Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Excuse Making for Bowden the Elder

Tony Barnhart has an theory as to why Florida State has declined so precipitously this decade: difficulty recruiting in Georgia and Louisiana. Barnhart's theory is interesting, but to me, it ignores the 800-pound gorilla in the room: like the Soviet Union when the Party was propping up ailing leaders like Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko, Florida State has a doddering figurehead as its leader. Let's think about all of the reasons why this theory fails:

1. Mark Richt's predecessor at Georgia was Jim Donnan. Do any Dawg fans want to take the position that Donnan was a poor recruiter or that he let too many players get out of state? Didn't think so. (OK, I'll grant you the decision to go after Jasper Sanks instead of Jamal Lewis. Other than that...)

2. Which major out-of-state program is most dependent on recruiting in Georgia? Give yourself a gold star if you said "Auburn." How have the Tigers done since Richt was hired? 66-23, good for 9th nationally. Apparently, Mark Richt's hiring wasn't a death knell for every program that depends on talent from Georgia, just the programs with incompetent sons of the head coach installed as the offensive coordinator.

3. Barnhart overstates the significance of out-of-state recruiting to Florida State. Sure, the 'Noles got the occasional player from Georgia or Louisiana, but those players were typically gravy. The program's emergence was the result of Florida becoming a hotbed for high school football talent, on par with Texas and California. I'd submit for your consideration that Florida State's recruiting problems were not so much the result of Saban and Richt being hired as they were Steve Spurrier, a somewhat ambivalent recruiter (especially towards the end of his tenure), being replaced by Ron Zook and then Urban Meyer, two aggressive, outstanding recruiters.

In Barnhart's defense, he's at least trying to come up with an interesting, non-conventional explanation for FSU's slide. His theory isn't totally off, as it has some significant applications for Tennessee, another program that depends on recruiting in Georgia and has seen its fortunes fall off since Richt was hired. (I don't quite know what to make of Clemson, the fourth program that depends on talent from Georgia. Would we say that Clemson has had a good stretch in this decade? They've played marginally above their historical winning percentage in a more competitive ACC. On the other hand, Tommy Bowden has constantly flirted with termination, so it hasn't exactly been a banner stretch for the other Tigers.)

Generally speaking, Barnhart's dispatches from fall practices have been outstanding. His piece on the spread with Auburn's Tony Franklin was especially good. If the rumors are true that Barnhart has taken a buyout from the AJC, it will be a sad day for the paper that covers the South like dew.

2 comments:

peacedog said...

1)Tallahassee is closer to a goodly portion of south Georgia than Athens is. Don't underestimate this. The situation now in South Georgia is pretty evenly contested amongst a number of schools. But it really was FSU's playground for much of the 90s. Bowden is the biggest reason for FSU's slide I agree, and the recruiting impact has more to do with change across the landscape (FSU losing good assistants and not replacing them with men of equal caliber, other schools upgrading, UGA especially. We never got kids out of South Ga under Donnan).

2) Donnan's in state job was decent but it wasn't as good as it was made out to be; indeed he was a little overrated as a recruiter (still pretty good, mind). He wasn't as bad as Goff - who frequently padded classes with kids who never got to campus or didn't last academically - but he was worse than Richt in this respect. He let more talent go than just Jamal Lewis, though (that class was famous for the decision to pursue Sanks over Lewis - which started looking bad when the highschool teams made the Ga Dome in the playoffs - and for seeing Cosey Coleman and Deon Grant head north). Some talent always leaves (a fact some Ga fans didn't really grok, and are only starting to).

I believe Richt has marked a clear upgrade, though. It's more because of the job he's done evaluating talent top to bottom, though. And he's especially boosted by Searels right now, who is the best OL coach we've had in a long time.

Donnan did a better job than Goff because he put hargrave to use, so not all of his immediate casualties were misses in the end. He didn't rely on Juco as much either (every year, under Goff, we were wowed with tales about juco transfers and how they were doing in the spring. Ask Bobby Terrific about Odell Collins and Selma Calloway. Or Matt Storm). And occasionally had smart Juco finds (Jamie Henderson was a quality DB; Antionio Cochrane was a decent End).

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