ATHENS — The phone call I received Saturday afternoon wasn’t one I was expecting. I’d been trying to reach Tray Matthews to validate and comment on his tweet that he had decided to transfer to Auburn. But it wasn’t Matthews on the other end of the line.
It was Kevin Bailey.
Mr. Bailey, as I call him, is the father of Georgia junior defensive lineman Sterling Bailey. I’ve probably talked to Mr. Bailey a little more than most of the Bulldogs’ parents just because I was covering recruiting when his son committed to UGA out of East Hall High School and I had the pleasure of reporting last year the charming story of Mr. Bailey losing his son’s SEC East championship ring in an ice cooler near Clemson, S.C.
So Mr. Bailey had my number. But I couldn’t imagine why he was calling me in the middle of this lovely Saturday afternoon. I soon found out.
He was mad.
Still is, I imagine. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say hopping mad. The latest news of Matthews’ transfer coupled with some comments made by Matthews and family members and Auburn fans on social media left Bailey upset and bitter. As he explained to me, “I just need to vent.”
So I’m just going to let him vent.
“When I read some of the things said, it just made me sick to my stomach,” Bailey said. “That young man (Matthews) needs to realize who opened doors for him first. I’m speaking as a member of the Georgia Bulldog family, of the Bulldog Nation, because my son goes to school down there, too. I love Tray. I love his mom and dad, too. We’re good friends. But the comments I read made me feel like they were putting down the University of Georgia, the system and the coaches. Not one time did I see it mentioned what Coach Richt or the other coaches have done for him. That’s what made me mad.
“Coach Richt and the coaching staff opened their arms to this kid. They welcomed him into the Bulldog Nation and they stood behind him. For him to come out like that and make it seem like the University of Georgia had done him wrong, that’s what makes me so mad. Same with Shaq Wiggins and the other kids who had the opportunity to play at the University of Georgia. They leave and transfer and get dismissed from the team and they blame it on the school system. It’s not the system; it’s the kids. If you come and do what you’re supposed to do and do it right, you wouldn’t get in trouble and things like this wouldn’t come about.”
Matthews was already in trouble with the UGA coaching staff for his involvement in a check-cashing scheme that resulted in the arrest of four of the Bulldogs players. According to Mr. Bailey, there had been some other issues before then. Then Matthews was thrown out of a class for being disruptive and disrespectful and Richt had enough. He told Matthews to hit the road.
Matthews was the second defensive back to be kicked off the team by the Bulldogs since the end of last season. Fellow safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was also ousted for multiple violations of the program’s marijuana policy. Cornerback Shaq Wiggins also left because he found “The Georgia Way” too rigid.
As it turns out, Mr. Bailey didn’t call just to vent about those guys. He also made a confession.
“Sterling, when he first got down there, he did something wrong,” he told me.
Mr. Bailey explained that, when his son was a freshman, he got a call from Ron Courson, UGA’s director of sports medicine. He learned that Sterling had failed one of the football program’s drug and alcohol screenings.
In this particular case, Sterling had violated the Bulldogs’ alcohol policy. Then underage, his blood-alcohol content at the time of the surprise morning test was enough to still be legally drunk, Mr. Bailey said.
Sterling was not suspended as a result of the failed test, but he was subjected to much discipline, Mr. Bailey said. Not only was his son subjected to a long period of early-morning extra conditioning runs but, more importantly in his eyes, Sterling was ordered to attend drug and alcohol counseling.
He also got caught the wrath of Kevin Bailey.
“I said, ‘we didn’t send you down there to be a follower; we sent you down there to be a leader,” Mr. Bailey recounted. “I told him we sent him down there to get an education and to do what’s right. I told him he wasn’t only letting down me, he was letting down people up here in Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Oakwood, everywhere. What we do and what we believe in is important!”
Sterling Bailey hasn’t been in trouble with the Bulldogs since. Now a rising junior, he started eight games last year and exited spring practice as the first-team defensive end.
“Not one time have I heard any of these kids say how they appreciate the University of Georgia and their coaches,” Mr. Bailey said. “When they leave the University of Georgia, they go to their arch rival or somewhere else and tear down the university system, like Georgia did something bad to them. It wasn’t like Georgia did something bad to them, it was what they did back to the University of Georgia. And that’s what hurts me so bad.”
So we can now consider Mr. Bailey vented. Your thoughts?