In the war of words playing out in the media, however, Georgia athletics director Damon Evans hasn’t had any trouble staying above the fray.
“I’m serious about making sure we’re doing things the right way, and we’re mindful of the rules, but when it comes to he said, she said, I don’t really pay any of that any attention,” Evans said.
While Evans is certain Georgia has been careful in handling its business, other coaches around the conference haven’t minced words when talking about the recruiting policies of their peers.
New Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin was reprimanded earlier this month for accusing Florida coach Urban Meyer of recruiting violations, then later suggested Richt’s close relationship with recruit Marlon Brown’s grandmother was the only reason the wide receiver chose Georgia over the in-state Volunteers.
The circus of words has escalated from there, and various reports of recruiting violations have mixed with rumors on message boards and blogs to create a murky blend of half-truths. But the bottom line, Evans said, is that Georgia’s coaches haven’t cheated on the recruiting trail.
“I have the utmost confidence in Mark Richt, and I know he does things the right way, and that’s never a concern,” Evans said. “We have a guy leading us who has a high level of integrity, and we’re in a place where we don’t need to cheat to have success here.”
Of course, while no major violations have been uncovered at any SEC school so far this offseason, it’s been the minor snafus that seem to be the biggest fodder for the war of words between coaches and fans.
On that front, Evans admits Georgia has been guilty of several violations, but none that have raised concerns for him.
In the process of recruiting athletes, mistakes are made, Evans said, but none of the violations he is aware of reach beyond minor slip-ups, such as contacting a player too often in a given period due to a miscommunication between two coaches.
“We have violations, and I don’t know what the number of those are, but they’re inadvertent,” Evans said. “The other thing that I go back and say is, if you don’t have any violations at your institution, in my humble opinion, you don’t have a good system of checks and balances in place because people are going to make mistakes.”
While other SEC schools have critiqued Georgia’s recruiting practices, that hasn’t prevented them from making a run at the Bulldogs’ top recruiters.
Auburn, which hired Gene Chizik as its head coach in December, interviewed Georgia offensive coordinator Stacy Searels for an assistant job prior to the Bulldogs’ bowl game, while Kiffin hoped to hire recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner away from Richt’s staff last month.
While neither assistant left, both were offered significant upgrades in salary by competing schools, and they weren’t alone.
Auburn and Tennessee have both spent big money to lure assistants away from other schools, while Kiffin’s father, Monte, came on board as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator at a salary of $1.2 million. Meanwhile, Georgia’s highest paid assistant in 2008 was defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, who earned just more than $320,000.
While Tennessee and Auburn have been at the forefront of rising salaries for assistants, Evans said he told Richt that Georgia would not overreact to the situation.
“You just have to get to a point where you say, is what we’re offering fair to our coaches?” Evans said. “I want to make sure our coaches feel good. I don’t want them to be the lowest paid. But I said this to our head coach, I’m not going to overreact to one or two institutions. I just won’t do that.”
Nor will he overreact to rumors, innuendo and a bit of smack talk from the talking heads on other SEC campuses.
The way he sees it, Evans said, that simply spices up the rivalries in college football’s most competitive conference.
“That’s part of college athletics,” Evans said. “Some fans will say they’re doing this at Alabama, they’re doing this at Georgia. As long as I know what’s going on, and I’m comfortable with how we conduct our business, I’m fine.”