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The Case Against Willie Martinez

Beard_47_series_wins_and_42_points_in_2007_tiny by T Kyle King on Dec 4, 2008 5:00 AM EST in Football

On Saturday night, after much discussion and reflection during a roundabout drive home which afforded additional (and appreciated) time during which to ruminate and converse, I advocated firing Willie Martinez as Georgia’s defensive coordinator.

Although I had taken this position before, I did so more heatedly and angrily, and I later backed off from the position. I have now returned to it, but pensively rather than vengefully. Because my co-author, MaconDawg, for whom I have the utmost respect, disagrees with my position, and because we here at Dawg Sports take no small amount of pride in the quality of the discourse that takes place here, I thought my argument required further explication.

I write this in much the same spirit that George Will wrote Restoration, as a convert to a position with which I previously disagreed, who hopes not to fan the flames of passion to encourage hasty action in the heat of the moment, but to state a persuasive case in order to promote thoughtful discussion over a potentially divisive issue in Bulldog Nation, one which ends in a reasoned conclusion arrived at without acrimony. I have invited MaconDawg to craft a case for the other side, but, obviously, all of you are invited to respond, as well.

One point in need of being addressed concerns the validity of my previous argument about the number of games the Bulldogs have lost in the last four years in which the Red and Black scored what historically have been enough points to win. When Viper2369 posted a link to my posting at The DawgChat, Rockmart Dawg offered a sensible retort:

For a VERY LONG time offensive schemes were completely melded with an overall game plan so as to keep opposing offenses on the sideline, run the ball, run the clock, and control the clock. Low-scoring affairs were the norm.

When Eric Zeier was recruited to Georgia it officially signaled the beginning of a brand new era at UGA, that being a pass-heavy offensive game plan... for the FIRST TIME EVER. That was... what.... 1990/1991?!

Have that same person tell us how many times since Goff was at the helm that UGA has scored more than 28 points and I guarantee you the ratio will far exceed that of all of the previous 100 years of Georgia football. The same will be true for the entire nation.

The game has changed significantly in the past 15-20 years.

Undeniably, Rockmart Dawg makes a good point. In Vince Dooley’s first season as the Bulldogs’ head coach in 1964, Georgia went 7-3-1, never scored more than 24 points in a game, and won three games by the final margin of 7-0. Times have changed.

However, football is cyclical. Major league baseball can be delineated sharply between the "dead ball" and "lively ball" eras; the same cannot be said for college football, which is a constant tug of war between offensive innovation and defensive adaptation. Bear Bryant once ruled the Southeastern Conference with the wishbone; Paul Johnson’s triple option is effective, in part, because it is seldom seen and can catch an opponent unprepared, much like Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s swinging gate maneuver at Gettysburg.

Georgia football didn’t start scoring points in bunches until Eric Zeier was under center? Tell that to Wally Butts, whose first two S.E.C. championship teams won conference games by such scores as 33-14 (Florida in 1946), 35-7 (Georgia Tech in 1946), 34-0 (Georgia Tech in 1942), 48-13 (Ole Miss in 1942), 41-0 (Auburn in 1946), and 75-0 (Florida in 1942).

Vince Dooley’s teams were purely about rock-ribbed defense, sound special teams, and a ball-control offense that kept the ‘Dawgs on the right side of low-scoring affairs? Tell that to the 1981 Tennessee and Georgia Tech teams and the 1982 Florida squad, which lost to Georgia by margins of 44-0, 44-7, and 44-0, respectively.

I will grant, however, that those scores are somewhat aberrational over the long course of Bulldog football history. These scores, though, are not:

13-7. 27-25. 18-13. 48-17. 52-24. 13-20. 31-17. 24-21. 30-3.

Those are the final scores of Georgia’s nine Southeastern Conference games (including the S.E.C. championship game) from the 2002 season.

In Brian VanGorder’s second season as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator, the Red and Black held two conference opponents in the single digits, allowed three more to score in the teens, and gave up more than 21 points just twice.

