Sager Says: Advice for UGA’s next head coach

For the amount of times I have been asked or heard the question “Should Mark Richt be fired?” over the years, I was stunned with how shocking the news still was to me when I found out the Richt era was officially over Sunday afternoon.

Richt is a special man. His humble approach, family-first mentality and generosity is genuine enough overshadow any results on the field. I am sure I am not alone when I say character is what first comes to mind with Richt.

I was fortunate enough to spend three years in Athens (2008-10) as a walk-on and I got to see first-hand how one of college football’s most beloved coaches ran his program.

I do believe Richt has left the program in a better state than when he arrived but I understand this decision. Richt certainly does not deserve all the blame, so rather than pointing blame, I want to look back at what he could have done differently and improved.

UGA is going to bring in the top players in the country each year. It’s a great school in a state loaded with collegiate talent that plays in college football’s most celebrated conference. This is what makes Georgia one of the top coaching jobs in the country. Richt did not develop his players at a championship level and the Bulldogs have not taken full advantage of this surrounding talent under him.

I first noticed the subtleties of this problem in 2009. During my first season (2008) we ran an offense with Matthew Stafford at quarterback and Knowshon Moreno in the backfield. Stafford and Moreno both left for the NFL after the season and with them went the deep ball and powerful arm of Stafford and Moreno’s versatility. Joe Cox stepped into the starting quarterback job the next season and the backfield was shared by Caleb King and Richard Samuel (much more one-dimensional backs). The playbook remained mostly the same, despite completely different players. That was alarming to me. The playbook did not match the players and players did not match the playbook. This has been a trend in Athens over the years.

Following the down years of 2009 and 2010 seasons, however, I thought Richt did a great job of making adjustments and getting back to the basics. I also saw Mike Bobo grow into a one of college football’s premier coordinators. His improvement and success with Aaron Murray under center were remarkable. After Bobo left, however, the predictable play calling returned this season and a quarterback change came at the worst possible time for a new playbook and new play caller, Brian Shottenheimer.

The Georgia offense has struggled this season and it is something that Richt should have seen coming well before the year started. Former wide receivers coach Tony Ball (now at LSU) failed to recruit enough depth at the wide receiver position and left it thin before the season started. There are too many good receivers in the state of Georgia to have a fifth-year senior and freshman having to carry the corps. One year of missing on receiving targets would have been excused, but Richt let the trend continue under Ball.

Players have not developed the way they should have for broader reasons as well. Besides Georgia having an outdated strength and conditioning program for much of the Richt era, the overall philosophy of the team has held guys back. This has been seen throughout the last decade and even with former players that thrive once they make it to the NFL.

It’s time to work smarter and not harder at Georgia. Under Richt, everyone was treated the same. As a walk-on, I was fortunate to feel included and always part of the team but this system still had flaws that can be fixed when done right. Players can be treated as equals without all the uniformity. From mat drills to the weight room, the workouts and offseason programs were not geared to the individuals enough. Some guys are the self-motivated types when it comes to workouts that do not need to be babysat, while others are the type that need to be watched a little more carefully and encouraged or disciplined more. When you treat everyone the same, you start to veil some of the natural leadership that could come out from certain players. A player that comes in overweight does not need to be on the same training program as a player that comes in too light. Also, one player might retain information better from film, while another player might understand more effectively with extra reps after practice.

Being nice does not equate to an open environment. It is about more than that. It’s about understanding from the head coach down to each assistant. There needs to be a more open environment where players know it is up to them to step up and work to get better. The more the staff understands how each individual operates, the easier this will be.

It’s the individuals working towards the same goal that builds the dynamics needed for a championship team. The more each player understands a role and sees the value in it, the stronger a team is. Building good character in each student athlete is mutually exclusive and can be done so many different ways. Georgia must put more focus on the individual development to begin to reach its potential.  The Bulldogs carry a lot of pressure before, during and after each season and its the personalities and differences that keep each day fresh. When everything is focused on the team, the roles can seem overwhelming and can get overlooked.

There have been great players at Georgia under Richt and great teams, but the leadership from the players can and must be improved. Leaders take pressure off of their teammates. They know they will take responsibility if the game goes wrong. On a team without leadership, it will look like everyone is holding their breath at the end of the game, hoping to not be the one that screws up.

Lastly, to the next head coach; recruit more athletes and less one-trick ponies. If you are a great enough athlete you can learn and grow into a position and you will have a versatility that otherwise would not come naturally at the position. It’s time to get rid of the molds and let individual growth reign supreme in Athens.







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