Accurate or not, the Dogs’ lack of discipline on the field was linked to their lack of discipline off the field, particularly during the offseason
By GUERRY CLEGG
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
Six days until college football season, and you know what that means. Yep, six more days — still time for three more Georgia players to get arrested.
In the big picture of societal transgressions, Washaun Ealey’s arrest for bad driving and worse judgment hardly rates as significant. Neither does the penalty — a suspension for the season opener against one of those Louisiana schools. Ealey’s absence likely just means more playing time for Carlton Thomas and perhaps someone else farther down the depth chart.
Still, it’s a distressing sign for a program trying to restore discipline and credibility and an individual trying to prove he has the maturity and accountability necessary to be a team player. His driver’s license had been suspended because he blew off a court date for a speeding ticket. There was the first red flag. Then his head coach, position coach and team adviser told him not to drive again until he was cleared legally.
Yet, Ealey defied the legal system and defied his authority figures, borrowed his roommate’s car, wrecked it — and then tried to shirk responsibility by fleeing the scene.
Perhaps the public is now seeing what the Georgia coaches saw day in and day out last year — and why it took the team’s most talented running back more than half of last season before getting a chance to play. Even as the Bulldogs’ running game sputtered, Ealey remained on the sideline for the first four games.
It wasn’t until the third quarter of the fifth game — when the Bulldogs’ running game had hit rock bottom — that Ealey finally got his chance. The spark he gave the running game — 717 yards rushing in the last 8 1/2 games — helped salvage a season from the brink of disaster to merely unsatisfying. A strong case could be made that the tag-team of Ealey and Caleb King is second only to Alabama’s Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson among SEC running back tandems. Granted, a distant second but second nonetheless.
This is Richt’s 10th season and the most critical since his first. To go as far as saying he is on the hot seat, as some publications have asserted, would be a stretch. It would take a complete collapse for Richt to lose his job. But Georgia’s five losses last year — including a blowout by Tennessee and a collapse against Kentucky — marked the worst of the Richt era. Another lackluster season certainly would put Richt on unofficial notice for 2011.
That’s especially so if the Bulldogs don’t reverse their trend for self-destruction. Perhaps every loss but the Florida game could be attributed, at least in part, to a lack of discipline on the field. They led the SEC in penalties and penalty yardage and had the league’s worst turnover margin.
Accurate or not, the Dogs’ lack of discipline on the field was linked to their lack of discipline off the field, particularly during the offseason. Even Richt began to question virtually everything he was doing. He overhauled his defensive coaching staff and tightened the reins on discipline. Whereas in the past Richt might have just run players into the ground or suspend them for a few games, this year, he kicked them off the team. Yet, for all the tough love Richt has doled out, the arrest count has gone up — from five players in 2009 to eight this year.
Understanding all of that is why Richt was so angry Friday that he didn’t even want to talk to Ealey. Richt called Ealey’s decision to drive “foolish.” Indeed, it was foolish, as well as selfish and ill-timed.
Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org