In 1986, for the first time in his then-23 seasons in Athens, Coach Dooley’s Bulldogs began the season by passing out of the shotgun formation. In order to let his team know he was serious about fielding a balanced attack, Coach Dooley publicly announced before the season started that Georgia’s first play from scrimmage would be from the shotgun.

He was true to his word. Against Duke in the opener, James Jackson took the snap and threw a nine-yard completion to Tim Worley. Georgia again lined up in the shotgun on the following play. It was a handoff to Keith Henderson, who picked up eight yards. The ‘Dawgs would not use the shotgun for the remainder of the game. Afterwards, Coach Dooley told the media, "You didn’t think we were going wild, did you?"

One week later, after David Treadwell’s last-second field goal gave Clemson its second win ever between the hedges and Georgia its second loss ever in which the Bulldogs scored 28 points, defensive coordinator Bill Lewis said, "28 points should be enough for us to win two football games." To reiterate, times have changed.

They haven’t changed that much, though. They haven’t changed so much that Coach VanGorder couldn’t figure out how to make halftime adjustments. During the aforementioned 2002 season, Georgia had to survive a number of second-half comebacks, eking out wins against Clemson (by the same 31-28 score by which the ‘Dawgs lost to the Tigers in 1986), South Carolina (13-7), Alabama (27-25), and Tennessee (18-13).

After the midpoint of the regular season, though, the Red and Black started slamming the door after intermission, surrendering just seven second-half points to Vanderbilt, none to Kentucky, eight to Florida, none to Ole Miss, seven to Auburn, seven to Georgia Tech, three to Arkansas, and six to Florida State.

How does this year’s defense compare to that year’s? After the break, Willie Martinez’s 2008 Bulldogs gave up 21 to the Bayou Bengals, 35 to the Gators, 24 to the Wildcats, seven to the Plainsmen, and 33 to the Yellow Jackets in their last five games. Even allowing for offensive and special teams miscues, that represents a clear regression, over the course of the season and over the course of Coach Martinez’s tenure as defensive coordinator. Maybe we no longer live in a world in which it is reasonable to expect to hold an opponent to three touchdowns or fewer over the course of a game, but surely it is not too much to ask that our defense not give up 21 or more points in the second half in four of their last five regular-season outings.

In saying so, however, I am focusing on Coach Martinez’s worst efforts. MaconDawg’s measured argument against firing the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator includes the fair point that Coach Martinez deserves to be judged on his entire body of work. Writes MaconDawg:

I am not a proponent of firing Willie Martinez. It's amazing how quickly people have forgotten his "brilliant" gameplans against Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma State in 2007. However, if we're going to win with his system we have to have all the parts.

Coach Martinez does deserve the credit for the Bulldogs’ defensive efforts in those games; indeed, the performance of the Georgia D during the 2006 stretch run against Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech had much to do with my having reversed course on the idea of letting him go two years ago.

Coach Martinez’s problem isn’t that he’s bad, it’s that he’s maddeningly inconsistent and becoming less reliable with the passage of time. For every great defensive game plan that has been executed well, there has been another defensive effort which was lacking in game planning, execution, or both. When you compare the performance of his defensive unit with the performance of Mike Bobo’s offensive unit (and particularly Stacy Searels’s offensive line) as the season has progressed, the contrast is obvious and undeniable.

Coach Martinez’s performance as defensive coordinator reflects, and is reflected in, the way his charges have played on the field. Their inconsistency mirrors his own. Rockmart Dawg is right that teams score more now than they did a decade and a half ago, but that only means the standards for defensive success are lower than they were before. With Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Rockwell Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi, and A.J. Green lining up on the offensive side of the ball, Willie Martinez’s defense doesn’t have to shut opponents down the way Erk Russell’s Junkyard ‘Dawgs did, yet, even with a lower bar to clear, Coach Martinez is failing to live up to a reduced standard. His continued employment in his present capacity suggests that his retention is the result of a "No Coach Left Behind" policy.

