Is Mark Richt the Moral Compass of College Football?

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Is Mark Richt the Moral Compass of College Football?
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Death, taxes and Georgia players getting in trouble. These seem to be the rites of the college football offseason.

More bad news hit the Georgia program Tuesday when the school announced the dismissal of projected starting safety Tray Matthews.  Matthews was one of four Bulldogs arrested in March for double-dipping school-issued scholarship checks, according to Michael Carvell and Tim Tucker of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, although his dismissal was not a direct result of that event.

“We are trying to make room for guys who want to do things right,” Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt said in a unusually candid release.

College kids will make mistakes. They don't always double-dip checks issued by the school that's giving them a free education, but they make mistakes. In part, that's what college is for, learning what to do and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do.

It's no secret that star players leaving the program and missing games has become part of the process at Georgia, and Richt's unusually uncompromising stance on discipline is a big reason why.  

"He's kicking kids off the team where other coaches, many times, are keeping things in house," said former quarterback David Greene (2001-04). "It's a tough balance, because as college coaches, they're paid to win games. Some of the coaches treat it like the NFL and don't care about the kids. Coach Richt really, genuinely cares." 

High-Profile Georgia Departures - Last 5 Years
Player Pos. Starter Star Rating Dismissal Year Where Is He Now?
Tray Matthews S Y 4-Star 2014 ???
Josh-Harvey Clemons S Y 5-Star 2014 Louisville
Ty Flournoy-Smith TE N 3-Star 2013 Signed with Alabama
Nick Marshall CB N 4-Star 2012 Sr. Starting QB at Auburn
Chris Sanders CB N 3-Star 2012 Jr. at Baylor
Sanford Seay WR N 3-Star 2012 Jr. at Louisiana Tech
Isaiah Crowell RB Y 5-Star 2012 UDFA for Cleveland Browns (via: Alabama State)
Washaun Ealey RB Y 4-Star 2011 Transferred to Jacksonville State, out of football
Demetre Baker LB N 3-Star 2010 Transferred to South Alabama (dismissed)
Zach Mettenberger QB N 4-Star 2010 QB for the Tennessee Titans (via: LSU)
Montez Robinson DE N 4-Star 2010 Entered the NFL Supplemental Draft in 2012 (undrafted)

* List includes players who transferred amid controversy, but not those who were ruled academically ineligible. Source: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, ESPN.com and 247Sports.com

Georgia's drug policy is the strictest in the SEC, with players losing 10 percent of their season on the first offense, 30 percent on the second offense and being dismissed on the third.

There's a joke that persists on the Internet that Richt "has lost control" of pretty much everything, mostly because it became convenient to point the finger at the head coach as players continued to get in trouble.

"The perception outside the program is that people think Coach Richt is such a good guy that the players take advantage of him," said Greene, who co-hosts The David Greene College Show on 92.9 The Game in Atlanta every Thursday night. "The reality is the opposite. He holds his kids to a standard, and once you cross a line, he says, 'We have a policy here. You're not going to do this.'"

Richt explained his philosophy on discipline to B/R last month, and it can be summed up rather succinctly. He is going to "hit 'em where it hurts."

"We're going to hold them accountable," Richt told B/R in May. "Sometimes, in doing so, if you use playing time as a way to discipline, then it becomes a very public thing."

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The defense has been hit particularly hard by dismissals in recent years, as safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, who started alongside Matthews last season, was dismissed from the program in February, according to Seth Emerson of Macon.com, following several violations of the substance-abuse policy. Former safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree were also suspended four games at the start of the 2012 season for positive drug tests, according to Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated.

Richt's hard line on discipline often times puts his team in jeopardy, and that's OK, because that's not the point.

"Coaching is a mission," Richt said in May. "Coaching is a way to influence young people in a positive way. It helps people grow into becoming good husbands and fathers and leaders. It's a tremendous honor and opportunity, and I think we have a responsibility as coaches to make a difference in the lives of these guys." 

This spiel has been spouted countless times by countless coaches, but they hit much harder coming from Richt. The Georgia coach has proven that, when push comes to shove, he is willing to sacrifice production on the field for his rules, a rarity in a profession with a 24 percent turnover rate.

"He sticks to his guns," former quarterback D.J. Shockley (2002-05) said of Richt. "You look through all these years, he never wavered regardless of wins or losses. He actually cares about his players and wants the best for them."

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier famously jabbed at the Bulldogs prior to the 2012 season, which featured the Georgia vs. South Carolina game being played much later in the season than usual.

Spurrier told Chris Low of ESPN.com that he "always liked playing them [Georgia] that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended.” 

True to the trend, Rambo (four games), Ogletree (four games) and Sanders Commings (two games) were all suspended to start the 2012 season, which forced then-sophomore wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell—fresh off a stellar rookie campaign—to spend the first month of the season playing cornerback.

Wade Payne/Associated Press
Georgia head coach Mark Richt

Some players who get into Richt's dog house never find their way out. Former running back Isaiah Crowell and Washaun Ealey were each suspended twice before ultimately leaving the program—Crowell following an arrest on weapons charges and Ealey following a mutual decision with Richt.

A hard stance on discipline shouldn't come as a shock to players. In fact, it's something players know up front when they sign on the dotted line at the University of Georgia.

"When you first come to the University of Georgia, he says 'Yeah, I want you to be a great football player and go on to the National Football League. But at the end of the day, I want you to be a better man, a better brother and hopefully a good husband,'" Shockley said. "He wants to create an atmosphere that will better you as a man once you leave."

ROB CARR/Associated Press
Former Georgia QB David Greene (left), head coach Mark Richt (center) and former QB D.J. Shockley (right)

Sometimes, what's best for Richt's mission is a clean break, which is something Crowell discussed in his pre-draft feature with B/R's Andrew Hall.

“At Georgia I was kind of childish," Crowell said. "I feel like if I’d stayed there and got to the NFL I wouldn’t be as mature as I am now. I think the arrest and everything grounded me and made me humble.”

For Richt, seeing his players realize their football dreams is all part of the process.

"I believe in stories of redemption and stories of guys coming back from making mistakes," he said in September 2013. "What I've learned over the years is that I'd kind of like for it to happen here at Georgia, but sometimes it happens at another school. That's fine with me. I realize that those kind of comeback stories can happen. I want all the guys we sign to realize their dreams."

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted, and all stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com.

 


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