Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Day That Was - Where Now?

How on earth do you write something about yesterdays loss to UGAg? I just couldn't do it. Talking about the mechanics of the game just seemed so pointless. Talking about our coach's future seemed too tiring and repetitive. I was just plain tired, disappointed and sad at the culmination of a fairly disappointing season relative to expectations.

The players played their hearts out. The coaches coached their hearts out, and yet nobody has any real feel of satisfaction.

So what do I talk about? Guess I'll "go there" anyway.

I have never seen a game where one team gets so few breaks on so many freak, odd-ball plays. Two UGAg fumbled punts in their own endzone with the ball rattling around and both end up as touchbacks for UGAg? A backward pass (lateral) that UGAg fumbles and Morgan Burnett picks up to take to the house, only to get it knocked away into the endzone resulting in another touchback for UGAg? Are you kidding me?

The second offensive play of the game for Tech results in a sure TD, only to be dropped by Corey Earls? Are you kidding me?

Morgan Burnett gets called for pass interference in the endzone when the Georgie WR clearly pushed him, setting up an automatic 1st down and a TD on the next play. Are you kidding me?

Coach Gailey, I don't have an explanation for why the ball will not bounce your team's way during the UGAg game. I don't have an explanation why your cookie always crumbles. I don't have an explanation for such a strange series of events that had absolutely NOTHING to do with playcalling and almost nothing to do with execution. I don't understand it anymore than you do.

Tashard Choice had a typical TD day with well over 100 yards, but at the end of the day, the story is the same - there is no QB in a Tech uniform that can win games. We have a roster full that are apparently decent at not losing them, then letting the game be decided by the rest of the team. But it's been a LONG time since there has been a player on the flats who could take the team on his shoulders, rise above and actually will us to victory.

Matt Stafford did it again for UGAg. When Stafford threw deep, there seemed to be a plan. When Bennett or Nesbitt threw deep there seemed to be a prayer. Stafford delivered the ball as the WR came open. Bennett and Nesbitt passed the the ball when the saw the WR open......... and it always seemed to arrive late.

At the end of the day, games are decided by a handful of plays. Three balls squirting around in the endzone......... 0 points........... one dropped sure TD pass............ 0 points............. one phantom pass intereference......... 7 UGAg points instead of just 3. You just don't win when that type of stuff happens........... and we didn't.

Seven years of frustration and anger. It will end one day, but that day can't happen for a minimum of 364 more days.

Let the organizational games begin. Will he survive or won't he? The AJC will begin an assault of articles over the coming weeks pelting your mind from both sides of the fence - because of course that sells papers. Make sure to put your reading filter on. Take it all with a grain of salt, and make sure to discern fact from fiction. Don't decide that "Gailey must go" because Bark Madley says he should. Ask yourself what qualifies his opinion as any more important than the rest. Don't decide that Gailey should stay because Tony Barnhardt says his future shouldn't be decided on one game (or one game repeated six times as it were).

Should Coach Gailey stay? I don't have a clue.
Do I like Coach Gailey? Yes
Do I think he stands for all the right things? Yes.
Do I think he runs a clean program? Yes
Do I think he embraces the unique challenges of Tech? Yes
Do I think he is a "Tech man"? Yes I do, and he will always be.
Do I think that the players on this team are 100% behind him? Absolutely
Do I think he's improved recruiting? Yes
Do I think these better players can take us to the next level? I just don't know.
Do I think that he can build a dynamic offense? I am not convinced.
Do I think the program will be better if he stays? I don't know.
Do I think the program will be better if he goes? I don't know.

More than anything, I just feel sad for Chan Gailey. More than anything I just wanted to see him succeed....... but his team didn't win in the games that mattered most. I just wanted to see his team beat UGAg last year when it was right there for the taking......... but they didn't. More than anything I wanted that team to beat Wake Forest in the ACC championship game when it was right there for the taking...... but they didn't. More than anything I wanted them to beat West Virginia, who they were leading handily at halftime of the Gator Bowl......... but they didn't. Now it looks like West Virginia might be playing for the National Championship this season, and here we are again fighting over our coach and another 7 win season. More than anything I wanted that fumbled punt against UVA not to happen so we got the W earlier this year. More than anything I wanted that Travis Bell game winner to go through the uprights against Maryland...... but those things didn't happen. More than anything I just wanted ONE of the fumbles to go our way yesterday. They didn't, and we're left pondering the future.