If it’s unfair for me to claim that a team that scores 28 points ought to win a football game, fine. How about 30 points? Georgia scored 30 or more points in a losing effort five times in the 111 seasons prior to Willie Martinez’s elevation to defensive coordinator in the Classic City; Georgia has scored 30 or more points in a losing effort five times in the four years since.

If 30 still is too low, fine. How about 33? Brian VanGorder was Georgia’s defensive coordinator for four years during the 20th century and, during those four years, the Red and Black never lost a game in which they scored more than 17 points. Surely it is not unreasonable to say the Bulldog D ought to perform well enough for the ‘Dawgs to win a game in which the Classic City Canines score nearly double the number of points that sufficed week in and week out just five years ago, yet Georgia scored 33 or more points and lost two times between 1892 and 2004 . . . and Georgia scored 33 or more points and lost three times between 2005 and 2008.

However, MaconDawg makes a fair point that winning with Willie Martinez’s system (which is, after all, Brian VanGorder’s system) requires having the proper parts. This is a point similar to the one Mark Richt made when, in a disturbingly Donnanesque moment, he recently said this:

People don’t get it. People think they know but they don’t. I mean, if people really knew football, they’d know that we’ve been blitzing; they’d know that we’ve been playing zero coverage; they’d know we’ve been playing cover one; they’d know that we’ve been playing robber [coverage]; we’ve been go fire-zone with cover three behind it; fire-zones with cover two behind it. So if they really knew football they wouldn’t be saying the things they say. But they don’t.

It’s the same basic defensive scheme that we’ve had since we got here. You know, it’s not like a kind of philosophical issue. I mean, the philosophy of our defense hasn’t really changed hardly at all in eight years. And we’ve not been in this spot in the past. So that’s not the problem.

The emphasis added is mine, because I believe the point is rather telling. While I do not pretend to be an X and O guy, and while I freely admit that I don’t know one-tenth as much football as Coach Richt knows, there may be a problem with playing "the same basic defensive scheme" that "hasn’t really changed hardly at all in eight years."

Eight years ago, Dennis Franchione was the head coach at Alabama; today, Nick Saban is. Eight years ago, Al Borges had not yet been hired as the offensive coordinator at Auburn; now, Tony Franklin has been fired as the offensive coordinator at Auburn, and Tommy Tuberville followed not far behind. Eight years ago, Steve Spurrier was running the Fun ‘n’ Gun at Florida; today, Urban Meyer is operating the spread option in Gainesville. Eight years ago, George O’Leary was stalking the sidelines at The Flats; today, Paul Johnson has brought back the triple option at Georgia Tech. How many times has Tennessee changed offensive coordinators since the hobnailed boot was brought down in the checkerboard end zone?

The world has turned more than a few times since 2001. For whatever reason, Willie Martinez has not kept up, at least not consistently, and the types of offensive attacks against which his defenses historically have struggled are becoming more prevalent and prolific rather than less so. Has Urban Meyer’s tweaking of his offensive system made it more productive during his tenure in Gainesville? I believe it has. Will Paul Johnson’s triple option become even more effective as he recruits players specifically suited to running it? I believe it will. Can Willie Martinez out-plan, out-scheme, out-think, and out-coach the shrewd men who appear on the opposite sideline each and every Saturday? I no longer believe he can.

