Notice absence of fired assistants
By DAVID HALE
ATHENS, Ga. — Saturday’s first practice since three assistant coaches were dismissed was surreal for Georgia’s players.
The Bulldogs play Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 28. While the focus was on the challenge ahead, it was tough to forget about the events of the past few weeks that led to the departure of defensive coordinator/secondary coach Willie Martinez, linebackers coach John Jancek and defensive ends coach Jon Fabris.
“It was tough,” linebacker Rennie Curran said. “You could definitely tell there was something missing. It was a lot quieter, not a lot of yelling, which sometimes can be good. But all the guys miss them. It was weird not to have them pushing you and motivating you.”
Reshad Jones has been at Georgia for four seasons, so Saturday marked the first time Martinez wasn’t barking orders at him on the practice field — a void Jones struggled to ignore.
“It was pretty weird not hearing coach Martinez’s voice, because he’s always talking and coaching,” Jones said.
From the start, the day’s work was far from normal. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner addressed the defense before practice but made it clear that it wouldn’t be his job to keep the players motivated.
Head coach Mark Richt spent a good portion of the day’s practice watching the defense and offering his insight — a departure from his typical hands-off approach with his defensive assistant coaches.
The cold weather helped dampen the mood, but there was little doubt the players were happy to play football again, rather than wait for the next rumor about new coaches or lament the fate of their former ones.
“It wasn’t easy to get back on the field, but it was a little bit better because we hadn’t been out there for a while, and it was exciting to just be out there playing,” Curran said.
In his address to the team, Garner’s message was simple: It’s going to take everyone chipping in a little extra to overcome the departures of Georgia’s former coaches.
“I told those guys, they’re men,” Garner said. “Yhey want to be treated as men, and you’ve got two segments that will be in meeting rooms with graduate assistants, and I expect them to show them the same respect they showed the full-time guys.”
Richt asked Martinez, Fabris and Jancek to stay on staff through the bowl game, but all three coaches declined, leaving graduate assistants Todd Hartley and Mitch Doolittle to oversee the secondary and linebackers, respectively.
The opportunity to work as a full-time member of the coaching staff will be a challenge and an opportunity for the two assistants. Jones said he is confident both will get the job done and said the reaction to them during Saturday’s practice was positive.
More than anything, however, it was a reminder of the losses the Bulldogs endured — in the standings and in the locker room.
“After everything that’s been said, I really feel like we could have bounced back and to some extent that we had some control over it,” Curran said. “As far as everyone talking down on the coaches, we had control over that because we were in position to make plays. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”