It's funny. Last night I flipped over to the Clemson / SC game in time to hear the announcer say "if anything, it's South Carolina's defense that deserves a good break." I just shook my head and laughed, thinking of our players and coaches.

I don't have the answer as to what will drive Georgia Tech football to "the next level", whatever the "next level" is. However, I absolutely do not envy Dan Radakovich. He is facing the most important decision of his tenure. He has to make a decision that will impact the program for the next decade.

Here's the thing. With the above average success of Chan Gailey, what should D-Rad's mentality be on finding a replacement? If Gailey had been having losing seasons, this would be easy. Let him go and see what the market spits out. But he hasn't. He's been a good steward of the program. So in my opinion, D-Rad needs to have a VERY good idea of what he's going to do if he wants a change...... before he makes the change. With high profile programs out there looking for head coaches, it impacts your ability to get a "name". But can Georgia Tech attract a "name"? If D-Rad cuts Coach Gailey loose, but doesn't have a plan A, B and C, we might be in trouble. Putting the Tech head coaching job on the open market is a risky proposition. You'll hear names like Edsell, P.Johnson and Fisher. You'll hear Tenuta. But in the modern era, what "name" coach has ever had success at Tech and stayed? Would we be looking at some "hot assistant" ready to make a name? Do you want another guy to come in, show that he's truly building our program, but only stay a few years to leave us high and dry?

Bottom line is that it is a tough decision for D-Rad. Keeping Coach Gailey would be a bold, bold move and leave him open to serious criticism. Only a higher level of on-the-field success would prove out that decision. Letting Coach Gailey go could be a winning proposition even if we fall on hard times - but only if it leads to something bigger in the future. But how long are you willing to wait?

Now, if you want my opinion on what WILL happen, here's my guess - Chan Gailey will be fired. The thing I just keep coming back to Chan Gailey interviewing for jobs with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Miami Dolphins. Yes, they were programs where he had deep ties. However, I just can't help but think that maybe Coach Gailey saw some bit of writing on the wall and realized that maybe he should take a run at those jobs.

In addition, you've got a divided, restless fan base. Some of the money donors are starting to be vocal about the future of their donations. You've got a team that really should have won at least 2 more ballgames than they did this year. Unfortunately they only beat one team with a winning record all season. They had the pieces in place and just didn't get it done. You've also got a coach that just seems cursed against our arch-rival. He's a guy that isn't "dynamic" - whatever that means. Fans have been split on him from day 1 and the split has grown, not gotten smaller.

Honestly, at this point, I don't think anyone would blame D-Rad for making a change. Just don't go thinking that changing the head coach is going to be some magic cure. Next year's team is going to lose a ton of starting seniors so winning next year is going to be more of a challenge for anyone - including Gailey. Also, going from 7-9 wins to 10+ wins is a lot harder than going backwards to 5-6 wins. Don't start salivating over some of the big names being thrown out for jobs like Michigan, Nebraska and others. We are not those programs and not likely to attract the same caliber of coaches.............. or maybe I'm completely wrong.

So where is the Georgia Tech Athletic progam on the whole headed? I think most people are positive about the changes that D-Rad has made. The Tech fund was met with mixed response, but guess what - you ask people to pony up more dough - that's what you're going to get. But honestly it was necessary. D-Rad's job is to turn the GTAA into a money-making entity, which is wasn't when he arrived. He's got that headed into the black now. Now he's trying to win a new fanbase by trying some things in the marketing arena. Whether that will work in the long run remains to be seen.

From a coaching standpoint, he has renewed every existing coach's contract in every sport so far and now he will face his most difficult decision in the highest profile program of all.

From a personal standpoint, he answers all his emails, he communicates with the fanbase and he's pretty straightforward about his expectations and what he wants to build. He's saying and doing the right things in that regard.