Willie Martinez is not an idiot. He is neither inflexible nor arrogant nor ignorant. Willie Martinez is a fine man. In many ways, he is a good coach all the time, and, in most ways, he is a good coach much of the time. I take no joy in taking the position I am advocating. Nevertheless, facts are facts and these numbers do not lie. Point out all the Matthew Stafford interceptions you like; take note of every directional kickoff that sailed out of bounds and set up the opposition with good starting field position; stress the fact that offenses historically have not scored as much as they now do; I concede all of that, yet still there is no denying this:

Scoring 30 points at home ought to win you a football game, but, against Auburn in 2005, it didn’t. Scoring 35 points in a bowl game an hour’s drive from your campus ought to win you a football game, but, against West Virginia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, it didn’t. Scoring 33 points at home ought to win you a football game, but, against Tennessee in 2006, it didn’t. Scoring 30 points in a night game at home ought to win you a football game, but, against Alabama in 2008, it didn’t. Scoring 42 points at home ought to win you a football game, but, against Georgia Tech in 2008, it didn’t.

Many problems bedevil the Bulldogs, not all of which begin or end with the defense. The most serious of these problems, however, concern Coach Martinez’s area of responsibility, and I have not yet heard a satisfactory justification for the proposition that Willie Martinez ought not to be held responsible for the poor performance of the Georgia defense this fall and for the steady decline of the exceptional unit he inherited from Brian VanGorder. Absent the making of a persuasive argument I have not yet heard, I must conclude---not at all happily, but nevertheless sincerely---that the time has come for a new man to be named the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia.

I like Willie Martinez, but I love my team, and it is to my team that my first loyalty is owed. That same obligation is incumbent upon every person with an office in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.

Go ‘Dawgs.

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The short and (bitter)sweet version.

For those that think defenses just can’t keep up with these high-powered offenses…

Alabama has given up 11.5 points per game this season.

Florida has given up 12.3 points per game this season.

Georgia has given up 25.6 points per game this season.

This is Georgia’s ppg progression over the last five years:

2004 – 16.5

2005 – 16.4

2006 – 17.6

2007 – 20.2

2008 – 25.6

If this isn’t a clear indication of the defense’s steady decline, then I don’t know what to tell you. This defense is one touchdown per game worse than the defense of just two years ago. The question is why? Why is this defense so much worse? There are only excuses and no answers. If there were answers, then this could be fixed. If it can’t be fixed, then cut bait, and find someone else.

Personally, I don’t think more “tackle-to-the-ground” will fix it. I think it is a problem of accountability that starts at the top and trickles down to the players. So far, Richt is proving me correct by deflecting the poor performances on the field to the high expectations of fans. Nobody is taking the heat for this failure, and that will lead the program straight into the oncoming train that I’ve said was coming for three years now. It’s still coming.

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I love Mark Richt as our HC, but Martinez must go. There is no denying the "progression" you've posted and the horrifying contrast in numbers with VanGorder. Richt and Martinez are friends and that seems to be a real problem in calling it like it is and making the necessary change.

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The short and (bitter)sweet version.

For those that think defenses just can’t keep up with these high-powered offenses…

Alabama has given up 11.5 points per game this season.

Florida has given up 12.3 points per game this season.

Georgia has given up 25.6 points per game this season.

This is Georgia’s ppg progression over the last five years:

2004 – 16.5

2005 – 16.4

2006 – 17.6

2007 – 20.2

2008 – 25.6

If this isn’t a clear indication of the defense’s steady decline, then I don’t know what to tell you. This defense is one touchdown per game worse than the defense of just two years ago. The question is why? Why is this defense so much worse? There are only excuses and no answers. If there were answers, then this could be fixed. If it can’t be fixed, then cut bait, and find someone else.

Personally, I don’t think more “tackle-to-the-ground” will fix it. I think it is a problem of accountability that starts at the top and trickles down to the players. So far, Richt is proving me correct by deflecting the poor performances on the field to the high expectations of fans. Nobody is taking the heat for this failure, and that will lead the program straight into the oncoming train that I’ve said was coming for three years now. It’s still coming.

It gets worse when you consider how some of these offenses (Kentucky, Auburn,) weren't even that good...he just needs to go...I know he's an old friend of Richt's but enough is enough...this guy has shown he's in over his head.

