ATHENS, Ga. – The most significant statement I heard on National Signing Day at UGA had nothing to do with this dreamy 2011 recruiting class.
It was when someone asked offensive coordinator Mike Bobo about current players in the offseason conditioning program being conducted by Joe Tereshinski.
“These guys are ready to go practice football,” Bobo said, “which is a good thing. That weight room is wearing them out a little bit.”
That’s the kind of quote you jot down and remember later, because it was honest.
In speaking to media, college players will often just generate clean platitudes about all areas of the program because they think that’s what is expected of them, lest anyone be seen as a malcontent publicly.
But in this case, that’s not what fans want to hear. Basically, they want to know that Georgia’s players hate this offseason program, dread it on a daily basis and just want it to be over. So Bobo’s statement represented the first real response, in my opinion, that lets outsiders begin to think this Van Halanger-Tereshinski switch is working.
For all the fanfare that this 2011 signing class received, it's important to remember that the foundation for Georgia’s 2011 team – a pivotal year in the long-term direction of this program – is being laid the newly renovated weight room, not at a fax machine.
Don’t get me wrong. Georgia did remarkably well in addressing needs with this signing class, most pressing being a blue-chip running back and a big nose guard to anchor the 3-4 defense for Todd Grantham.
These 26 additions will not only assist the Bulldogs immediately on the field, they also were a turning point in the attitude off of it. You could sense the rare optimism and relief. Wednesday was a victory for a program that hasn’t had many lately.
Perhaps Georgia football has some momentum now.
“I feel revived as a coach,” Mark Richt said Wednesday. “Coaching football period at this level can wear anybody out, certainly head coaches. ... For this class to come through the way it did, I think the Bulldog Nation is excited. Our current players are excited, and I know this class is excited. This class has some swagger about it. They know they have to earn it. They really feel like they can make an impact at the University of Georgia and that they can do it sooner than later.”
Give UGA’s coaches credit – in particular Bobo, who went head to head with Nick Saban and won more than his share -- for pulling a Top 10 class together under adverse circumstances. As would be expected, other schools used negative recruiting against UGA after a 6-7 season, stressing the questionable job security for Richt and his staff.
No UGA supporter needs to be reminded of that. And they also know those concerns haven’t gone away. Such high-profile recruiting victories of the past week have helped mask the pressing reality of Georgia’s 2011 season, but that undercurrent of discontent isn’t going anywhere until the Dogs win some games and chase some championships – now.
It’s pointless to discuss any must-win number because such a demand has not been given by Greg McGarity, but it’s clear to anyone that UGA must improve next season or there will be a regime change in Athens.
Saving it now is a process that involves many steps. Recruiting a knock-out 2011 class definitely was one of them, but really, doesn’t UGA usually recruit well? Recruiting hasn’t been an issue these past few years as much as other deficiencies on the team.
Which brings us back to Tereshinski.
There were grumbles when Richt tapped UGA’s long-time video coordinator to head up a tougher strength and conditioning regiment. It was a gamble by Richt, but it made sense. Players used to a certain format may not stomach an overhaul from just anyone.
But Tereshinski is kind of an institution in that building. Players have long accepted his gruff exterior, so he’s as good a choice as anyone to put a foot to backsides.
You get the feeling that Tereshinski understands the grim weight on his shoulders, too, that the jobs of the majority of people in UGA's sparkling new football building could depend on the work he is doing right now with players.
Richt said he wanted a more “old-school” approach.
Here is how incoming freshman quarterback Christian LeMay described it: “It’s been a blast from the past, but it’s real good. It’s bringing back that old mentality and that toughness I feel like we all need.”
Coaches in trouble are often either oblivious in their leadership or too stubborn to acknowledge weaknesses. But Richt has been different. With the strength and conditioning changes and a move to tougher training, Richt appears to be scratching where it itches.
Recruiting success is a bonus. But this team still belongs to UGA’s current players, the ones being overshadowed, the ones having their jobs being given in conversational depth charts to rookies still in high school and the ones working off the frustration of 2010 to prepare for 2011.