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Georgia Football

What We Are Hearing

April 5, 2018

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Georgia’s coaching staff wasn’t pleased with the way workouts were going in early March. Perhaps their message wasn’t getting through. Perhaps it was time to reinforce why off-season work matters. Perhaps it was just time for a dose to reality. 

This, whatever what going on during the off-season conditioning practice, wasn’t going to get the job done. This seemed too familiar. And Kirby Smart and company were ready to visually drive that point home. 

“It” was on. 

The big TVs. 

In the indoor practice facility for the entire program to suffer through as they suffered through their sprints… the final ten minutes of the Bulldogs’ national championship loss to Alabama.

Point made: get to work this second, or you might let another shot at the national championship slip through your fingers. 

Meanwhile, the program - the 2018 version - moves forward with a new cast of characters on the roster. Players like Zamir White (more on him in an upcoming article), Justin Fields (more on him in an upcoming article), Brenton Cox and Cade Mays have all been interesting additions to the UGA roster. 

Mays might be the one folks have forgotten about, but who could have a very good future in the program. Its going to be difficult for him to claw his way into the starting lineup this coming fall. But already folks in the program talk about the edge he has - insiders have been extremely positive about Mays. Again, how he’s supposed to eject a returning starter from the offensive line is hard to know, but expect bigger things from him in the future. 

Cox, too, should have big expectations. He’s massive, and it seems clear that with his body type he’s going to be able to do what he wants when he’s motivated. That will be a challenge for the coaching staff - development and motivation for Cox. He’s got the body and flashes playmaking ability. But he’s young and raw, and still has a path to travel before becoming a breakout star.

Insiders continue to be optimistic about Zamir White’s return from an ACL injury. But its just optimism - it guarantees nothing other than it appears for sure that he is ahead of where UGA thought he would be - or at least where most humans would be at this point. 

“He's progressing very well,” Kirby told us on the first day of spring ball.

White could take a step backwards, but he’s an extremely hard worker and serious about being successful. My “guess” - and this is a “guess” not based on anything I have heard - is that he will play this fall… probably before October. But when he first plays is hard to know for sure. 

Basketball, obviously, has been through a lot these last few weeks. 

“Firing of Mark Fox was a long time coming,” one insider close to the basketball program said just after the former coach was terminated. When asked to try and pinpoint when exactly things turned for Fox this was the response: “The Texas A&M game in 2017, or the Missouri game in 2013.”

That’s a long period of time. The A&M game a winter ago was probably the game that made the 2017-18 season make or break. That game was full of late-game follies… it was a catastrophe. Fox never got out of the shadow of not making the NCAAs year after year.

By the end of the 2017-18 season there was no doubt or question as to if he would be retained. 

“I saw where he said he was confused or whatever he said about getting fired,” one source said. “I’m not sure what he was talking about or where that thinking was coming from. If he didn’t know he could have been fired at the end of the season then I don’t know.”

After the move to terminate Fox’s contract (with the $1.1 million buyout), Greg McGarity moved quickly to a coaching search that targeted former Ohio State coach Thad Matta. Meanwhile, the team, which had qualified for post-season play, had to consider its options. 

Would it play in the NIT or not? 

A team meeting took place after Fox was terminated. Ultimately, the players decided it was best to not move forward playing in the NIT - with or without Mark Fox as the coach - but it took a little time to get there. 

The meeting between the players didn’t involve Fox being in the room. Still, it was extremely raw and emotional moment for those inside the room. The two players who lead the meeting were Yante Maten and Juwan Parker. At the end of the meeting the group decided it was best to not move forward period - with or without Fox. The feeling in the room was that the players did want to move forward with Fox as their coach for the NIT. It seemed unclear, at least from the way it was described to me, if the UGA players knew if they could or could not have Fox as their coach. Again, it was a little cloudy on that point, but they might have had the ability to move forward with Fox as the coach, but were not convinced that was a real option, so without knowing that the group decided to be done. 

“It was extremely sad,” said one basketball insider. “To never be able to see Yante Maten play with the Georgia jersey on again is extremely sad.” 

The main reason Georgia made the move to depart from Fox? SEC Basketball is becoming legit, and standing still with Fox was the same as moving backwards. 

“McGarity didn’t want to leave money on the table with basketball,” said a well-connected insider. “Pretty much, UGA didn’t want the SEC to get too far away in terms of competitiveness, and I think Greg was feeling that it was starting to happen.”

McGarity targeted Matta, and although that deal seemed imminent that Wednesday morning, it fell through. McGarity told me after Tom Crean’s introductory press conference that he thought the deal with Matta was pretty well done. Alas if fell through. 

I’ve been around Greg McGarity for about eight years now. I’ve never seen him appear as tired as he was after that press conference. 

“This is about (Greg) and his legacy at Georgia,” said one insider of McGarity hiring Crean and Kirby. 

I called and asked around the basketball world about Crean. Here is just a snippet of what I gathered in talking with folks who knew him well at Indiana. 

“He will want a recruiting budget where he can go wherever whenever he wants. If he finds out about a kid at night, he’s going to want to be on the plane the next day,” they said. “He will max out the times he is on the road to see a guy.”

“Faith. Basketball. Family - those are the only three things he does. He doesn’t have hobbies - its just those three,” they added. 

Additionally, folks at UGA have been glad to see the difference in Crean’s outgoing nature here at the start. Its no secret that Crean is eager to have conversations with nearly anyone he runs into. He’s seemingly totally into taking selfies with people walking around “The Steg”. 

“Never,” said one staffer who had to deal with Fox over the years. “You would literally never in a million years see Fox do something like that - be outgoing with people. At least I never did. This guy (Crean) is totally different.”

Now he just has to win.

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