The 'What If' Game: The Devil's Advocate Approach To Todd Grantham

Zach DillardContributor IMay 24, 2010

CLEVELAND - 2007:  Todd Grantham of the Cleveland Browns poses for his 2007 NFL headshot at photo day in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

Fans, by nature, are generally optimistic.

It is in our very nature, we just can not help ourselves.  In spite of how pessimistic one fan may appear or no matter how far down Bill Simmons’ Levels of Losing a fan’s favorite team may be, there always exists that glimmer of hope for something great in the back of one’s mind. The annual ebb and flow of new players or coaches only causes fans to think further outside of the box.

The offseason gives us massive amounts of practice time for the time-worn games of ‘What If’ and ‘If Only’.  You know the routine:

“If Georgia can only get by South Carolina and Arkansas, this is going to be one hell of a season..."

“What if Mark Richt had played Washuan Ealey since the first game last year, just wait until this season?"

"If only we can avoid any major injuries on the offensive line or other major players...”

“What if Florida’s entire team develops serious symptoms of narcolepsy? We could have a chance this year!"

Take the New Jersey Nets, for instance.

A few months removed from being one of the worst teams in NBA history, Nets fans are...hopeful? Anxious? Optimistic.  

The conflicted franchise unluckily could not even win the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, despite having the greatest odds of the claiming the rights to the top amateur player. Yet the optimism still persists, as Nets fans are choosing to buy into whatever new owner Mikhail Prokhorov is selling.  Keep on sipping that Russian Kool-Aid.

When the fan base of the most underwhelming team in all of sports in 2010 feels hope, everyone has the opportunity to feel it.

Why? The team’s new ownership represents change.  In the wake of disappointment, change will always be held in a positive light.

Todd Grantham represents change for the Georgia Bulldogs—one that fans believe will revert back to successful years past in the Mark Richt era.

These said times are known as glory days for many fan bases—they are known as Gorder-y days for Georgia fans.  Other than fans old enough to remember the early 1980s stint with college legend Hershel Walker and “Run, Lindsay, run,” many present-day Bulldog fans speak of the the four years under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder in semi-hushed tones.  

Fact: the Bulldogs never won a national championship during the years VanGorder ran the defense.  But think of the reign in similar fashion to former University of Georgia standout Dominique Wilkens with the Atlanta Hawks.  Sure, the Hawks never won a championship with Wilkens, but they certainly were in better shape than they had been in quite some time before him—or since then.

The successor to VanGorder (Willie Martinez) was unable to meet the lofty expectations of Richt, the fan base, or the athletic administration.  For the past few seasons, Georgia’s defense has remained far below what is believed to have become a standard in Athens, so now the change has been made.

When the decision was made indicating an NFL position coach, Grantham, would be the new defensive coordinator for Richt, immediate buzz spread about the potential of this season’s defense. 

Every story leaked has added to the anticipation of the fast-approaching season. Grantham has been portrayed, rightfully so, as a tough and knowledgeable coach (much like VanGorder) who apparently has the Bulldog defense on the verge of big things in 2010.

But change is not necessarily a good thing (as Philadelphia Eagles’ fans are hoping they do not find out the hard way this season—not that they would admit it if they were wrong anyways).

Optimism is natural for any team making such drastic changes, but pessimism could unfortunately turn out to be the dose of pragmatic reality when summer practices turn into fall live action.

Change should also bring a different version of the ‘What If’ or ‘If Only’ game to the stands of Sanford Stadium—the devil’s advocate approach to Todd Grantham.


What if Grantham is not fit to be a defensive coordinator?

Let’s face it, transition can be tough.

Grantham built up a reputation as one of the top defensive line coaches in the NFL for over a decade. He has coached under the likes of respected coaches such as Frank Beamer, Jim Mora, Dom Capers, Romeo Crennel and Wade Phillips. Quite a collection of references on that résumé he might even make it past the first round on ‘The Apprentice.’  Now, this experience has found its way to Athens.

That is the good news. The possible bad news?

Grantham has not coached in the college ranks since 1998, when he was with the Michigan State Spartans up in East Lansing.  For those counting at home, that is 12 years away from the many differences that come with coaching professionals in the NFL.  

Less time has passed since Grantham ran his own defense for a team, when he held the defensive coordinator position for the Cleveland Browns. The results were far from impressive .

The Browns defense became progressively worse and worse during the years 2005 through 2007 under Grantham. Though working for the Browns during that era could have been no simpler than being under Miranda Priestly (I’m embarrassed for knowing the previous reference), here are the numbers:

2005 : 16th total defense; 4th passing defense; 30th rushing defense; 11th scoring defense.

