Free Willie: It Had To Be Done

This is not a happy time in the world of Georgia football.  It never is when you fire a coach (or multiple coaches, as this time).  There is definitely a human side to the story of a coach’s firing, and it is never pretty–especially not in economic times such as these.

But sometimes these things have to be done.  Anyone who has a job understands that when you have a job, you are expected to be able to do the job and do it well.  If you cannot or will not, then your employer can and should fire you.

The firing of Willie Martinez is not something to celebrate–even though I have been calling for it for a long time and am happy to see it happen, as are many other Georgia fans.  It is something that had to be done.

Why?  Because there were problems with the Georgia defense.

These problems were deeper than just a few missed tackles (or a whole slew of missed tackles, as was more the case).  Deeper than the coverage being here and the receiver and the ball being over there (known in football parlance as a blown coverage–there have been way too many of those over the years).  Deeper than the 51 points that Tennessee hung on Georgia in 2006, or the 49 that Florida dropped on Georgia in 2008, or the 10 times over the past two seasons that opponents have scored 30 points or more against Georgia.

The problem?  Nobody fears Georgia anymore.

When you watch Alabama or Florida play, you can see the passion, aggressiveness, and intensity with which their defenders rush to the ball.  You can feel the bone-jarring impact whenever defensive players from those teams make hits on ballcarriers who are unfortunate enough to pass within their vicinity.  This impact is so strong that it resonates through the TV screen.  Because of this, it sucks to have to play Alabama or Florida.  The better teams that have games with Alabama or Florida coming up think, “Gosh, I sure hope we can get through this.”  For the lesser teams in the conference, having Alabama or Florida on the schedule next week is no different from walking the Green Mile.

That is the kind of fear that the prospect of playing Alabama or Florida engenders in opposing teams.

This is the kind of fear that the prospect of playing any nationally ranked power engenders in opposing teams.

In the days of Brian VanGorder, it used to be that the prospect of playing Georgia would engender a similar level of fear in opposing teams.

Not anymore.

Under VanGorder, it only happened once that a team scored 30 or more points on Georgia.  LSU did it in the 2003 SEC championship game.

Under Willie Martinez, this has become a matter of course.  It happened six times just in the first three years of his tenure.  In the last two, as we know, it has happened ten times.

That is significant erosion.

It is never pleasant to see people lose their jobs.  But the defense has slipped too far.  Attitude has slipped too far.  How opponents perceive Georgia has slipped too far.

The defense has become soft–even downright predictable.  They seldom dictate these days; they usually only react.  Occasionally Willie Martinez could coach his charges up for a big game, such as the last four games of 2007, the bowl game last year, or the Auburn and Georgia Tech games this year.  But more typically Willie and his charges were clueless–such as against Florida the past two years, Tennessee and the second half of the Kentucky game this year.

You can’t compete like that.  Not in a big-time league like the SEC, at least.  Eventually you will become second-tier, and that is precisely where Georgia is right now.  You want evidence?  The record says it all:  7-5 overall, 4-4 in SEC play.

It had to be done.