Chemistry Comes Together for Dawgs

ATHENS – For six weeks, Mark Richt came to work and saw empty offices.

Even after the first big hire was made and Todd Grantham filled the vacant defensive coordinator's office, it still took until mid-February before Georgia had a full coaching staff.

Those were tough times, Richt said. But now that the staff is complete – with defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos and linebackers coach Warren Belin rounding out the new hires – the future looks bright and the chemistry has clicked almost immediately.

"There's a genuine excitement," Richt said. "I know I'm excited. I've just got a great anticipation for this spring and the season to come. I really like the way Coach Grantham and Coach Lakatos and Coach Belin have come in and gotten to work and the way everybody's fitting together. I think the staff's got very good chemistry already, and that's not an easy thing to do."

Georgia opened spring practice Thursday, which marked the first opportunity for the new-look coaching staff to work together with the team on the field. The early results weren't much different from a typical practice in years past – only that the voices were different and a handful of players were lining up at new positions with new guidelines on how to approach their job.

Of course, this was just the start of the brave new world spearheaded by Richt and Grantham, and thus far, the head coach has been pleased with the energy that has been created – even if that means a hefty dose of competition among teammates and coaches.

"We're going to go out there and compete against each other for a while, and that's OK if a few feathers get ruffled," Richt said. "That's not a bad thing when coaches get competitive against each other. The players see that and it bleeds into the team. But as far as a cooperative attitude and a bunch of guys that want to succeed, I'm really thrilled about how this thing's been put back together."

The competition figures to get more intense as the spring winds along. Georgia won't practice again until March 16 and the players will only have each other to go up against until September, but Richt still sees the next few months as an opportunity to grow on both sides of the ball, thanks in large part to the changes in scheme and personnel on defense.

"It challenges the offensive coaches, too, because not only is the defense running a new scheme and having to learn that, but the offense has to learn it, too, because that's who you have to compete against every day in the spring," Richt said. "You want to know what they're doing, how they're doing it and why they're doing it."

Richt gets no argument from offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, whose offense returns 10 starters from last season but still has plenty of work to do to atone for some troubling performances in losses to LSU, Tennessee and Florida.

Bobo said last season's struggles mixed with the changes to the staff have underscored the need for intense competition this spring.

"We've had change, we've had turnover, we struggled last year at 8-5," Bobo said. "But sometimes that's good. You need to have that fire, and I think it's lit a fire in everybody. I'm not saying we're going to win them all. Who knows? There's a lot of questions. We've got to come together as a team."

That will be an ongoing process, but Grantham said he's been pleased with the feedback from the players, and the player appear genuinely excited to see what the new coaches can bring to the table.

"They're player friendly, they're definitely that," linebacker Marcus Dowtin said. "Coach Belin speaks on honestly and us giving 100 percent effort, and as long as we're doing that, there hasn't been any situation where they haven't been truthful with us. They're good guys."

The feeling is mutual, Grantham said.

Transition is never simple, particularly at a program like Georgia where Richt has made consistency a staple of his tenure. But now that change has come, Grantham said, it's something everyone has willingly embraced.

"Those guys are really good coaches, and I really do like our staff here," Grantham said. "The staff has embraced me and the other new guys here. I've been very impressed with those guys in meetings, and I'm just excited about the whole staff getting out and working with the team."

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