Mailbag: Money matters

semerson@macon.comFebruary 15, 2013 

Periodically I will answer the question that I'm surprised I wasn't asked, and feel like weighing in on anyway. Some would call this, in old-fashioned journalism parlance, a "column."

Well, yeah.

I’m a little surprised, and almost disappointed, that this week’s mailbag call didn’t draw the following query: Why isn’t Georgia spending money like Alabama to hire support staff and recruiting staff? It's bound to come up, what with Friday’s news that Alabama is hiring Kevin Steele in an off-field support role. Steele joins anyone who has ever coached before but couldn't find an on-field role this year as part of Alabama's support staff.

There’s a perception out there among some fans that UGA, and specifically its outgoing president Michael Adams, haven’t supported Mark Richt enough financially. Adams spoke to that issue, without being asked, after the athletic board meeting on Tuesday night:

"I think there's confidence in the building blocks that are in place here. Look at the facilities, look at the practice fields, look at the stadium additions, look at what we've done to be competitive with assistant coaches. (We) may not be the top in every little category, but across the board I'm not sure anybody provides any more total support than we do. ... One of the things I'm proud about is you build great programs brick-by-brick and stone-by-stone over a period of time."

But I’m pretty sure that won’t put the issue to rest for many fans.

Here’s what I can tell you: Yes, a full-length indoor practice facility would be nice. And yes, as long as the NCAA isn’t going to regulate off-field staff, perhaps it would behoove UGA and Richt to shell out for more.

But I don’t get the sense Richt has been demanding it, and been denied it.

Perhaps, once Adams has departed the scene, people around the program will open up a bit more on and off the record. But I can tell you that I’m not aware of Richt having made a specific request for something and been turned down for financial reasons, at least since Greg McGarity arrived.

Look, I’ve covered an athletics department that had a reputation for doing it on the cheap: South Carolina, under its former athletics director, was often criticized for things like refusing to send a pep band to the NIT championship in New York, or making the soccer team bus to a game rather than fly. I’ve never really heard of that type of thing at Georgia under McGarity. And McGarity has made pretty clear in my conversations with him, without coming out and saying it, that finances aren’t a major issue here. They have a reserve fund of nearly $70 million, after all.

A lot of what I think is actually at work here is a philosophical difference. Nick Saban and Alabama do things one way, relying on squeezing out every possible advantage and every possible dollar. Richt falls more in line with Steve Spurrier, whose philosophy tends to lean towards: Oh, we can survive without that.

That doesn’t mean Richt – and Spurrier, and others – won’t adapt. There's a creeping realization that if the NCAA isn't going to regulate non-coaching staff, and that Alabama is succeeding while hiring a bunch of consultants, that it may be necessary to follow Saban's lead. There could very well be a few support staff hires at Georgia in the offseason. But it does bear noting that UGA hired Daryl Jones last year to be its on-campus recruiting coordinator, giving him a significant bump in pay over the man who previously held the job. And there have been other support staff hires. They're just behind-the-scenes types, not former coaches like Steele.

But Alabama is doing it, so as long as it's kosher with the NCAA, the rest of the SEC, including Georgia, won't be far behind.

When will we know more detail concerning the "Young Alumni" ticket package? Is it for a full season? What are the stipulations? - Ben Tucker, via Twitter

And ....

How much info have they given on the tickets for young alumni (when to apply, selection process, etc)?
- Trey Young, via Twitter

Some of the details are yet to be worked out. But the gist of is this: It is for a full season. The cost of the ticket is officially $40 per home game - thus $240 this season. Those eligible include anyone within five years of graduating from the school in any capacity - bachelor's masters, doctoral, professional, etc. As for who gets the tickets, I'm told they'll probably launch the application process during the spring - late March, early April. If they get under 2,000 requests, then presto, anybody who requested a ticket gets one. But if they get over 2,000 requests, then it will probably result in a lottery.

1. While it has been ugly, do you agree that the recent “success” for men’s basketball should quiet the talk about Coach Fox’s job status? While recruiting is still a large question, no one questions the coaching ability. The wins haven’t been over many impressive teams, with the SEC down as a whole, but he’s managing to scrape out victories with KCP, three promising (but not-there-yet) freshman, and a cast that could’ve been plucked from a pickup game at the Ramsey Student Center gym.

2. Have you and La Profesora been watching “The Americans” on FX? Very solid first two episodes.
- Wes Jacobs

1. Yours is a very fair summation. When things were at their worst last month, I was on record saying that I still expected Fox to return, unless the administration changed its mind on the direction of the program. The recent run only reinforces that. Of course, the team has two tough road games coming up (at Ole Miss and at Arkansas), so the disgruntled fans could have a chance to voice their concerns again. The problem in today’s world is that to some fans every game becomes a referendum on the program.

