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February 25, 2015

Here's John (for Johnny)!

With OC Charley Trippi there for support, DC
John Gregory backs up Johnny Griffith as head
coach against Alabama in 1961. 
It's been a long, three weeks since my last post. Recently starting a new full-time job covering a few college football teams, including our beloved Bulldogs, while in the thick of working on two book projects both due to be released this fall, more of the same sporadic blog posting is anticipated over the next few months. 

A reminder: please visit and "like" my UGA football page, where I post at least once, often multiple times, nearly on a daily basis.

Speaking of continuity, or lack thereof as is the case recently with my blog, following Tony Ball's departure and Thomas Brown's arrival, I discovered Georgia has now experienced three or more annual coaching changes, whether by coordinator or position coach, entering back-to-back seasons under the same head coach for only the second time in the last half-century-plus since Coach Dooley's arrival in 1964. The only other time this occurred was in 1999-2000, or entering the final two seasons of the Coach Donnan era.     

Such coaching changeoverlikely, a sign of the times, so to speak, more than anythingreminded me of the overall importance of assistant coaches to a program, especially to the players, beginning with the recruitment process (just ask UCLA about Roquan Smith), and the head coach they serve under. Thus, I'm prompted to tell the intriguing but obscure story of a particular Georgia assistant coach from a long time ago, who loyally served under a pair of Bulldog head coaches, only to be caught between the two in the end:

"No, I don't think so," answered the only person reachable for comment at the time, Winnie Butts. "Probably one of the assistants will do it."

Winnie, the wife of Georgia's then-previous head coach, Wally Butts, was who remained after the quick departure for Athens General Hospital by her husband and the wife of the then-current Bulldog head coach, Johnny Griffith. Griffith played and been an assistant under Butts, and had succeeded him less than nine months earlier. He was rushed to the hospital to undergo emergency surgery for acute appendicitis, and Winnie was left to answer if her husband was going to fill Griffith's spot the next day as Georgia's head coach for its 1961 season opener against Alabamawhat was supposed to be Griffith's first game at the helm.  

"What A Way To Start A Season," headlined the United Press International, "and also a head coaching career," might I add, for Griffith, who at 36 years old was set to be the second-youngest head coach in the SEC. While Griffith laid in a hospital bed, assistant John Gregory was handed the daunting task of heading up a team less than 24 hours before facing the third-ranked Crimson Tide and their head coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant. 

Gregory had college head coaching experience, guiding McNeese State to a combined on-field record of 12-6-1 in 1955 and 1956 before departing for Georgia, where he was named ends coach under Butts, and chosen over the likes of the esteemed Joe Tereshinski. With Griffith replacing Butts four years later, Gregory was promoted to defensive coordinator, but first he'd have to undertake an even bigger task.

Just a touchdown underdog to Alabama at Sanford Stadium, Gregory's Dogs hung around the Tide for a half, trailing only 10-0 at intermission, until the visiting foe opened the flood gates, building a 32-0 lead late in the fourth quarter despite the fact they had gained only 256 yards of offense. Georgia's offense, which totaled a paltry 112 yards and five first downs, finally found paydirt on the game's last play when Dale Williams tossed a 13-yard touchdown to Carlton Guthrie.

In the hospital, Griffith had planned to follow the game by radio but reportedly slept through the 32-6 loss. While on the field, the defeat was unfortunately a sign of things to come for the next three seasonsall losingwhich made up the Coach Griffith era. 

Gregory was the defensive coordinator for the first two seasons of Griffith's tenure, but absent from the 1963 campaign because of a certain article printed in the Saturday Evening Post in March of that yeara piece many in the Bulldog Nation are quite familiar with, although you probably won't find it mentioned anywhere in the annals of UGA football. Of course, the article claimed Butts, who was Georgia's athletic director at the time, gave away "Georgia's plays, defensive patterns, all the significant secrets Georgia's football team possessed" to, ironically, Alabama's Bryant prior to the teams meeting in 1962a 35-0 loss by the Bulldogs in Birmingham with, this time, Griffith present on the sidelines versus the Tide.

Because of the article, Butts filed a libel suit against the publisher of the Post, resulting in an 11-day trial prior to the start of the 1963 season. In defense of Butts included two Georgia assistant coaches, including Gregory, claiming the plays supposedly passed between Butts and Bryant wouldn't have aided Alabama significantly. On the contrary, testifying for the publisher were three Georgia coaches, including Griffith, declaring the information would have indeed helped the Crimson Tide.

After emergency surgery, Griffith (right) is back
the next week vs. Vandy. After the next season,  
Gregory would be gone for his backing of Butts.
Despite the fact Gregory had first curiously signed a statement indicating the information allegedly passed would have actually helped Alabama, and the popular opinion of the time was Butts and Bryant were likely in cahoots to "fix" the 1962 Georgia-Alabama game, Butts came out of court on top (similar to another aforementioned ex-Bulldog head coach when it seemed to most he probably would lose a highly-publicized trial).

Regarded as a star witness in Butts' successful suit, John Gregory had stepped up and defended his old head coach against an opposition, which included his current head coach, after previously relieving the current head coach two years before, all of which involving the same competitionAlabama and Bear Bryantin successive seasons. 

Soon after the jury awarded Butts a whopping $3.06 million in general and punitive damages, Griffith asked Gregory to resign from his coaching position at Georgia, and not surprisingly. The head coach really had no other choice but to ask for as much; as Gregory would say to the media, "I assumed that I was [already] fired."

The response to Griffith's request for a resignation over the phone: "I would not resign," according to Gregory. And then, perhaps motivated by all that time spent in a courtroom, where two coaching legends faced a head coach who would be forced to resign himself less than three months later, Gregory added to his refusal that Griffith, "could talk to my attorneys."

