC’s had its share of great ones, but there are three I’d elevate above them all, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban.  All three won a lot of games and plenty of titles, sure, but what makes them stand out from the rest is the ripple effect each of them had on the conference they coached in.  They forced their competitors to adapt to what they did.

Saban is fascinating to me in that regard.  Yes, he’s an innovator on the defensive side of the ball, as pattern reading, his trademark contribution to defensive tactics, shows.  Where he’s really left his mark, though, is in program management.  His vision of how to run a college football program is unprecedented and came at a perfect time, when broadcast revenue went from being a steady stream to a torrent.  (Would the Process have succeeded in an earlier time is an interesting question, but one I fortunately don’t need to dwell on for purposes of this post.)

As far as reaction goes, we see it all over the place.  Every coach in Saban’s division makes in excess of $4 million, with the exception of LSU’s Ed Orgeron, who just got promoted.  Les Miles was fired, despite having conference and national titles on his resume.  Georgia went out of its way to fire one of the most successful head coaches in its program’s long history in an attempt to import the Process to Athens by way of Kirby Smart.  Former Saban assistants litter the SEC as head coach hires.

But nobody’s Nick Saban.  Nobody’s matched the run of success he’s had at ‘Bama.  Not that anyone’s stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses.  And therein lies the rub.  The more the conference tries to find the next Nick Saban, or, perhaps more accurately, the coach who can keep up with Nick Saban, the farther behind it seems to get.  The last two years in the SEC have shown the conference after Alabama to be more mediocre than it’s been in ages.

As this post at And The Valley Shook! indicates, a lot of that seems to be due to coaching turnover.

The ACC has now posted a winning record against the SEC in two of the past three seasons. The previous two losing seasons to the ACC were in 2002 and 1999. The ACC has overturned over a decade’s worth of utter dominance by the SEC, and it’s not looking like an accident.

At root of the problem is that Nick Saban has effectively run off all of his coaching peers. There are only four coaches in the conference who have been at their current job for five or more years, and only Saban has lasted at least a decade. Dan Mullen is the only SEC coach other than Saban who has been at his job for more than five years. He’s the sole survivor of the Saban Era.

There is a batch of four coaches with precisely four years of experience at their current job. It’s been a mixed bag. Gus Malzahn has alternated between great seasons and terrible ones, Butch Jones is dodging rumors of his imminent demise, Bret Bielema has yet to post a winning record in conference play at Arkansas, and Mark Stoops warded off the axe this year. This means that the coach with at least a four year tenure with the second-best winning percentage in the SEC is Kevin Sumlin.

Let that sink in. Kevin Sumlin is arguably the most successful coach in the SEC not named Nick Saban. Ask an Aggie fan how happy they are with the job he’s done.

Ugh.  It’s not like the recent influx of new blood is a guarantee of greatness, either.

… For all of the talk that the SEC is the pinnacle of the profession, it is the other conferences with the longest careers and the longest current tenures.

Urban Meyer has Jim Harbaugh (and Dantonio and Chryst). Fisher has Dabo and Petrino. Bob Stoops has Gary Patterson (and Gundy and Snyder). Great coaches tend to have a foil, and Saban no longer has one. Worse yet, there is no young up and comer that seems to be a future threat.

The Pac-12 lacks a current coaching great, but they have younger coaches like David Shaw, Clay Helton, and Mike McIntyre. The Big 12 has Holgo and now Tom Herman. The Big Ten has Franklin, Fitzgerald, Chryst, and maybe Durkin. And the ACC is hotbed of young talent: Dabo of course, but also Narduzzi, Doeren, and Fuente.

What does the SEC have? There’s a lot of short-tenured coaches, but who looks like a potential future great? Kirby Smart? Will Muschamp? Bielema? Jim McElwain is short-tenured but he’s already 54, and is considered a subpar recruiter, which will catch up to a guy eventually. About the only guy you can make a case for is Hugh Freeze, and he’s looking over his shoulder at NCAA investigators.

I know we’re all hoping Smart breaks the mold there, and maybe he will, but even if you look at his future optimistically, you have to admit your hope stems from his applying the lessons he learned at Saban’s knee well, as opposed to him being an innovator.  (I’m not sure the Georgia Way is up to handling an innovator as a head coach, but that, too, we’ll leave as a topic for another day.)

Saban’s affect isn’t just felt in Athens, of course.  Take a look at what Jack Crowe, someone who’s knocked around and coached at several programs in the South, had to say about Auburn.