But talent, as you pointed out, does remain an issue. I don’t want to look too far ahead and break down next season’s lineup yet. But it’s fairly obvious that the team still won’t have a reliable presence in the post, unless Marcus Thornton returns to health and becomes that man, or Donte’ Williams steps up his game a bit more. Problem is, Williams is still a bit on the skinny side to be that guy. I do think that the troika of Gaines-Mann-Morris has potential. But without a decent big man – and we’re talking Jeremy Price, not Shaquille O’Neal – then it will still be difficult.

2. I’ve heard a lot of good things about “The Americans,” but haven’t seen it yet. We missed the first couple episodes, but are hoping to stream them and now have it set for our DVR.

With the basketball teams recent surge do you think they will be able to finish over .500 and make the NIT tournament? I like the increased minutes for the freshmen and postseason practice could be very beneficial for them going into next season.
- Bob Sacamano

Making the NIT would still be a stretch, in my opinion. The Bulldogs just dug too big a hole in the non-conference part of the season – not to mention the 1-4 start in SEC play, including that horrid home loss to Mississippi State. In order to have an NIT-type resume’ – and don’t laugh, it has become a tough bid to get – the Bulldogs would probably need to reach 10 or 11 SEC wins, then win a couple games in the SEC tournament. That’s not impossible by any means, but the home loss to Alabama was a step back on that path.

I watched the Bama game, and our shot selection is awful. Played good enough D to win. Does Fox ever talk about shot selection?
- Bert Brantley, via Twitter

Very often. It was a big part of the team’s winning streak, and it was a big part of the loss to Alabama. Fox can emphasize it all he wants in practice and timeouts, but the players play, and this group has issues with it – outside of Caldwell-Pope, whose field goal percentage is sterling. Nemi Djurisic seems to take a couple ill-advised 3s a game, and also has some drives around the hoop that you know are doomed before he even puts the shot up. But Djurisic scores some of the time, and this team has badly needed help for Caldwell-Pope. So if you’re Fox, you don’t want the rest of the team afraid to shoot.

1. What is the thinking in Butts-Mehre with Kolton Houston? There's a lot of griping about not signing Tunsil, but Houston was slated to start last year if not for the failed tests. Are UGA coaches planning on being able to use him this year at one of the tackle spots?

2. Every spring, fans get excited about incoming freshman and the impact they may have in the fall, but true freshman usually have very limited roles (this past season notwithstanding). Especially in a complicated defense, should we expect to see familiar/established names over the hyped frosh like Tray Matthews, Shaq Wiggins, and others?
- Will

1. Houston remains on the team, and last I checked they’re going to keep submitting his test results and case to the NCAA. But the thinking around the program is that the NCAA is going to have to “see the light,” and change its mind. If Houston’s testosterone levels haven’t reached the proper baseline by now, there’s no telling when that might happen. By the way, Houston was by no means certain to start at tackle last year; he finished the spring just ahead of Watts Dantzler at right tackle, but John Theus had a pretty good shot at getting that spot all along.

2. That’s a good point. Josh Harvey-Clemons is a prime example of how hard it is for a freshman to see the field under Todd Grantham, who values experience. That’s why I’d guess that Connor Norman and Corey Moore have as good a chance to start at safety as Matthews. But the expectation is Matthews is good enough to work his way into the lineup eventually – the way Alec Ogletree did as a freshman safety, and Jordan Jenkins did this past year at outside linebacker.

The inside linebacker spot is also one worth watching. Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin have a decent chance of earning the spot alongside Amarlo Herrera by virtue of enrolling early and going through spring practice.

A lot of these freshmen are going to play this season. But play against Clemson, South Carolina or even week four against LSU? In those all-important games, Grantham is more likely to lean on the guys with experience.

I want to know your opinion on a hypothetical situation that just popped into my head. What if Rodney Garner hadn't taken the job at Auburn, but Grantham had been hired by the Eagles, Saints, or some other NFL team before signing day? Do you think Richt would have promoted Garner to DC? And if so, what effect would that have had on the recruiting class (Ex: Montravious Adams, etc.)? I know Davin Bellamy has made it known that he didn't like Garner, but how else do you think our signing class might have been different?
- Jordan Floyd, Nashville, TN

Bellamy did say that about Garner, due to a botched unofficial visit that supposedly had been lined up. But if Garner had stayed, who knows what would have happened on UGA’s end to try to mend the fence. We’ll never know.

We’ll also never know about your potential scenario, but I am pretty confident that Garner would not have been the defensive coordinator. After all, he wasn’t promoted when Willie Martinez got the axe. And Garner probably saw the lack of a chance at advancement as reason to bolt for Auburn.

