ATHENS — Technically it was a nondescript first day of spring football practice. But because four of his players were arrested and jailed on theft charges 18 hours before it started, Georgia coach Mark Richt was greeted by a couple of dozen media members and cameras from all four of Atlanta’s network television stations after the 90-minute practice concluded.
None of them got the answer they were seeking: How does he plan on punishing the four offending players?
“Well, we definitely wanted to focus on the excitement of the first day of spring ball,” Richt said when the subject was gently was broached nearly eight minutes into his post-practice comments. “Obviously we had some guys do some things that were foolish and they’ll be consequences for that. I’m not ready to talk about that at this moment, but we’ve got a lot of guys that have been doing extremely well and we didn’t want to take away from the excitement of Day One. It’s football again.”
Because the crimes were misdemeanors, UGA’s student-athlete conduct codes leaves the discipline to the discretion of the head coach. Sophomore Tray Matthews, who projected as Georgia’s starting free safety this coming season, receiver Uriah LeMay and defensive linemen James DeLoach and Jonathan Taylor were all present, dressed out and participating in Tuesday’s practice.
Richt was asked if that meant that the players were NOT going to be dismissed for their actions. Again, he was indefinite with his answer.
“I would just say there’s always a process that I go through before I make a decision,” he said. “Sometimes it happens rapidly and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not going to say anything other than if there’s something I need to report to everybody, I will.”
In the past Richt has often withheld his disciplinary decisions until the actual season begins. Georgia opens the season at home against Clemson on Aug. 31. He may wait until that game before revealing his plans.
But he was clear about how dealing with such situations makes him feel.
“You’re disappointed,” Richt said. “You have to decide, start deciding what you’re going to do about it. At Georgia, we’ve never tried to hide things. If somebody makes a mistake, we clean it up. We don’t hide it. In due time, everyone’s going to know what’s going to happen because of it. Some things when it comes to discipline are very public and some things aren’t. I’m not sure exactly where this is going to fall. If there’s something that we need to let everybody know, we’ll let y’all know.
Here’s the rest of his comments on the disciplinary situation. I’ll be filing a notebook later with details about the actual first football practice, which featured the debut of four new defensive coaches:
On opponents and opponent fan bases proclaiming Georgia has disciplinary problems …
“Everybody wants to do that. I think that if you took 125 students at Georgia or anywhere else in the country and you just said, ‘I’m going to follow these 125 people and I’m going to see what they do. You’d probably find a little bit of this and a little bit of that along the way. But because our guys are so and our sport is so high profile, the SEC is high profile, Georgia is high profile, every time something happens everybody knows about it. So we deal with it. These guys are not going to be perfect. I know that. If they do something that needs discipline, we’re going to give it. We’re going to do that. If it causes a guy not to be at Georgia, then it will happen. If it causes a guy to lose playing time, we’ll do it. If there’s some other form of discipline internally, then we’ll do that. We’re always trying to … There’s going to be a form of punishment, some form of education and then … we’re going to love them. We’re going to love them even if they leave Georgia. I’m not saying that’s going to happen in this case. But when it comes to discipline in general is what I’m talking about. So we’re going to do what is the most appropriate thing to do and go from there.”
On whether he’s a tough disciplinarian …
“No, it’s just like anybody who’s a parent, if one of your children does something they’re not supposed to do. You know you told them not to do it but they do it anyway. Some of them learn by watching; some of them learn by doing. But if one of your children makes a mistake, it hurts. It hurts. But you’ve got to be a responsible parent and you’ve got to discipline them. You’ve got to punish them in some way. You punish, you educate and you love them. That’s what we do.”
On the problem of negative publicity …
“A lot of times what happens is a lot of our policies are stiffer than most people’s. If you’re going aggressively go after certain things, sometimes your business becomes a little more public than you want it to. But in the meantime you don’t want to act like it didn’t happen. We’re going to address everything head on and handle it appropriately and move on from there.”
On how the arrests affects the team’s preparations …
“You know, it’s a distraction. There’s probably more people here today because of that. I don’t know. Maybe y’all wanted to hear about football. But that’s about all I’m going to say about that. But if we want to talk about football some more, I’ll keep talking.”
So here’s some video of Richt talking about some football …