Wes Muilenburg/Dawg Post

What We Are Hearing

ATHENS - As Georgia neared signing its top recruiting class in school history last week, many inside of the program were taking a look back and assessing where the program had come and how far it still has to go under Kirby Smart.

"You know I drove down to Mobile for the Senior Bowl last month,” said one long-time insider with deep ties inside the NFL said to me. “Let me ask you this… when was the last time there was a Senior Bowl without anyone from UGA in it? Not good.”

95 former UGA players have lined up to play in the prestigious event. To answer the question, the last time Georgia didn’t send a player to the Senior Bowl was 2000, after an 8-4 1999 season.

“If you look at the guys who are draft eligible from UGA, this might be the first time in a long time that literally not one UGA player gets his named called for the Draft,” they continued. “That’s pretty bad.”

Its been 25 years since the NFL Draft ended without a Georgia player being selected. One major reason the prospects are so low this year is that Nick Chubb and Sony Michel stuck around for their final years. 

With that said, CBS Sports projects wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (No. 291 overall) and offensive linemen Greg Pyke (No. 335) as the only two players ranked in the top 400 available players in this spring’s draft. The number of actual drafted players can vary from year to year because of compensatory picks, but since 2010 there’s never been more than 260 players selected in the NFL Draft.

That means if CBS Sports’ math holds up, Georgia will go without having a player drafted for the first time since 1992. That’s a horrible indictment not only of the development of Mark Richt’s staff, but also of its recruiting over the last five cycles. 2016 was also the first time since 1990 that Georgia didn't have a player on the first or second-team Coaches’ All-SEC Team. 

We will know just how good Kirby Smart is at talent development soon. This program is still very, very young. And while the old from the program isn’t necessarily ready to be drafted by the NFL, the young is certainly primed to give UGA its deepest talent base in modern recruiting history. 

There are a slew of metrics that back that point up - here are the two most important: 

Entering the fall of 2017 (as is stands right now with no more attrition of any form) the Bulldogs will have 22 players on their 85-man scholarship roster who were once Scout Top 100 players. In addition, the Bulldogs will be deeper with talented players since our network has released a Scout 300. UGA is set to start the fall of 2017 with 57 former Scout 300 players under scholarship - that’s 67% of the team. At no time before Kirby Smart arrived in Athens has any UGA ever had a team filled with more than 46% former Scout 300 players of the team.

Georgia was extremely young last year. 26 of the 43 Scout 300 players on scholarship last year, and ten of 16 Top 100 players had only one year or less of college football experience. Coming into this fall, the higher-level players (Top 100 players) are spread out over the classes more evenly, but the team is still relatively young - slightly more than half (52%) of the scholarship players on the team are Scout 300 players who have played a year of college football or less. 

So this team is still quite young. Not as young as a season ago, but still about as young as any team outside of the 1990, 2006 and 2016 teams. 

The need for leadership will be something the likes of Kirby, Chubb, Michel, Lorenzo Carter and others will have to confront. Because, while this team is, in fact, the most talented in modern UGA history - its also one of the youngest. 

Perhaps that’s why you can tell that there is some amount of angst about Kirby Smart’s immediate future. This isn't the typical “Man, I hope we are good because I can’t take another loss to the Gators” talk. Their concerns are more transformational. Several very influential voices inside of the UGA community voiced their concern and hope that Kirby will have a very good 2017 - like get to the SEC Championship and something like the Sugar or Orange Bowl. 

Smart, still only a season into his career at UGA, has pretty much 100% support of insiders. But until he guides them to the podium after SEC Championship Game and beyond there will be trepidation. 

Why? Some of it involves just wanting to see the football program win the way it should have been winning for a very long time. But there is a heavy voice of folks who want to see the athletic department itself be more successful across the board. 

Because Smart is one of the few change agents who has arrived in Athens in the last decade (Mark Richt was already in place and preferred staying in the boat rather than rocking it; Jere Morehead and Greg McGarity have changed virtually nothing; Mark Fox has changed nothing; and no one else has come in that has the ability to shake things up), insider cheerleaders for change and progress as an athletic department know that Smart’s success is UGA’s most likely ticket to a fundamental change from UGA being good to very good at sports, to being a much more dominant player on the national scene. 

But I would be lying if I said there isn’t a hint of concern simply because Kirby hasn’t yet done it. Multiple insiders I trust and have trusted for a very long time describe Kirby’s actions in the following ways: 

“He gets it.”

“He’s the only one who can change this place. Once he wins there will be major pressure for everyone else to win because they see how hard he’s been working to try and change things.”

“Kirby is still fighting an up-hill battle, but he’s going very fast in the right direction.”

“He makes folks - whoever they are - feel very comfortable around him. He’s made very few mistakes. The money really wants him to win.”

But there are some who are supportive, but still want to see it happen before they are fully bought in. 

“Is this guy only a recruiter? I mean, they lost some games they should have won. I don’t think I’m the only person who thinks that.”

“I would have hired an offensive guy. You saw why by the end of the season. You’ve got a tremendously talented quarterback who has to be developed. And this league, any more, you have to score. And they just didn’t score this fall.”

Another had a very real and to-the-point dissertation of Georgia’s fortunes vis-a-vis the Kirby-UGA dynamic. 