February 4, 2015

Another Signing Day That's Great, But Will It Eventually Translate?

Later today, there should be lots of smiles because
of yet another great Signing Day, but will the
smiles still abound in subsequent football seasons?
It's Signing Day! And, at least as of late last night, it appeared Coach Richt and his crew were going to ink another top-10 class by the end of this afternoon. A top-tier class would notably be Georgia's 12th class in a row (2004-2015) of ranking in the nation's top 12, which ironically followed four consecutive years (2000-2003) when the Bulldogs' recruiting class ranked 13th or lower in the country (and, as I've mentioned here before, I prefer using Phil Steele's recruiting rankings because he combines the ratings of roughly a dozen reputable recruiting services into one).

Georgia's Signing Day prowess is widely recognized, like by the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum, who said on his show last week that the Bulldogs were "amazing when it comes to recruiting." He then added, "exactly how that translates on the field...could be why we have so much conversation about Mark Richt." Finebaum indicated the success Nick Saban, for example, had in recruiting "translates" to on-field success, whereas for Richt, not so much.

I wanted to see exactly what Richt's high-ranking recruiting classes had translated towas Finebaum correct in his assertion? I've done something similar at this blog before, comparing annual team recruiting rankings with the final on-field polls during the Richt era staggered by two seasons, assuming it takes about two seasons for your average recruiting class on the whole to make a significant impact, while for what it's worth, it also took two seasons (2001 to 2003) before most of Georgia's starters under Richt were his own recruits, and not Donnan's. 

Calculating the top-25 team recruiting rankings from 2001 through 2012 (where 25 points were given to the team with the annual No. 1 recruiting class, 24 points to the annual No. 2, etc.) and the last 12 final top-25 AP Polls from 2003 through 2014 (where 25 points were given to the team with a final No. 1 AP ranking, 24 points to a No. 2, etc.), I discovered the following, where Georgia's 182 recruiting points ranked 10th in the nation, while its 139 poll points ranked 8th: 

Combined Recruiting Rankings, 2001-2012
Southern Cal, 270
Texas, 253
Ohio State, 230
Florida, 222
Notre Dame, 211
Florida State, 205
Michigan, 205
LSU, 200
Oklahoma, 199
#10: GEORGIA, 182
Tennessee, 166
Miami, 151
Alabama, 147
Penn St, 131
UCLA, 103

Combined AP Poll, 2003-2014
Ohio State, 216
Southern Cal, 179
LSU, 177
Alabama, 170
Oregon, 158
Oklahoma, 145
Texas, 142
#8: GEORGIA, 139
Boise State, 135
Florida, 119
TCU, 118
Auburn, 117
Florida State, 108
Wisconsin, 103
Virginia Tech, 101

I first noticed that of the AP Poll teams ranked 13th or higher, No. 8 Georgia was the only program not to at least play for a national championship from 2003 to 2014 and/or finish an entire season undefeated (as in the cases of Boise State and TCU).

Regardless, I then calculated the correlation coefficient between the recruiting rankings and the AP Polls for all FBS teams, resulting in 0.741Now, I had never even heard of such calculation before last April, but with +1 being a perfect positive correlation, 0.741 is considered "very strong." In other words, there is undoubtedly a relationship between the 2001 through 2012 recruiting rankings and the final AP Poll rankings staggered two years later. Therefore, if a team consistently lands top-10 talent, then it should be reflected on the field with top-10 poll finishes, or what appears to have resulted at Georgia during the Richt regime.

However, although the Bulldogs' national ranking in regards to poll points is two slots higher than that of their recruiting points, the latter is 43 points less than the former, which is the 14th worst, or most underachieving, in the FBS (just below No. 13 Texas A&M, and right above No. 15 Washington). The top-5 overachieving teams and underachieving programs in terms of difference between 2003-2014 poll points and 2001-2012 recruiting points:  
Overachievers, 2003-2014
Boise State, 135
TCU, 118
Oregon, 104
Wisconsin, 87
Louisville, 73

Underachievers, 2003-2014
Notre Dame, -158
Michigan, -131
Tennessee, -128
Texas, -111
Florida, -103
#14: GEORGIA, -43 

Having the 14th-lowest difference in the FBSis it really all that significant? Probably not. Any "underachieving" during the entirety of the Richt era actually pales in comparison to that of Notre Dame, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida during the same time frame.

Notwithstanding, Finebaum did say "why we have so much conversation about Mark Richt," and from what I recall, the "conversation" really started to heat up around 2009 when clearly the program's lofty recruiting did not translate in on-field performance. For a smaller sample size, measuring from 2007 through 2012, Georgia had the 7th-most recruiting points in the nation, yet only the 16th-most poll points from 2009 through last season, for a difference of minus-62, or the 7th-most underachieving team in the FBS: 

Underachievers, 2009-2014
Southern California, -101
Texas, -95
Notre Dame, -86
Florida, -85
Michigan, -64
Tennessee, -64
#7: GEORGIA, -62
Miami (Fla), -52
North Carolina, -48
Oklahoma, -45

On the contrary to the first half of Richt's tenure, beginning in 2009, Georgia's underachievement in the polls compared to its recruiting is very much comparable to that of, as mentioned before, Notre Dame, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, and you can add USC to the top of the underachieving list.

In summary, the Bulldogs are shaping up to have yet another stellar recruiting class in 2015, but will it eventually translate to stellar seasons? For the past six seasons it hasn't; instead, top-tier recruiting at UGA has translated to top-notch underachieving.