Despite Criticism, Dawgs' Coaches Grind On

ATHENS – Mike Bobo doesn't read the papers, and he tries to stay away from the TV.

But sometimes the fallout from a loss as bad as last week's game against Tennessee is too big to ignore.

The text messages starting coming almost as soon as the game was over, and they've continued to trickle in as the week has progressed and the message boards filled with vitriol from fans and columnists, bloggers and radio hosts all wondered how long Bobo and Georgia's other maligned assistant coaches could hang on to their jobs.

The messages were essentially all the same, Bobo said. The message was simple: "Hang in there."

"I try not to read everything, but when I'm getting this many texts, I know it's probably not very good," Bobo said.

For Bobo, the evidence against him is damning. His offense ranks last in the SEC in rushing offense, 11th in total offense and has scored a touchdown in just one of its past 11 quarters of action.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez is struggling through his second straight season of ridicule from fans, and the numbers for his defense are even worse than those condemning Bobo. Georgia is last in the SEC in pass defense, 11th in scoring defense and in three of four games against SEC foes, the Bulldogs have allowed the opposing quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards. Georgia has allowed 37 or more points in seven of its past 12 games.

Last year, head coach Mark Richt was quick to come to the aid of Martinez. This year, the results have been hard to defend.

"It's not what we have been accustomed to at Georgia, that's for sure," Richt said. "That's something that's gotta be corrected. … The bottom line is you've got to perform and we haven't performed as well as I would like our defense to perform."

There has always been an undercurrent of concern among a vocal minority of Georgia's fans, but the calls for the termination of Bobo, Martinez and other assistants has reached a new crescendo, with columnists from major newspapers calling for heads to roll in the wake of the Bulldogs' 3-3 start to the season.

"I think a lot of people expect blood," Richt said on his weekly radio show following the loss to Tennessee. "They want somebody to be let go or fired or that kind of thing, and maybe that's what needs to be done, but at this point right now, we're going to do what we know is the best thing to do and that's to focus on this game this week."

That's the message Richt gave to both his staff and players this week.

The team met Sunday night, and Richt warned the Bulldogs what would be in store in the days to come. The words would be harsh, the criticism would be vocal and the solutions suggested would be drastic.

Richt didn't promise change or deny it. He simply asked that his coaches forget the big picture and worry about winning their next game.

"I just said, ‘Priority No. 1 is to focus on preparing for Vanderbilt and trying to win this game,'" Richt said. "There's nothing else that's worth focusing on. There's nothing more important that we can do right now other than get a plan together and get ready to win. Everything else is really just not important right now."

Coaches have tried to pass that same message on to the players, but the calls for changes and dismissals can sometimes overwhelm a player before it affects the coaches whose jobs are in jeopardy.

Quarterback Joe Cox said it's far easier for players to handle criticism of their performance than it is to wonder about the futures of their coaches.

"That's probably one of the worst feelings is just listening to people say how bad the coaches are doing when you know it's on you," Cox said. "They put us in positions to win the game every week with the work they put in, and when you don't carry it out, it makes them look bad, and it's tough hearing people say stuff about coaches and them not knowing what they're doing."

Of course, the stinging rhetoric can also serve as motivation, linebacker Rennie Curran said.

When a coach comes under fire, the players automatically assume blame. If that's motivation to put some extra time into preparation in hopes of alleviating the pressure on a coach, Curran said that's a worthwhile price to pay.

"Coach Martinez can coach his heart out, but it's up to us to stay in that film room for an extra 30 minutes or whatever it's going to take to learn those formations, those tendencies that will help us on the field when he's not there coaching us up," Curran said.

Throughout the roster the burdens of past failures are felt, and no one is ignoring the problems, Bobo said.

But the extreme solutions are ones they hope to avoid, and the best way to do that is to simply go back to work and do everything possible to ensure the results in the next game are better than those of the last.

"You're obviously disappointed as a coaching staff and a team of how you performed," Bobo said. "It's not up to expectations. It's not what anybody expects – I'm sure for the Bulldog faithful, and it's not what we expected as coaches. But the only thing we can do is keep working, keep fighting and try to find an answer. That's what we're doing. We aren't going to quit. We're going to keep grinding and get it back on track this week."

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