“This is the most conservative f!*%ing place,” said a frustrated insider. ‘We have no leadership. Only Kirby can do it.”

That wasn’t a shocking thing to hear - a lot of folks have said that to me over the last year in independent conversations in which they’ve brought up very similar language the entire time. Many folks felt that Kirby was the “most likely” to do it while Mark Richt was still the head coach at Georgia. I think what struck me the most was the person saying it, and how direct they were in saying it. 

Folks are eager for change, no doubt. But change seems unlikely - at least for now. There’s no appetite right now for Greg McGarity to be pushed out of his spot as athletic director. Likewise, and this could change, there isn’t enough appetite for Mark Fox to be fired at the end of the season. 

Some of this is the math involved. It has been rumored for some time that this summer (some suggested last summer) will be the time at which McGarity leaves UGA. And that could happen, but it seems unlikely. What’s much more likely is that McGarity will leave when his contract is up in the summer of 2019. An announcement of his retirement could come this summer or next - that’s not something I know, but it falls in line with normal retirement movement - or could come in the fall or December of 2018; even later in the spring of 2019. What’s not expected at this time by several insiders is that McGarity would continue as AD after that. 

With all of that laid out, it seems unlikely that Fox would be terminated after this season unless things very much go south. Even then it feels like that’s unlikely. There’s a couple of things at play here at the same time. 

First, Fox has hardly had an embarrassing run at Georgia. He’s won a lot of regular-season games, and the program is no longer an on-the-court or off-the-court embarrassment. Pushing him out the door after three 20-win seasons in a row after celebrating that so much will make other coaches wonder if UGA has unrealistic expectations to go along with a historically insignificant tradition. 

It must be understood, too, that Fox has been successful, but not historically successful. If the Bulldogs fail to get to the NCAAs this season that would mean that only once in the last six years have the Dawgs been in the Big Dance, and that would be tied with Dennis Felton for the worst run since the Bulldogs first got into the NCAAs in 1983. 

Second, several folks have said that if you have a new AD coming in, that person should make a new hire at a marquee program like men’s basketball. If McGarity makes a move on Fox this spring that would let you know that he probably has support from the higher-ups, or that the program has really fallen down the stretch. Letting an out-going AD make the call on a new coach who will be getting paid in the $2 million range would be strange governance.

Of note: Nothing is standing in Fox’s way from leaving UGA. If he were to leave he would owe UGA nothing because of the reworked contract he agreed to in 2015. It should also be noted that no football or basketball coach in modern UGA history outside of Tubby Smith has willingly left UGA. All of them have either been terminated (Goff, Donnan, Richt, Rosemond, Guthrie, Durham, Jirsa, Harrack and Felton) or retired (Dooley). If Fox is terminated following this season he’s owed $1.7 million. Termination after the 2017-18 season would result in a $1.1 million payment. He’s currently paid $2 million a season, and that deal runs out after the 2019-20 season. 

So its unlikely that anything will change, at AD or men’s basketball coach, heading into the fall unless Fox’s bunch really falls on its face in these final eight SEC games of the season. And I mean really falls on its face. 

Georgia’s spring football practices will start sometime in March, and it looks right now like there will only be two scholarship signal callers on the field at that time. It appears that Brice Ramsey will transfer as a graduate student for his final fall of eligibility. Schools have reached out to his high school coach regarding his intentions this fall. And while Smart has made clear to Ramsey that he wants him to stay at UGA, it appears Ramsey is set on playing this final fall of football elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm have been holding passing competitions with one another in the offseason. Insiders like the way Fromm has come in ready to fight for any available playing time this fall. If he will redshirt or not is an interesting question. Others are confident that Eason is well aware of Fromm’s presence and, while he’s the known starter, he’s taken note the true freshman’s attempts to establish himself in the program. There is also a hope that Fromm’s presence will push Eason even more to have a very stellar sophomore season. 

Freshman-to-Sophomore Jumps

Eric Zeier 

Yards - 1,984 to 2,248

TDs - 7 to 12

INTs - 4 to 12

Quincy Carter

Yards - 2,484 to 2,713

TDs - 12 to 17

INTs - 9 to 6

David Greene

Yards - 2,789 to 2,924

TDs - 17 to 22

INTs - 9 to 8

Matthew Stafford

Yards - 1,749 to 2,523

TDs - 7 to 19

INTs - 13 to 10

Aaron Murray

Yards - 3,049 to 3,149

TDs - 24 to 35

INTs - 8 to 14

Jacob Eason

Yards - 2,430 to ?,???

TDs - 16 to ??

INTs - 8 to ??

Many folks have expressed optimism regarding the 2017 baseball season. This is Scott Strickland’s fifth season at UGA, and he’s eight games under .500 overall and 24 under .500 in conference play. It is a big season for Strickland’s program. 

UPDATE: Can’t believe I forgot this. Expect some official news very soon about some minor and major changes to Sanford Stadium. Not only will these changes effect football recruiting efforts, but I have been told that they also include some structural changes to seating in the stadium itself. In other words, expansion soon is not out of the question. Although the likely expansion would not start until after this fall or beyond. Stay tuned for more details on that one…

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