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Shipp: What Bulldogs need is more discipline

POSTED: February 4, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Let's forget the economy and Barack Obama for a moment. Let's turn to a really serious question that should have been addressed months or even years ago:

What's wrong with the Georgia Bulldogs' football team? Why do the Bulldogs seldom win the big one?
Now that football season is over, Bulldog Nation wants some answers.

Look at our Bulldogs. Remember how they were rated No. 1 nationally last summer before toe ever hit ball? No. 1, my eye! The Georgia Bulldogs that emerged from this past season could not have beaten the Emory Tea Sippers in ring around the rosy.

But we're not talking about Tea Sippers here. What about Florida? Why do the Gators routinely clean our clock in Jacksonville? Why does Auburn clobber us so often? And, oh Lordy mercy, why did we lose to Georgia Tech?

There is a growing sense that the football program has somehow jumped the tracks. It looks better in Sports Illustrated than on the gridiron. With Bulldog superstars Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno leaving Athens to join the NFL, fan concern has turned to desperation.

Defenders of Coach Mark Richt will point to his overall success in winning more games than he has lost during his tenure in Athens. They are quick to say, correctly, that he is a man of high character and moral fiber who projects a good image for the University of Georgia.

But his team has shown a strange bipolar tendency lately. They show up for some games and not for others.

Take the 2008 season, for instance. The Bulldogs simply did not perform in the big games against Florida and Alabama. Alabama cut Georgia up like a pork chop, humiliating the Dawgs before a home crowd. Florida went through the Bulldogs like a dose of salts, rubbing Coach Richt's nose in his team's illegal antics of the year before. Still, Georgia played well against LSU. The Bulldogs also beat Tennessee and Auburn this year, but both teams had such bad seasons that their coaches were summarily fired after long careers.

The most common explanation for the inconsistent performance of the Bulldogs is a lack of team discipline. Our Bulldogs are among the most heavily penalized teams in college football. Grabbing facemasks, clipping and taking cheap shots out of bounds seem to be standard pages from their playbook.

When the penalized player goes back to the sidelines, he is treated with kid gloves. The Bulldogs have one of the lowest graduation rates of any football team in the nation, despite the fact that the athletic department offers courses like Housing to keep certain players eligible. Pretty soon, Housing will be replaced by Basket Weaving, and most will still never graduate.

Most disturbing, players are regularly seen patronizing local bars during game weeks, flouting established rules against such outings. Apparently, the drinking players have no fear of punishment from coaches. If they don't obey the rules, so what? No consequences mean no discipline.

One disadvantage under which Richt labors is that Athens is a town drowning in alcohol. It has more bars than any college town in the Southeast, and some of the bars have very lax rules for admission. In fact, some Athens saloons are known as freshmen bars where freshmen go with fake IDs and are assured of buying all the drinks they can afford.

Thursday night is a big party night in Athens. Players who hit the bars on Thursday before the game on Saturday are likely to run out of gas in the second half. (That's a tip, Coach. You can have it for free.)
Richt has said he wants to re-examine everything related to the football program to improve
performance. Maybe he should start with a new code of discipline.

It's like the farmer who hit his mule over the head with a two-by-four. Someone asked, "Why did you hit the mule over the head? He didn't do anything." The farmer answered, "Well, I had to get his attention before I could learn him anything."

Maybe UGA's coaches need to get their players' attention so they can put a well-disciplined championship team back on the field.

If the coaches can't do it, maybe President Michael Adams will find a farmer with a two-by-four who can do the job.

Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesville
times.com. You can contact him at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30160; Web site.



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