“Auburn’s leadership cannot get past Pat Dye and allow any coach to have this (Alabama) kind of sovereignty. In his days Pat had it as good as coach Paul Bryant. Donald Watson planted the seed of Pat’s decline. And ever since then Auburn has turned “grey” into “black,” handcuffing and eventually compromising its coach. Gus Malzahn has been compromised. Following his early spectacular success began the erosion of his influence and now the scapegoating has begun to reign instead of leadership. Still Auburn will always have a great tradition and outstanding players. The change to the next coach (with Saban’s exit) may really have a chance to give the Auburn football program sovereignty again. Auburn has to change the culture that gives sovereignty to its coach in year one, followed then by erosion to undermine the early success. Why is that? Your understanding of human nature is as good as mine. Auburn needs to let its marketing mentality on sustaining a head football coach with every authority to win. Or keep explaining why Auburn cannot sustain competitiveness. Check the stats.”

When someone can argue with an apparently straight face that a head coach at Second Chance U, of all places, has been compromised by the school’s administration, that should give you as clear an indication of the degree of Saban’s domination as you’ll see.

In comparison, here’s what Crowe writes about Alabama:

Alabama’s leadership since AD, Mal Moore, has given Coach Nick Saban the responsibility and authority to be bold and turn his “grey” regulatory issues in to “white”. And he has been given every tool and resource to do it with. Change has started this year in the offensive philosophy, and soon the coordinator. It is highly likely however that Nick will be gone to ESPN before the next frosh class graduates; as will Bill Battle. Already exited are the Chancellor and President with BOT powers that gave the UA football program total organizational sovereignty that has accounted for their dominance…

He’s not even sure the Process at Alabama survives Saban.  That’s when you know someone’s King of the Mountain.  Meanwhile, the lesser nobles suffer.

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Filed under Nick Saban Rules

You’ve come a long way, baby.

Pretty impressively for a guy who couldn’t win a starting job out of preseason camp, Marc Weiszer makes a strong case for Rodrigo Blankenship to be named to the freshman All-SEC team.

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Filed under Georgia Football

Today, in “who knew?”

Wow, talk about having one’s perceptions changed.  Chris Brown reviews a book written by Ray Goff’s first defensive coordinator and is effusive with praise about the man’s work.

Winning Defensive Football, by Richard Bell. I had never heard of this book until recently, which is surprising because it’s excellent. (It lands the award for “Best Technical Football Book” that I read this year.) Bell was the defensive coordinator at Air Force for 11 seasons up to 2006, and before that served as defensive coordinator for Georgia, Navy, Texas Tech and West Virginia, and was the head coach at South Carolina for one season. The book is not a narrative book so much as it is a defensive playbook, laying out in copious detail (the book description touts “over 1,000 diagrams”) 400 pages that describe Bell’s 3-4 defense, from run fits to technique to coverages. It’s also all quite modern: the blitz package was excellent and detailed, and the sections on coverages go over not only Bell’s main coverages (Cover 1, Cover 3, Cover 2 and his match-read Quarters concepts, Cover 4 and Cover 6), but also how they each adapt to various offensive formations and route combinations and pre-snap calls and checks for the defense).

My only criticism is that there’s been so much change in football in the last ten years I was at times left wondering how Bell might have adapted some of his defensive calls to, say, a hurry up-tempo spread that used the zone read and packaged plays/run-pass options, in the same way that he has sections on defending the more traditional triple option. But that’s also what the book was about: giving a coach the tools to think through those problems rather than answers in a box. The bottom line is this is a must buy for any defensive coach at really any level, as well as for any offensive coach who wants to better understand a modern, multiple defense.

My impression at the time (and, hell, until I read Chris’ review) was that Bell’s hire was simply Goff’s way of returning a favor, as Goff coached on Bell’s staff at South Carolina.  But it appears from this that Bell was a more than competent defensive mind, which means between him and Wayne McDuffie, who, I will always maintain, was the most underrated coordinator ever to coach at Georgia, Goff had the makings of a first rate staff.

And yet, there was very little in the end to show for that, outside of the ’92 team that fell just a few points short against Tennessee and Florida of contending for a national title.  Maybe Ray Goff was that snakebit.

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Filed under Georgia Football

Wheels within wheels

It’s an understatement to say the most recent loss to Tech sucks, but maybe Kirby’s playing the long game that some of you are convinced he is.  After all, their new AD is wowed by the result.

“Nobody out there wants to play us. That also tells you a lot about the state of the program and the fear that opposing coaches have of our head coach,” the new AD said. “I think we have a great coach that is known nationally for what he does, and he’s had a lot of success here. My goal, and what I hope to bring to the table, is to help provide him what he needs to continue to build on that success and compete at the highest level.”

I’ll leave you to ponder the fear factor, but it sure sounds to me like a contract extension is in order for a guy whose career record against Georgia is 3-6.

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Filed under Georgia Tech Football