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Estes:Richt spent when UGA wouldn't

ATHENS, Ga. – Even for a known do-gooder like Mark Richt, this was something, a truly astounding display of unselfishness.

(Photo by UGA Sports Communications)

During the past few years, Richt spent more than $60,000 of his personal finances to pay UGA staff members when the University would not agree to do it and he thought it should. That total included bowl bonuses in 2009 to support staff members after the bonuses has been cut by UGA in tough times, payments to former and/or demoted employees, a raise that was requested and not given and $10,000 to an assistant coach to keep him from leaving for another institution.

Yes, Richt paid all this himself. He simply wrote a check out of the account he and his wife keep for charitable purposes and kept right on going.

We learned about those acts through documents obtained Tuesday by Dawgs247 (and first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that revealed UGA self-reported secondary violations to the SEC and NCAA regarding Richt’s personal payments.

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF UGA'S REPORT DETAILING THE VIOLATIONS

Obviously, some applause is due Richt anyway. It’s the rare boss who’ll pay employees out of his own pocket -- for any reason.

We can marvel over Richt’s actions. We could also ask why they were necessary in the first place. Unintentional as it was, what Richt has done is put a bright spotlight on an issue that he would never, ever publicly address himself.

The easiest – and usually gutless -- thing that some journalists like to do is bash someone who is no longer there to defend himself, to say the player that transferred was a problem child or a cancer or that the coach who got fired was a bad guy.

So it is not fair to lob criticisms now at a defenseless Damon Evans. But there are facts that can’t be avoided and opinions that haven’t been changed. Since my return to Athens last season, one common grumble has been the perception of a recurring and noticeable reluctance by UGA to untie the purse strings and spend like its competitors.

The recently completed $39.5 million renovation to the Butts-Mehre building was a major step. Even if it didn’t address the lack of an indoor practice facility for UGA’s program or that the timing of the construction work left those struggling 2010 Bulldogs without a grass practice field to use all season and forced their meetings and medical work outdoors into trailers.

“It's tough not having a facility you can go to whenever you want to," senior cornerback Brandon Boykin pointed out in retrospect. “After a game, you might be sore and you can't really get to the cold tub like you want to. You've got to wait. All those little things really do add up.”

But that's water under the bridge now, isn't it? Timing and planning don't matter now that Georgia's football facility has received its nice upgrade.

Money spent, however, tends to be a different matter.

This very informative link from the Business of College Sports details the most profitable college football programs in 2009-10. Georgia ranked No. 2 nationally, behind only Texas in terms of profitability.

Look at how much was brought in, but more importantly, examine how much was going out.

Georgia’s approximate expense total for football was $18.3 million. That sounds like a lot until you notice that Alabama spent $31.1 million, Auburn spent $27.9 million, LSU spent $25.5 and East rivals Florida ($24.4 million) and South Carolina ($22.8 million) weren’t far behind.

All of these SEC rivals -- except Alabama by about $1 million -- brought in less revenue than Georgia’s football program and yet spent much more.

What are teams getting for that money? For one, they can pay assistants to stay, which is what UGA did not do when Richt forked over $10,000 to John Jancek in 2009 out of his own pocket.

Per the report recalling Richt's idea, "Evans said he told Richt at the time that he 'did not feel good about that,' as he thought it might create the appearance that the A.D. was not supportive of the football coach."

More than keeping coaches, schools now spend to pad support staffs with people to work different types of jobs and assist the head coach.

What was it Greg McGarity said of Richt back in January?

“I thought one of Mark’s weaknesses was he was trying to do so much himself,” McGarity said. “He was the point person with so many issues, whether they be academics, discipline, things of nature, to where it’s so time consuming.”

Nick Saban probably doesn’t have that problem. Alabama’s current staff directory lists at least a dozen football staff employees who are not on-field assistant coaches that hold titles related to player development, player personnel, football operations or recruiting operations. This is all just for football, and included in that total are five different “football analysts” Nick Saban has on staff, doing whatever it is that “football analysts” do for a college football team.

Now look at Georgia’s support staff directory for football. There is director of player development John Eason (one of the beneficiaries in UGA’s self-report about Richt), director of football operations Brad Hutcherson, the recently reassigned Dave Van Halanger, two video coordinators, recruiting assistant Ben Brandenburg, and that is about it.

Another of the employees Richt paid out of his own pocket was Charlie Cantor, a recruiting assistant who has since left UGA’s program (For now, Brandenburg has been working as Cantor's replacement).

UGA’s report said as follows, “In early 2010, coach Richt was told that Mr. Cantor was living in undesirable conditions and that his salary was not sufficient to allow him to improve his living conditions. Upon investigation, coach Richt found that recruiting assistants for some football programs with whom we compete were being paid at a higher rate. Coach Richt sought a salary increase for Mr. Cantor. The timing of his request was not good as the University was in the midst of campus-wide pay freezes and furloughs. No adjustment was made to Mr. Cantor’s salary. Out of compassion for Mr. Cantor’s living situation, coach Richt told Mr. Cantor he would personally give him an additional $10,000 per year.”

As part of UGA’s self-report, the school included Cantor’s salary at the time, which was $30,900.

Georgia’s reluctance to spend, at least in that case, appeared to come at the University level.

That reluctance is why the Bulldogs’ program was the second-most profitable in the nation in 2009-10. But it’s fairly easy to grasp that such a profits-driven approach has the potential to put Georgia at a competitive disadvantage when schools keep spending more each year to try to keep up with the rapidly accelerating pace at which this sport evolves.

The fact that the Bulldogs reversed the downturn and still won 10 games this season speaks to the job Richt and his staff did in recruiting and coaching up the team. But it also perhaps speaks to the fact that the situation might be changing a bit under McGarity, an experienced administrator who should understand the needs of big-boy football at the collegiate level.

For example, running backs coach Bryan McClendon was being courted by other schools after last season. McClendon made $90,000 last season. He makes $200,000 at UGA now.

And regarding these extension talks now underway with McGarity, Richt indicated that the discussion wasn’t just about his own compensation.

“There are other things that we talk about too,” Richt said, “student-athlete welfare stuff or maybe we can do this or that. He might see something that he would like me to improve and I might say we want to work on some kind of facility issue. What I'm saying is we've just had some great talks, not only about extending my contract, but what can we do to be the 'Best in America' type talks too, which is exciting.”

That is a highly promising comment for Georgia’s football future.

After all, when it comes down to it, UGA has the money.

Why not spend it ... so its head coach doesn’t have to?

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