on nice guys finishing last, or occasionally third in the sec east
We can argue all day about whether Georgia’s had the necessary killer instinct on the field, but do we have it off the field as well? And in the end, is that a more pertinent question?
Senator Blutarsky had a very insightful post yesterday pivoting off of Aaron Murray’s complete lack of Heisman buzz to ask whether “this passiveness creeps into other areas” of the Georgia program. Even as someone who follows individual awards about as closely as I follow Canadian politics — from the silly marketing contest of the Heisman on down — I’ll certainly admit to some major pangs of regret that Murray’s spectacular Georgia career hasn’t gotten more publicity than it has. And I, too, have wondered if maybe the Georgia football program as a whole should be willing to stand up for itself more.
Before I launch into too much of a diatribe here, let me say that as someone who is proud to hold a Georgia diploma, I am equally proud of the way our athletic department conducts itself. I’m sure Georgia Tech fans will drop their teeth when they hear me say it, but I think we operate in a pretty classy and ethical way over at Butts-Mehre. I’m proud that the “Mark Richt has lost control of…” meme has faded away as people have seen just how tight a ship Richt runs in terms of discipline. Certainly tighter than what Urban Meyer ran at Florida, as people are beginning to find out. Or to cite another example, it’s been a long time since we had any Jeremy Hills on our team — Richt has cut ties with players for misconduct far less serious than either of the offenses for which Hill has been permitted to skate.
While we’re holding our players accountable when they do wrong, though, are we spending equal effort promoting them when they’ve done right? Or defending them when they haven’t done wrong at all? Here I’m thinking of the way we just meekly accepted A.J. Green’s four-game suspension for selling his own property back in 2010, while other players were missing less time for shadier dealings. Does this passivity filter down to the way our players perform on the field?
And does it affect the way high-school recruits perceive our program and its place in the national hierarchy? Do they perceive Georgia as a place that will stand up for them and market them well for their achievements? With the usual caveat about how the state of Georgia has so much blue-chip talent that Mark Richt literally can’t sign them all, I wonder if our don’t-make-waves attitude has something to do with the ease with which coaches such as Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze can come into this state and grab prospects Georgia desperately wants. (It’s certainly not a matter of program stature — look at the state Auburn and Ole Miss were in when Malzahn and Freeze got there.)
Let me be clear: This is not a call for Georgia to be loosening the reins on discipline (well, except for our draconian marijuana policy, but we can have the drug-legalization debate another time) or to demand any less of our players when it comes to being upstanding citizens. For example: As much as it’s driven me crazy this season to see Nick Marshall, a former Georgia player, leading Auburn to an out-of-nowhere national-championship bid, I wouldn’t change a thing about how Georgia dealt with him back in February 2012. If I’m Mark Richt, I’m not about to stand in front of my team and tell them that they have to continue sharing locker-room space with someone who stole from them. And I certainly don’t want Georgia developing a reputation as a program where QBs can go to rehab their image after they’ve been chased away for malfeasance elsewhere.
But I would like to see Georgia market the many good guys it has more aggressively, both for what they produce on the field and what they achieve off of it. I want more people to know what an amazing human being Aaron Murray is — not just as the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards and TDs but as someone who does stuff like this. I want people to know how involved Chris Conley is as a student leader (in addition to being a proud Star Wars nerd). I want people to know how smart Arthur Lynch is so that once his NFL career is over, he can slide right into a run for Congress.
And when the NCAA screws over players like A.J. Green — or Ray Drew and Ramik Wilson, victims of the two worst targeting calls I’ve ever seen during this year’s Vanderbilt game — I want us raising holy hell about it. Enough of this “don’t make waves, we’ll handle it through official channels” stuff. So Mark Richt or Greg McGarity might get fined for speaking out too harshly against the officials? Pay the fine and move on. It’s not like we can’t afford it.
Mark Richt is never going to be Nick Saban and our athletic department is never going to be Alabama, or Auburn, or LSU, or [insert longtime rival here]. That’s not what I’m asking for. I’m simply asking for our athletic department to stand up for its players — and itself. Nice guys don’t necessarily finish last, but meek, accepting ones typically do. At times it’s been tough reconciling that fact with our overwhelming emphasis on running a “classy,” “proper” program, but Richt, McGarity and the rest of the folks at the top simply have to be more confident that we can promote, market and defend ourselves more aggressively without selling away our souls.