Guerry Clegg commentary: You can't call Mark Richt soft any longer

sports@ledger-enquirer.comJune 7, 2014 

Too soft? It's been awhile since we've heard that criticism levied against Mark Richt.

It's hard to make that claim any more given the number of players, most of them starters or key contributors, Richt has dismissed from the Georgia football team for a variety of transgressions. Just last season, Richt experienced the odd, maybe unprecedented, distinction of facing two starting quarterbacks whom he originally signed and later dismissed -- LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Auburn's Nick Marshall, although Marshall was signed by Georgia to play defensive back.

Now, in the span of two months, Richt has dismissed two of Georgia's best players -- maybe THE two best players -- in the area with the least amount of depth. First to go was strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, just before spring practice. Now free safety Tray Matthews is gone, supposedly due to a classroom blow-up with another student. This came just as an issue with Matthews and three other players for fraudulent check cashing was being resolved with community service and fines.

Matthews was in the Georgia program a little more than a year. In that time, he went from rising star and Most Improved defensive player after 2013 spring practice to a huge disappointment. He will be best remembered -- despite Bulldog fans' efforts to forget -- one of the defining plays of the 2013 season. Matthews was in position to intercept Marshall's final desperation heave to Ricardo Louis. Harvey-Clemons tried to steal the interception but instead deflected the ball up, where the stunned but grateful Louis plucked it from midair and raced in for the eventual winning touchdown.

It's clear that Richt is getting fed up with players doing stupid things. Consider his official statement two years ago after Marshall, Chris Sanders and Sanford Seay were kicked off the team for alleged theft of money.

"It's a privilege to play college football and to be a part of this team and University. Along with that privilege comes certain responsibilities. Mistakes were made and part of our job is helping them learn from mistakes."

Contrast that to Richt's official statement after dismissing Matthews:

"We are trying to make room for guys who want to do things right."

"Make room" is an interesting choice of words. College players who require babysitting are burning up a scholarship that could go to someone else who's also talented but committed to the team.

There's a distinct difference between understanding the privilege of being on scholarship with unlimited tutoring and academic support and feeling privileged. It's the latter who walk out of a grocery store with a package of crab legs without paying for them.

Now the criticism of Richt is that he's gone too far. That's a bunch of nonsense. Does anyone think he wanted to get rid of two of his best defensive backs after the recruiting season was over? It's doubtful that Jeremy Pruitt, the new defensive coordinator, just wanted them gone. This is not addition by subtraction. These are two good football players who could have helped Georgia win. Richt knows he has to win in order to keep his job.

But these were not first offenses for either of these players. Both knew they had no margin for error, but they erred nonetheless. In light of that, allowing Harvey-Clemons or Matthews yet another chance would have made a travesty of Richt's discipline.

Matthews's dismissal came a little more than a week after Richt said he was showing signs of maturity.

"I think he's on a turning point of maturing some, and becoming a very dependable guy," Richt said at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla. "I'm not saying he is a dependable guy, or has been at this point. But I have a feeling that that's his desire to become that. And he needs to. It's time."

Now it's someone else's time to enjoy that scholarship. Hopefully someone who understands the difference between receiving a privilege and being privileged.

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