So now that UGA has entered the era of football where it is “Win or else”, what other changes could we expect that would be in stark contrast to past experiences? Here are some I’ve thought of, but please feel free to expound and/or add some I may have missed.
Media Access. This came up last week after the national championship game as it looks like there will be minimal access to players and some coaches/staff. Not a surprising development considering this is what is comfortable to Coach Smart being under Saban for so long. But it’s going to drastically change the way in which those who cover UGA football develop stories as well as how the rest of us read them.
As a fan, I applaud it. Mostly because Smart should keep with what is comfortable while he makes this transition. Whether it’s due to less distractions and increased focus, or not having certain news leak out, or if it’s just a part of the process, if it helps us win one more game each season that’s cool with me.
(Also, I’d prefer that game be located in Jacksonville. But no one’s asking me...and I digress….)
Recruiting. There’s a plethora of possibilities under this sub-heading. And admittedly, some of you that follow recruiting more closely are probably better able to answer this one. But some things that jump to mind are gray shirts and roster management. The latter of which had already begun to improve as in 2015 we were playing with a full roster, at least moreso than previous seasons.
Admissions. There’s rumors this may have even already come up. But in the past there’s been a recruit here or there that for whatever reason (usually a class showing up on the transcript that might clear the NCAA Clearinghouse but causes some red flag to raise in the Admissions Office, or a discipline issue while the student-athlete was in high school) has been offered a spot on the team and may have even signed the Letter of Intent, but doesn’t clear the tape to get admitted to UGA. For reference, recall michael Grant. He was a highly recruited defensive back (and track star) that chose UGA over Florida, Tennessee, and FSU. He signed but then wasn’t cleared due to a disciplinary infraction that led to his suspension from South Gwinnett High School. He then landed at Stephenson High where he was a star on the gridiron and the track. As I remember, Richt went to bat for him when he was denied admission, but to no avail. Grant was released in full and signed with a grateful Houston Nutt in Arkansas.
More recently, Johnathan Taylor ran out of chances in Athens only to be given a famous “second” chance in Tuscaloosa. I wouldn’t expect that drastic of a philosophy and practice shift. I’m sure Kirby knows that as well. But there’s a lot of new faces around Butts-Mehre. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there are discussions about marginal student-athletes and whether they should be given another chance in Athens.
The Jimmy Williamson Situation. This may have already been evolving as well. If so, we have our new President to thank for it. For I have heard many a story of how the head of UGA Campus Police just did not like Mark Richt. Maybe that’s just me hearing things I want to hear, but there have been instances where very minor legal situations were awfully public. Believe me, if a guy breaks a law I’m all for the legal system stepping in and correcting the behavior. But the fact is that Richt was often forced to answer questions you just never heard other coaches have to address. Which is why so many national Herbstreits felt the need to weigh in on occasions. Will Kirby be forced to navigate the Sheriff’s office the way his predecessor did? On the other side of the coin (and for all those that felt Richt was the reason his players misbehaved), how will Smart’s locker room leadership differ than Richt’s? Convincing young men that nothing good happens downtown after midnight is easy. Having them remember that fact when they’re there is much harder.
Tuscaloosa might be just a day’s drive from Athens. But you don’t have to go back too far historically to see things are handled differently here than they are there.
Also, roster management can have an impact on team behavior too. Think back to those years when we just didn’t have enough upperclassmen on the roster, at least ones who had been in the locker room since their freshman year. Even if a senior doesn’t play much, the coaches and staff are going to point to them as a model for the younger guys. If guys fresh out of high school are given too much power, suddenly the inmates are running the asylum.
To close, I don’t necessarily endorse whole scale changes in the way things are handled, from Butts-Mehre to North Campus. But I think it will be interesting to see some philosophy shifts if nothing else. Like I’ve said, it’s an exciting time. Let’s keep it up.