Josh Kendall, who covered the Bulldogs on a day-to-day basis from 1998 to 2008, saw about all there was to see in Athens. In this story he breaks down the ten biggest stories of the Dawg Post era.
1. Vince Dooley vs. Michael Adams
For 39 years, the thought of Vince Dooley leaving his post in Athens with anything other than a ticker-tape parade and year-long victory lap was too farfetched to even imagine.
And then came June 2003, when university president Michael Adams refused Dooley’s request for a contract extension.
“In any endeavor there comes a time when a transition to new leadership is appropriate,” Adams said. “It is now time for new leadership in the UGA athletic department.”
Very few people agreed. Dooley guided the Bulldogs to six SEC football championships and one national title during a 25-year coaching career that ended in 1988. He then stayed on as athletics director, where he helped build Georgia into one of the country’s top athletic programs.
The men had agreed in 2001 that Dooley would step down in 2003 (that was later extended to mid-2004), and Dooley asked for a two-year extension of that agreement. Adams’ decision not to grant it caused a public uproar and calls for his job. Yet Adams survived the incident, and Dooley stepped aside, ending a 40-year career in the summer of 2004.
Eventually the firestorm surrounding the event became so heated that Dooley publicly asked that his name not be used in campaign against Adams.
“I think it’s important to rise above all of that for the University. I’ve put in a lot of time here; 40 years is a lot of time,” he said.
“I take him at his word,” Adams said in response to Dooley’s request. “I think he is serious about expecting people to cease some of the nonsense. I’m confident that will happen.”
It never really has. The incident is almost a decade old now but the wound is far from healed. Many, perhaps most, in the Bulldog Nation will never forgive Adams for dismissing Dooley, and Georgia’s legendary former coach and AD clearly isn’t letting bygones be bygones yet.
Dooley told Atlanta’s 11Alive News in February of this year that he would fire Adams if given that power today.
“I do think that from time to time that it's necessary to move on, to make a change,” Dooley told the network in language he surely knew sounded exactly the same tone Adams had used eight years before. “He thought in my situation that it was time to make a change and didn't renew (my contract), so I would say that he’s at the point where I could also say the same thing about him.”
2. Jim Harrick’s Flameout
Georgia’s basketball program made rare national headlines when it hired Harrick in 1999. Harrick was a national name, a national championship winner who came with some baggage but a beautiful brand of basketball.
His entrance to the school was almost as dramatic as his exit. Harrick accepted the job and held his introductory press conference before flying back to Rhode Island to pack up his office and move to Athens. Harrick then had second thoughts about the move, going so far as to inform Vince Dooley that he had changed his mind and would be staying at Rhode Island, citing family reasons. Later that day, Harrick called Dooley back and asked to re-take the job, explaining that family was the only reason he had waffled in the first place.
As it turns out, one of Harrick’s family concerns was that Georgia nepotism laws would keep his son and assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr. from being employed by the Bulldogs. As everyone now knows, that would become an important point in the Harrick era as Harrick Jr. eventually did join his father’s staff after a complicated bit of maneuvering by the school that made it appear Harrick Jr. did not report to his father but another member of the university staff.
That move eventually would cost both Harricks their job when former player Tony Cole appeared on ESPN to allege Harrick Jr. wired him money to pay a phone bill. Cole also alleged Harrick Sr. gave him a credit card to buy a television and that a Georgia booster gave him cash. Cole had been kicked off the team six months earlier for violating team rules.
The allegations led to Harrick Jr.’s firing, Harrick Sr.’s resignation, the Bulldogs pulling out of the 2003 SEC and NCAA basketball tournaments and sanctions for the school, not to mention plenty of punch lines at the Dogs’ expense. One of the most embarrassing episodes in the incident was the revelation that three basketball players received As in a class taught by Harrick Jr. even though the players didn’t regularly attend class. One of the class tests famously included the question: “How much is a 3-pointer worth?”
It was an unseemly but not entirely unforeseeable end for a man who was 67-53 as Georgia’s basketball coach. Harrick Sr. had previously been fired at UCLA despite winning a national title at the school, when he was accused of lying on an expense report. At Rhode Island, Harrick Sr. was accused by a former secretary of changing players’ grades and having term papers written for them.