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Richt and Willie better hope UF doesnt win another NT. That will be 2 for UF, since Richt took over at UGA. Richt has not figured out how to consistently beat UF...now we lose to GT and UF wins another NT. The boosters will force Richt to fire Willie or Richt will be on the hot seat in 09.

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Here is the most telling thing, to me. David Pollack said of his experience with Willie and Van Gorder. Paraphrasing: "I always liked coach Martinez. I will tell you that NO ONE Liked Coach Van Gorder, b/c he would take you places you didn't want to go, he'd show you things about yourself you didn't want to admit. But we respected him and he got results"

Pollack also said he asked someone he knows that is currently on the team and he said, yeah we like Coach Martinez.

the point? Being liked isn't the job, getting results is. Being demanding, and push, and drag and yes be mean when needed. Your D will take on the personality of their DC. Players, buddy coach. Or Get in your face madman. I want my D to be like a pack of crazed dogs.

The evidence is there; an easy comparison.

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I have been of the opinion that Georgia's defensive meltdown this year was on the players and not Martinez, but with one sentence Matt Chernoff changed my mind.

On his College Football Today show with Chuck Oliver on 680 The Fan, he asked "If you wouldn't hire a guy based on his resume and the things he's accomplished, why would you keep him around?"

If Martinez was just some guy applying for the defensive coordinator position at Georgia instead of being a friend of Richt's, he would take one look at Martinez's resume and say "Well, we'll definitely keep this in our records, and thanks for stopping by."

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Richt and Willie better hope UF doesnt win another NT. That will be 2 for UF, since Richt took over at UGA. Richt has not figured out how to consistently beat UF...now we lose to GT and UF wins another NT. The boosters will force Richt to fire Willie or Richt will be on the hot seat in 09.

Exactly! I think it plays out that way if Bama or Florida win it all honestly...but the intensity grows moreso with Florida just b/c Meyer would have 2 in 4 years and you're talking about pretty much our biggest rivals. Saban doesn't help either in that he would have gotten 2 teams from the same conference the big one in the time that Richt has been there.

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Richt and Willie better hope UF doesnt win another NT. That will be 2 for UF, since Richt took over at UGA. Richt has not figured out how to consistently beat UF...now we lose to GT and UF wins another NT. The boosters will force Richt to fire Willie or Richt will be on the hot seat in 09.

bingo.. people forget how things can change quickly for a coach like richt who has done nice stuff in 8 years and has a bunch of wins and 2 sec titles, but guess what his last title was in 2005 and he hasn't been to the tile game since. he is now 2-6 against uf and if people think that's acceptable against a divisional rival. Right now Richt is the longest tenure coach at his current school at 8 years. If Mark Richt does not find out how to beat uf and get another SEC title with the talent he has, Bobby Johnson will be the longest coach at one school.

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bingo.. people forget how things can change quickly for a coach like richt who has done nice stuff in 8 years and has a bunch of wins and 2 sec titles, but guess what his last title was in 2005 and he hasn't been to the tile game since. he is now 2-6 against uf and if people think that's acceptable against a divisional rival. Right now Richt is the longest tenure coach at his current school at 8 years. If Mark Richt does not find out how to beat uf and get another SEC title with the talent he has, Bobby Johnson will be the longest coach at one school.

Exactly! Don't even get me started on what "may or may not" happen with teams like Tennessee, Arkansas, and now Ole Miss (God forbid Miss. State hires Tuberville and he works some kind of magic) b/c then the longest tenured thing will be a hindrance when you haven't won the conference and other teams are going to the big one, etc.

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Exactly! Don't even get me started on what "may or may not" happen with teams like Tennessee, Arkansas, and now Ole Miss (God forbid Miss. State hires Tuberville and he works some kind of magic) b/c then the longest tenured thing will be a hindrance when you haven't won the conference and other teams are going to the big one, etc.