I have said, however, that in the short term it appears the loss of Garner has hurt the program. Adams would have been more likely to sign, and perhaps another recruiting battle or two would have ended differently. In the long run, we’ll have to see how the Garner-Chris Wilson trade plays out.

How often was Todd Gurley used on kickoff returns last year? Could that role increase or is he too valuable?
- Trae Marchant, via Twitter

Gurley returned seven kickoffs last year, the second-most on the team after Malcolm Mitchell, who returned 16. (The other seven returns were by players on the second line: Merritt Hall, Richard Samuel and Kyle Karempelis.) But Gurley was indeed taken off most of his kickoff duties as the season went on; that’s a bit of a surprise given his spectacular debut there. But obviously the coaches preferred not risking him on special teams, given his importance at tailback. (Not that Mitchell wasn’t important at receiver. So … who knows.)

The guys I was curious about not getting more of a shot at kickokff were Justin Scott-Wesley, Keith Marshall and Branden Smith. The latter isn’t an option anymore, having used up his eligibility. I guess we’ll see about the first two.

Have you heard anything mentioned about Sheldon Dawson returning punts or playing offense occasionally? He played running back in high school and he is very explosive. Go look at his high school tape and you will see he has some very impressive highlights with the ball in his hands. He seems like he has the potential to be like Brandon Boykin if we choose to use him that way. If not, who are the other candidates to return punts?
- Ryan in Roswell GA

If memory serves correctly, Dawson’s name was bandied about briefly last year, but nothing came of it, because the coaches wanted him concentrating on learning the defense. What will be interesting to see this season is if Richt again puts more emphasis on punt returners who won’t fumble or make stupid decisions – thus giving Rhett McGowan another shot – or if guys like Malcolm Mitchell, Damian Swann and even Dawson prove dependable enough that Georgia puts them out there.

That said, I shouldn’t downplay McGowan’s abilities too much: His return average (8.3 yards per return) was actually better than Mitchell’s (5.2) or Swann’s (7.4), and McGowan did “break” one for 23 yards. Mitchell’s longest was 22, and Swann’s was 30. I know everyone automatically assumed that a fair catch was coming when McGowan was out there, a la Logan Gray, but as the season went on McGowan did show more daring.

Andy Staples had a piece on SI.com last week that said that Chris Kiffin sent 400 Facebook messages to Tunsil's girlfriend? Was that a recruiting violation? I looked up the NCAA's contact rules and from my reading it seems that the only permissible contacts are with the recruit, the recruit's family or guardian and the recruit's coach; if my reading is accurate wouldn't contacting the girlfriend be a no-no?
- Jason Woolf, Asheville, N.C.

The short answer is no, it’s not a violation. The long answer is that it’s not one because it would just be too hard to regulate contact with someone who doesn’t have a formalized relationship with a recruit (parent, relative, coach, guardian, etc.) And while I have no idea whether Tunsil gave his girlfriend a promise ring, or a spiffed-out cummerbund for the junior prom, it still wouldn’t qualify as a formal relationship.

That said, I always shake my head when I hear these stories of coaches writing literally hundreds of messages to recruits. What exactly are they saying? How exactly can you come up with something different to say? And the image of an adult man, being paid six figures, writing over and over to a 17-year-old girl just makes me laugh. But if it works, hey, more power to them.

1. At the end of each bowl season games, coaches will complain about the officials from other conferences. Is this just coach whining or is there really an adjustment teams need to make? 2. After reading some blog comments from UGA fans: Any truth to the rumors that the fall of Mali, problems in Libya, etc, are due to Coach Richt, Coach Bobo, and Aaron Murray not spiking the ball in the SEC championship game and the failure of every recruit in Georgia to sign with UGA?
- Rodney Pridgeon, New Market, Ala.

1. I would attribute a lot of the bowl officiating complaints to unfamiliarity. Richt, for instance, knows the tendencies of most SEC officials, and knows how to deal with them. So much of the relationship between a coach and referee, at least during a game, is whether the coach feels he got an adequate explanation. He may not agree, but the amount of visceral that can be spouted is limited if it’s just a simple disagreement.

2. I thought we were past the “to spike or not” argument? Well I guess it’s still out there. As far as Georgia’s recruiting down the stretch, there’s no way to sugarcoat it: They missed on pretty much all their top remaining targets. But if I were a Bulldog fan, I’d temper any anger because: a) they still signed a 32-man class, thus increasing the chances of coming up with some impact players, and b) it’s not like the staff failed to get Rueben Foster, Montravius Adams and Laremy Tunsil for a lack of trying. Everyone who follows the UGA flight plane or the recruiting sites knows that the coaches weren’t taking any days off. Well, except for hip surgery. But other than that …

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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