“Jim Harrick Sr. is a man of considerable coaching talent in whom Coach Dooley and I had placed a great deal of confidence,” Michael Adams said in a statement at the time. “'We were greatly disappointed to lose that confidence due to Coach Harrick’s failure to appropriately manage the basketball program. Based upon the facts discovered in the investigation to date, his resignation is appropriate, and we accept it.'”
Harrick Sr. and Adams had a previous relationship and Harrick’s hiring was thought to be Adams’ work, leaving the president with a black eye but failing to give Dooley enough ammunition to win back his job.
3. Damon Evans’ Fall
The sordid details of the event overshadowed how hugely sad it all was. Evans was the first African-American to lead an athletic department in the Southeastern Conference. He was intelligent, charismatic and well-regarded in conference and national circles. Evans had even larger things in his future, whether it be being commissioner of the SEC or having a career in politics.
That ended on June 30, 2010, when he was stopped by a police officer in Atlanta and charged with driving under the influence. Evans’ tenure, well-regarded at that point by school president Michael Adams, might have been able to survive just a DUI. It could not survive the other details of the story.
“I also noticed that the subject had a red pair of lady’s panties between his legs,” the police report read. “I asked the subject what the panties were doing in his side of the seat and he said, ‘She took them off and I held them because I was just trying to get her home.’”
Evans’ female companion in the car was not his wife and exited the car during the traffic stop. Evans’ salary was set to rise to $550,000 per year the day after his arrest. Evans pleaded for his job in a subsequent press conference but seemed to know at the time of his arrest that his promising career was done.
“The subject began crying uncontrollably before I took him into the jail,” the police report read.
Evans has not worked in collegiate athletics since he was pushed out the door July 4.
4. The 2005 SEC championship
It didn’t work out well for Georgia when it played Les Miles and the LSU Tigers in the SEC title game this December, but there was a day when things went much better. The No. 14 Bulldogs and No. 3 Tigers met in the early days of the Les Miles’ era in the 2005 title game. An efficient performance from MVP D.J. Shockley and dominant defense carried the Bulldogs to a 34-14 win.
The most dramatic moments of the title actually came in getting to the game. The Bulldogs started the season 5-0 in the league, but then lost 14-10 to Florida with Shockley on the bench with an injury and a one-pointer to Auburn on a last second field goal. They finally got into the title game with a 45-13 win over Kentucky.
The victory did a lot to validate Richt’s first title. It eliminated any possibility of a one-hit wonder tag, and, more importantly, forever ended any argument that Richt could only win with Jim Donnan’s players. That could have been a legitimate argument before 2005 because Donnan left Richt with a ton of talent that carried the 2002 team.
5. D.J. Shockley stays at Georgia
See above. The Bulldogs would not have won that title without D.J. Shockley at quarterback. It all seems like a simple story all these years later. A very good quarterback waits his turn, takes over for another very good quarterback as a senior and leads his team to a conference championship. It was nothing like that at the time.
When Mark Richt took the Georgia job, his No. 1 priority was to get D.J. Shockley to Athens. It seemed a perfect marriage, the coach who made a star of Charlie Ward and the Parade All-American quarterback who looked like he might be the next Charlie Ward and then some were a can’t-miss pair. The idea at the time was that David Greene, a light-throwing left-hander who was well-regarded but not a superstar coming out of South Gwinnett High School would hold off Shockley for three seasons would have been laughed out of any room in the state, including Richt’s office I would imagine if he was being truthful.
Greene, though, did muck up the works by holding doggedly onto his starting job. It created quite the drama behind the scenes, but it never spilled out on the field. Late in the 2002 season, after strongly considering transferring twice, Shockley made the decision to stay in Athens. It was a decision even his father wondered about at the time.
“I did have a certain feeling about that, but that’s the decision he wanted, and that’s the decision he was going to be happy with, so that’s the decision I resigned myself to,” Don Shockley said at the time. “Coming out (of high school) I felt my son was a tremendous talent. He could have been playing a lot of different places. As any father would, I wish he had played more, but I'm happy with what he's happy with. He’s happy staying at Georgia.”
Shockley threw for 2,588 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions in his only season as the starter. More importantly, he won 10 games, including the SEC title game against LSU (34-14). Shockley had two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown as the Bulldogs upset the No. 3 Tigers.