Will D-Rad do for the current program what Homer Rice did decades ago? That remains to be seen. Heck, it remains to be seen if he will head back to LSU or not since their AD is retiring.

In general our sports programs are all improving. You can argue and debate improvement in the big 3 mens'sports, but clearly we've seen improvement with the ladies - tennis national championship, best lady hoops season ever + best recruiting class possibly ever, consistent competitiveness in volleyball, etc. We're always in the national picture in men's golf. In general things are headed in the right direction both on the field and off. Our coaches all run clean, high character programs. You have to like to quality of the kids that we are getting. There's a lot to be happy about................. well, except a few more wins here and there.

All-in-all, you are looking at a perfect opportunity to take a step back and decide if we are headed in the right direction. Regroup and evaluate things. Make this a key "off-season" in the change plan of D-Rad.

Lastly, in all fairness, we should explore the expectations on the fans. Not the expectations OF the fans, but ON the fans. What should rightly be expected of us as supporters of this program? I don't think anyone who has read this blog questions my public support of the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. Heck, September was the 4 year anniversary of this site, which has been the most prolific independent GT blog on the web, and I have ALWAYS tried to maintain a pro-GT bias. However, has my support extended to where it matters even more to the people at Georgia Tech?

What level of financial support should each one of us be expected to give? Is it reasonable to raise a fist against "mediocrity", but not give a penny to the program? I only say this because there are a lot of Tech fans in this category. A lot. In fact, I am one of them not providing much financial support. My financial support to this program pretty much extends to buying tickets to an occassional game. A big part of me is ashamed of this fact. I will justify it with stories about the birth of my 3rd girl a month ago, a house full of Disney Princesses and 100 other things. But to truly put a stamp on my support, should I be giving more? Are you supporting the program financially? If not, why not?

Should we be expected to make attending Tech games a higher priority if we live within a 4 hour radius? I will be the first to tell you that I am as guilty as anyone here also. It's just a busy time in my life (excuse) with small children. But should I make a more concerted effort to attend as many games as possible? My gut tells me I should. I went to one game last season - the Thursday night UVA game. None this year. How can the GTAA reach out to people like me, who have young families, and are struggling more with time than with money. Don't get me wrong, money is not a free flowing commodity in my house, especially when I start thinking about college and weddings for 3 girls. But you know what, I could afford to go to more games each year. What would it take for fans (alumni) like me to make spending a Saturday in the ATL a priority? At some level it's just a personal choice for each of us. At another level, it's a marketing issue for the GTAA to solve.

How should we voice our opinions when it comes to the leadership around our sports programs? Should "we" stop spending money on Tech? Well, that penalizes the players as much or more as the leaders. Should we boo public service announcements? Should we bash players and coaches on message boards? I don't think anyone really beleives this reflects well on us as fans. Quite frankly, I have been a bit embarrassed by too many Tech fans this season. We've looked petty, short-sighted, classless and unloyal at times. At the same time, many have been strong, unwaivering and classy.......... like every other fanbase in the country. We have them all. I don't know the right way to voice displeasure. Letters or emails to the administration is probably the #1 way if you ask me. Public outcry on sports radio and the internet and booing coaches has to be low on the list.

Lastly, what is reasonable for fans to expect when it comes to winning at Georgia Tech? That's an incredibly loaded question and I'm not going to tacke it here. Just suffice it to say this university has the resources and attractiveness to compete in the top 30 of most sports programs year-in and year-out. However, we are not Michigan, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas or Notre Dame, when it comes to built-in advantages. We just aren't and never will be. However, Georgia Tech is the most unique college environment in terms of challenges for the student-athlete. To succeed here is truly saying something. Nobody can take that away. I was one of those guys who panned football players when I was in school, but let's face it - it's hard enough to make it through Tech just being a student - but throw in "athlete" after "studen" and it's a real challenge. That's why the people coming to Tech HAVE to be special. Getting in is not the challenge. Staying in is. With that......

Major kudos to the seniors who played their last home game yesterday. It's been a great ride with some very memorable moments. I raise a glass to you and wish you the best in all you do, wherever life takes you.......................... JUST MAKE SURE YOU GET THOSE DEGREES!!!!!!!!