After watching last weekend’s lineup of games in the NFL, NCAA, and MLB, I came to a conclusion that I have thought about for ages: mediocre is OK in Georgia sports and in many other places across the country. This truth smacked me in the face when the Falcons lost again, leaving me disgusted yet not surprised. The sad reality is that in many organizations the nice coach who looks good in the community is kept on staff far past their due date. Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn is one of many examples of the growing trend in sports that nice guys are finishing last. The game ended on an AJ Green catch in the corner of the end zone, and Quinn showed little to no reaction. Not one word was said to rookie CB Isaiah Oliver, who blew the coverage. This reaction, or lack thereof, enraged me, and I couldn’t figure out why. I started to think about programs where coaches are described as “laid back,” “collected,” “not worried about rookie mistakes,” and I couldn’t keep coaches from the state of Georgia out of my mind. Paul Johnson, head coach of the Georgia Tech football team, is one man who came to mind. In 2015 Johnson’s bunch went 3-9, in 2017, the Jackets went 5-6, and in 2018 the Jackets are off to a 2-3 start. As a sports fan this blows my mind that a coach at an ACC school, in one of the nation’s best talent hotbeds, can be given a contract extension after 2 losing seasons in 4 years.
Johnson is not the only coach in the state to find themselves doing the bare minimum; another person who comes to mind is former UGA basketball coach Mark Fox. Fox, who had 3 losing seasons at UGA, left the Dawgs with a final record of 163-133. Although this is 30 games above .500, this is a number that still represents a decent team at best. The Dawgs made the NCAA Tournament 2 times in Fox’s 9 seasons, a very disappointing number. Fox was let go after the 2017-2018 season and was replaced by former Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Crean is someone known to be intense, and he is well respected in the world of basketball, coaching many great players including Dwyane Wade. Crean looks to come into Athens and fix the recruiting problem that the Dawgs struggled with under Fox, and hopefully to bring an air of physical basketball. Under Fox, the Dawgs lost many games in the final minutes under a head coach who did not seem present at times. The games would end and the dawgs and Fox would walk off the court with an unsurprised look, no screaming, no yelling, not a single expletive. This drove me crazy.
Image from USA Today
The answer to all of these problems in Georgia sports seemed so obvious to me for so long: go out and find a coach who cares about the city and the community, but who cares more about winning than anything else. I think that the best programs in sports right now are coached by men who aren’t scared of offending the media, or getting caught yelling at a player. Nick Saban comes to mind instantly, and so do the 5 national championships he’s brought to Tuscaloosa. Bill Belichick also comes to mind, as well as his times of telling the media off after a loss or a poor performance. But Belichick’s Super Bowls also speak for themselves. All of this goes to show that in sports, the guy who may seem mean or rude wins a lot more than the good guy who shows little emotion.
Even after the Falcons’ loss this weekend, I was still in high spirits in looking forward to the UGA football team move further into conference play and seeing the Braves play in the playoffs. It’s no surprise that the coaches of these two teams are high intensity guys with an expectation to win and a passion that shows no remorse. Kirby Smart could be seen in his players’ ears all game, calling out the mistakes as he saw them and demanding more. The difference between the Smart era Dawgs and the Dawgs of years past is that a poor performance under Smart is still resulting in 3 touchdown wins against solid opponents.
This attitude shift in the Battery in Atlanta, and between the hedges in Athens, is something that needs to be brought to the rest of Georgia sports. There is no reason that all Georgia sports teams can’t compete at the highest in all levels of sport given all of the resources the state has. While some programs in the state seem to be fine with mediocrity, UGA football and the Atlanta Braves are on a winning path and plan to keep it up, and it’s all due to the men running the team and how they handle the day-to-day aspect of coaching.