The forgotten aspect of the Shockley story is how differently the story would have played out if not for the tragedy of September 11th. In the week before that, Richt had decided to play Shockley as a backup during his true freshman season. By the time college football resumed, Richt had changed his mind. If not for that decision, Shockley wouldn’t have had anymore eligibility remaining in 2005.
6. The night the lights went out in the Georgia Dome
The easy joke to make is that it took a natural disaster to bring a basketball championship to the Bulldogs, and it’s not far from the truth. Georgia was minutes from taking the court in the 2008 SEC Tournament, and almost every intelligent observer believed they were just a couple hours from ending their season and probably the coaching tenure of Dennis Felton.
Then the Georgia Dome roof started to flap like a bed sheet as a tornado passed through downtown Atlanta. There were no injuries or even significant structural damage to the building, but a hole in the roof forced the tournament to move. While the Bulldogs went back to their team hotel, conference officials huddled to figure out what to do. At nearly 4 a.m., it was decided to move the tournament to Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Georgia Tech’s campus.
It was weird for everyone (each team was given only several hundred tickets for staff, family and boosters), but it was particularly strange for the Bulldogs playing on the floor of their in-state rival. Georgia opened the tournament with a win over Ole Miss and then had to beat Kentucky and Mississippi State on the same day due to the reshuffled scheduling before playing Arkansas for the title on Sunday. By the time of that game, Georgia had a feeling of inevitability about it.
The Bulldogs beat the Razorbacks 66-57 to claim their first SEC hoops title since 1983 and earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
“I know how difficult it is to win championships. I don’t take any of them for granted. This one will go down as extremely special because of the odds and the way we had to go about doing it,” Felton said.
The tournament run gave Felton one more year in Athens and made the Bulldogs a national storyline. In fact, it’s the last time the Georgia basketball program has been relevant on the national scene.
For South Carolina fans, 2001 will always be a special year. (The Gamecocks enter Williams-Brice Stadium while the song is played over the loudspeakers.) For Georgia fans, 2011 might become just as iconic. One of the things that sets the Bulldogs apart from other teams in the country is Mark Richt, and 2011 was the season he saved his job.
It began well before the fall with the vaunted Dream Team recruiting class. Whether Richt knew it at the time or not, he was hitching his fortunes to the Class of 2011 by giving it such a hallowed name (a decision he knew would be a hit with recruits but that he had to also know would eventually go public). For Richt to come out of the deal not looking silly, he had to do two things.
First, he had to sign the class or at least the bulk of it. He did, and in dramatic fashion, adding five-star defensive end Ray Drew the week before signing day, five-star running back Isaiah Crowell on signing day and four-start defensive tackle John Jenkins three days after signing day. The Bulldogs signed 12 four-star prospects to go along with their two five-stars, and their class was ranked No. 5 in the country by Scout.com.
Second, Richt had to take those players and win, which he did, although not at first. Georgia started the season 0-2, losing to Boise State and South Carolina teams that would end up in major bowl games. From there, Richt and Georgia reeled off 10 straight wins. The most crucial of those came against Florida on October 29th. The Gators were not a good team in 2011, but Georgia was facing not just Florida but the weight of their miserable recent history against the Gators.
The Bulldog lost handily (42-10) to LSU in the SEC title game and then again in the bowl game (33-30 in triple overtime to Michigan State), but those losses were mostly forgiven as the question of Richt’s job security was put to rest.
Richt’s longevity in Athens (he is the longest-tenured coach in the SEC with 11 years of service in the country’s most merciless league) is one of the things that sets Georgia apart in college football, and 2011 gave Richt the chance to extend that longevity. If Richt stays another ten years in Athens (which is not out of the question), 2011 will be looked back as the year it almost all went wrong.
8. The Davids
For a team looking to get back in the national spotlight, it helps to have more than just a winning record. That’s what the story of David Greene and David Pollack gave the Bulldogs from 2001 to 2004. It was Georgia’s most successful run on the field since the glory days of 1980-’83, and the reason so many people noticed was there was a story to tell along with it. And it was a great story – two kids from Gwinnett County who played on the same recreation league team as kids and knew each other all their lives leading the Bulldogs back to glory.
The team photo of the two boys’ team was seen in national magazines and on national television and just about everywhere else accompanying stories about their friendship and differing personalities. Greene was perfectly cast as the reserved and laid-back quarterback who set the major college football record for wins during his career.
