ATHENS -- The football programs at Alabama and Auburn have either won or nearly won the past four national championships, and credit for that goes to people like Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Cam Newton, A.J. McCarron and Tre Mason.
But within some circles, more unheralded names also get credit, people like Kevin Steele and Dell McGee. Or even Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Sherrer.
Those four have served Alabama or Auburn in off-field, non-coaching roles and are among the litany of so-called analysts and advisers those two programs have employed. Pruitt and Sherrer were player-development directors, and after moving on to coaching roles elsewhere, they were hired this month to help run Georgia’s defense.
So Georgia is willing to hire coaches who cut their teeth as analysts elsewhere. But is it willing to itself hire analysts and keep up with Alabama and Auburn?
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Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity is still skeptical about adding football non-coaching staff but expects the NCAA to soon make the issue clearer. Legislation will be considered to even the playing field by capping the number of staff a football program can have. It already caps football assistant coaches at nine.
In the meantime, McGarity said his research shows that Georgia is in line with other major SEC programs, with everyone trailing Alabama and Auburn.
“I would say that Auburn and Alabama are clearly ahead of everyone else, as far as number of people associated with their program who are not on-the-field coaches,” McGarity said. “I would say that LSU, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, we are all pretty much at the same level.”
If you went to a Georgia football practice this past season, you would have seen Richt and nine full-time assistant coaches, along with four graduate assistants. Those are the only staffers who are allowed to work with players, period.
Georgia does have non-coaching staff members who also attend practice. But they’re not there to advise the coaches. The difference at Auburn and Alabama is there are several former and future coaches -- at the college and high school levels -- who populate the staff.
Alabama had Steele, a longtime assistant coach and former Baylor head coach, on its support staff last season. Steele was promoted to linebackers coach this month.
Auburn hired a slew of former coaches last year, including six “analysts,” among them McGee, who left his job as head coach at Carver-Columbus. All told, Auburn had 11 non-coaching staffers last year who had coaching experience.
Georgia, meanwhile, only has two. John Eason, who was Richt’s receivers coach from 2001-07, is director of player development. Daryl Jones, a longtime high school coach in Georgia, is the director of on-campus recruiting.
But Georgia does have a big support staff. There are 25 listed on the website as support staff, including strength and conditioning, graduate assistants, administrative assistants, equipment managers,and others. Jones has two recruiting assistants. Dave Van Halanger, who was Richt’s longtime strength and conditioning coordinator, remains on staff as director of player welfare. Bryant Gantt, a former Georgia player, remains with the team as program coordinator. There are also chaplains.
So Georgia has been generous in adding staff to mentor players. But it has not tried to keep up with Alabama and Auburn in collecting football advisers. In theory, McGarity said he’s fine with adding support staff. He just wants it to be practical and within NCAA rules.
“People sometimes don’t understand,” McGarity said. “They count heads. They don’t really take time or understand what these people can and can’t do. They might think that they can all coach on the field. They may think that they can be in the meeting rooms coaching these kids.”
By NCAA rule they cannot. They can also not recruit, either on the road or even by contacting recruits from their offices. That is limited to just the 10 full-time coaches. Any support staff is basically there to only advise the coaches themselves. They can mentor players, but they cannot coach them in football.
Of course, enforcement of that is basically on the honor system.
“The only people that can enforce that is yourself. Every school has to do that by themselves,” McGarity said. “You have to do the right thing, and there are some schools -- you would hope all schools do that. I know we do. It’s just something you’ve got to do. You can’t legislate honesty. You say these are the rules, you’ve got to play by the rules, and that’s just how we’re gonna do our business.”
McGarity and others are hoping the problem is solved soon via NCAA legislation:
First, the amount of on-field, full-time assistant coaches could be raised to 10. Richt said earlier this month he thinks that could happen for next year, at which time he could hire a special teams coordinator.
Secondly, McGarity thinks a hard cap will be put on the number of football staff members a program can employ. McGarity said he doesn’t know what the specific cap on football staffers will be -- 25 has been thrown around -- but he expects it to happen.
“The limitation on football staff is going to be a very popular item for discussion, with the way it seems like the structure of the NCAA divisions are going,” McGarity said. “I do feel like that we’re heading in that direction, sooner than later.”
In the meantime, McGarity resists the notion that more staff correlates to more wins. Yes, Auburn and Alabama have been successful. But Florida State, which just won the title, isn’t loaded down with extra staff.
“Any position that we have here needs to be justified,” McGarity said. “You don’t add a position just because so-and-so has 10 more than you do. You don’t just add it to keep up with your competition. What are these people gonna do? Discuss their role, and then you go from there. And that’s across the board for any sport here, and any position. There’s got to be a justification process, and there can’t be School A has this, and you don’t have that. ...
“If you’re living in a comparative world, it’s a hard place to be. Tell us what you need, we’ll provide that, and then we’ll move forward.”