2006 : 27th total defense; 15th passing defense; 29th rushing defense; 22nd scoring defense.

2007 : 30th total defense; 24th passing defense; 27th rushing defense; 21st scoring defense.

Questionable personnel decisions and working under a problem-prone head coach certainly attributed to the decline, but the fact of the matter is one person answers for those numbers.  Georgia’s new defensive coordinator was relieved of his position with the Browns within three years—and within mere months of signing an extension with the franchise.

Look, some coaches are fit to run their own defense and make the calls for the team come game day. Others (possibly most) coaches are better suited by focusing on the intricacies of teaching players at certain positions—truly focusing on “coaching” football.

Where are Bulldog fans going to look if Grantham coaches his defensive line up well Sunday through Monday, but can not make the correct calls in the correct situations on Saturdays? Look up, I suppose. 

And pray.

If only Georgia’s defense could find a way to stop opposing offenses...

Grumblings were blatantly audible in Sanford Stadium every time Georgia’s defense took the field in 2009 (and 2008, if memory serves correctly).

When are we going to fire Willie? Would letting up 30 points every game finally get a new coordinator in here? Does Bryan Evans derive secret pleasure from watching opposing receivers blow by him?

Last season’s defense never seemed to confuse opposing offenses on any given play, and certainly did not force any costly mistakes. The defense appeared more likely to personally escort offenses into an end zone rather than cause a single turnover.

A scary fact: Out of 120 Division I squads, Georgia finished 118th in the nation in turnover margin.  If it is any consolation, Tulane and Miami (Ohio) were worse.  

That didn’t make you feel any better? Well, it was worth a shot.

Although in the 2010 G-Day game, Grantham seemed to be able to make halftime adjustments against Georgia’s own offense, what happens if Georgia starts missing tackles and blowing assignments next season? 

In a matter of three games, the 2010 Bulldogs will face off against two bright offensive-minded coaches—Steve Spurrier and Bobby Petrino. Is it possible that two of the most respected offensive minds in the college game get the best of a failed pro coordinator in one of his first three games on campus?

Is it fair to answer “plausible”?

What if the defensive personnel truly is not in place?

Grantham brings in his 3-4 defensive scheme to Athens—different from a 4-3 ran by Willie Martinez.

This column will not be a lesson in the 3-4 defense , but there are basic personnel differences in the two schemes: the need for bigger ends better suited to stop the run, bigger outside linebackers for pass rushing, and an emphasis on a defensive tackle being able to anchor the middle. 

Georgia is certainly making it a point to recruit defensive players of Grantham’s preference, but what will that mean for the season at hand?

In all honesty, does Georgia possess the talent execute the 3-4 defense at a high level? Absolutely.

Could it take a few games to truly find the best fits at every position? Absolutely.

The real question: Will the promising 2010 season already be mired by two or three losses by the time things start to click?

If only VanGorder were here...

Fans, by nature, are generally the offseason.

But if their hopes and dreams face a harsher reality than they had hoped, by nature, are generally pessimistic.

Picture the following scenario: Georgia drops one of two games after allowing 35-plus points to both South Carolina and Arkansas after handling Louisiana-Lafeyette (2-1); Georgia struggles in a tough road game in Starkville against a scrappy Mississippi State team (2-2); the Bulldogs start to show promise as they rebound for three straight wins against overmatched opponents (5-2); Kentucky poses defensive problems once again for Georgia, but the Bulldogs recover in time to pull out a victory late in the fourth (6-2); Florida still manages to post win No. 18 in the past 21 games, with the spread putting up over 30 points again (7-3); Georgia Tech or Auburn steal a game, putting the final record at 9-4.  Georgia finishes with a No. 17 ranking, a middle-of-the-pack SEC defense, and only has one more win to show for the coaching change.

If that scenario plays out, how long until the grumblings start all over again?

In all the best wishes for Grantham, the hope is that the grumblings are less audible than last season — if only fans can keep it at a quiet, Hollywood ‘I-am-scared-for-my-life-and-hiding-in-a-closet-yet-still-trying-to-talk-on-my-phone’ level.

The sobering fact for all the faithful filing into Sanford Stadium on Saturdays is that Todd Grantham might not necessarily be the next Brian VanGorder. Do not be fooled into thinking this is a detriment for Georgia—Grantham could very well be just the man for the job.  

The defense may, in fact, not rest in Athens. 

But this could take a little more time than any fan might prefer.

Just remember it is all about being optimistic right now, right?


(This article can also be found on the sports blog, Walking Into The Kicker)


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