“I’ve always said it’s the ultimate reward because (winning) is the ultimate team goal,” Greene told USA Today at the time. “That record says so much about this program.”
Pollack was Greene’s polar opposite, fiery on the field and feisty off it, but his way worked for him. He remains the school’s all-time leader in sacks (36) and was a three-time All-American.
The story, though, wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling without all the winning. Greene and Pollack helped the team to the 2002 SEC title, played in two SEC title games and won 42 games (vs. 10 losses) in their career.
9. Matthew Stafford’s recruitment
The hotshot quarterback from Texas didn’t draw out the recruiting process. In fact, he committed so early and so quietly that his verbal pledge and subsequent signing don’t rank in the top 10 of dramatic recruiting moments during Mark Richt’s tenure. Stafford committed in May, nine months before national signing day. People knew it was a big deal, but maybe not how big a deal.
Quietly, though, Richt was beaming. College coaches aren’t allowed to make comments about recruits prior to their signing and Richt is loath to heap too much onto young players, but he was telling those around him after Stafford’s verbal commitment that Stafford was one of the best high school quarterbacks he had ever seen.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper, under no such restrictions or reservations, told the world the same thing. In September of 2006, before Stafford had earned the starting job at Georgia, Kiper predicted (correctly, amazingly) that Stafford would be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft when he left Georgia.
Stafford walked into a four-way quarterback battle along with veteran Joe Tereshinski and fellow youngsters Joe Cox and Blake Barnes. It took half of a season for Stafford to finally take over the reins. He eventually threw for 7,731 yards, 51 touchdowns and 33 interceptions, and watching his arm strength (if not his decision-making) was remarkable.
There is a black mark to this era, too. In a stretch in which they had two first-round NFL draft picks in their offensive backfield (running back Knowshon Moreno was selected No. 12 overall by the Denver Broncos), the Bulldogs not only didn’t win an SEC title, but they didn’t play in the SEC title game.
However, having a No. 1 NFL draft pick (particularly a quarterback) puts Georgia forever in elite company. In the history of professional football dating back to 1936, only 26 schools have produced a No. 1 quarterback. (They are Notre Dame, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Oregon, Rice, Iowa, N.C. State, Oregon State, Boston College, Louisiana Tech, Stanford, Cal, Miami, UCLA, Illinois, Washington State, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Fresno State, Southern Cal, Ole Miss, Utah, LSU and Oklahoma.) Looking down the line, Georgia has produced only two pro football Hall of Famers (Fran Tarkenton and Charley Trippi).
10. The 2008 season
The Bulldogs had never topped the preseason Associated Press poll until 2008. Coming off a 41-10 demolition of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl (a game which gave Marcus Howard an NFL career and may have cost Rainbows quarterback Colt Brennan a real shot at one), Georgia was the toast of the town.
Mark Richt said all the right things at the time, but it did little to ease the eventual sting of how the season played out.
“To have people believing we have one of the best teams in the nation going into this thing, it’s exciting for us,” Richt said. “I don’t think anything is guaranteed, but we certainly have put ourselves in a position where at least the college football world thinks we’re pretty good.”
There were signs from the outset that the ranking was a bit of a mirage, most notably a narrow 14-7 win over a South Carolina team that was coming off a loss to Vanderbilt. However, the real reality check came in week five, when Alabama came to town. The lead up to the game week centered on Georgia’s decision to wear black jerseys (a motivational ploy that had worked beautifully previously against Auburn). An internet video surfaced of an Alabama coach telling his team before practice that the Bulldogs’ jersey choice was fitting because they would be attending their own funeral.
Those turned out to be prophetic words. The expectations for that team were dealt a fatal blow as the Tide built a 31-0 halftime lead and coasted to a 41-30 win. The remainder of the year featured a trouncing at the hands of Florida (49-10) and an embarrassing 45-42 loss to Georgia Tech.
The Bulldogs won a New Year’s Day bowl game that year (24-12 over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl), but it still might have been the most disappointing 10-3 season in college football history.
(The subplot to that story is that that game also marked the return of Alabama to national prominence. Nick Saban was 5-4 in the SEC as the Crimson Tide coach before that game. Since then, he is 28-4 in the conference and has won two national titles.)
The last three seasons of angst surrounding Mark Richt and his job started that year.