UGA has a ton of talent in the state of Georgia. We get top recruiting classes and if Mark Richt isn't going to get this team to the next level then it will be time to find someone who will. I am pretty ticked frankly the more I think about some of his comments this year about just caring about winning and that he doesn't care about style points. It shows this year how big they are. We also have enough talent to where we should not be blown out in big games or lose to a team like south carolina at home. Also even with our great road record, our home record is nothing to be excited about. I mean we should have a homefield advantage and we really don't. Bottom line as I said before and a certain someone bashed me for it, the boosters aren't happy with this underachieving year nor are they happey with losing to uf 2 out of 8 years. If Richt doesn't solve that and there is no excuse not to with the talent we have, then he will not be our head coach.

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UGA has a ton of talent in the state of Georgia. We get top recruiting classes and if Mark Richt isn't going to get this team to the next level then it will be time to find someone who will. I am pretty ticked frankly the more I think about some of his comments this year about just caring about winning and that he doesn't care about style points. It shows this year how big they are. We also have enough talent to where we should not be blown out in big games or lose to a team like south carolina at home. Also even with our great road record, our home record is nothing to be excited about. I mean we should have a homefield advantage and we really don't. Bottom line as I said before and a certain someone bashed me for it, the boosters aren't happy with this underachieving year nor are they happey with losing to uf 2 out of 8 years. If Richt doesn't solve that and there is no excuse not to with the talent we have, then he will not be our head coach.

Well said Sac. Its a shame Richt cannot figure out how to be an elite coach. you have to become an A-hole, like Saban, Meyer, Spurrier and such. Nice coaches finish last. When he said he didnt care about style points, that is when I started to question his ability to take us to the next level. In college, its all about style points. Thats the way college is set up. Then he also made a comment about him not thinking the team had a discipline problem. This was said about half way through the season, when UGA was leading the nation in penalties per game.

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I love richt. really. but i agree. he has had time. he has produced really good teams but never the great one. I hate UF and losing 2 out of 8 is ridiculous. I dont want to see him leave but id much rather see UGA prosper and win a title. Im beggining to wonder if Richt has tht ability. i hope he does but im not sure.

Exactly. Its sad, cause I really like the guy. But this year, truly made me question his ability to take us to the NT and to turn the tide against UF.

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Man, I'm just glad there's not a ton of folks making a bunch of excuses after the utter disappointment that was the '08 season. I'd honestly be alright with the same record had we shown up against UF or Bama or not folded like a lawn chair against Tech. Watching this team this year really spoke volumes as far as something being wrong on the sidelines.

Like everyone else...I love the guy...you couldn't find more of a class act...but with things playing out like they did and Richt really not seeming to "get it"... :o

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Well said Sac. Its a shame Richt cannot figure out how to be an elite coach. you have to become an A-hole, like Saban, Meyer, Spurrier and such. Nice coaches finish last. When he said he didnt care about style points, that is when I started to question his ability to take us to the next level. In college, its all about style points. Thats the way college is set up. Then he also made a comment about him not thinking the team had a discipline problem. This was said about half way through the season, when UGA was leading the nation in penalties per game.

Pete Carroll isn't an a hole. And he is possibly the best head coach in college football

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Pete Carroll isn't an a hole. And he is possibly the best head coach in college football

Well that style may work out on the west coast. Im looking at the SEC coaches. Saban, Meyer and Spurrier(UF Spurrier). Now look at Richt and Tuberville. Two coaches that are considered to be "nice guys". Well look what happened to one of the nice guys. While some of the A-holes are fighting for what should have been our SEC and NT.

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Well that style may work out on the west coast. Im looking at the SEC coaches. Saban, Meyer and Spurrier(UF Spurrier). Now look at Richt and Tuberville. Two coaches that are considered to be "nice guys". Well look what happened to one of the nice guys. While some of the A-holes are fighting for what should have been our SEC and NT.

I understand where you coming from. I'm not a UGA fan by any means. But this team should have been in the SEC Championship game. I knew they wasn't going to the NC game. Would have been too much for them

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