Tuesday, September 05, 2006

New Season...Same Pain

I spent month after month counting the days until the start of college football season. More specifically, I was counting the days until Notre Dame came calling at Bobby Dodd on the first Saturday night of the season. Now that it’s come and gone, I took away a few great memories, but unfortunately, I took away a lot more of the same old frustrations and disappointments that come with living and dying with a Chan Gailey/Reggie Ball led football team. First, let me talk about the good memories (don’t worry, this won’t take long):

With the exception of my three year stint in New York, I’ve only missed three Georgia Tech home games since I was 11 years old, and only a handful between the ages of 6 and 11. Why do I bring that up? Because, other than the FSU game in 1998, I’ve never seen Bobby Dodd anywhere near the fever pitch it was on Saturday night. Bobby Dodd is usually a solid 9 for any night game, but it was at least a 15 this past Saturday. The stands were packed a solid fifteen minutes before kickoff, and by the time the F-16 roared overhead, the crowd was in a certifiable frenzy. Even the old timers in the West stands never sat for a single play. Only rarely did the noise level lessen to the point where you could hear the guy standing two people away. I have no doubt that with the softy schedule the Irish play, littered with Big-10 schools and service academies, they won’t come close to facing a crowd like the one they faced Saturday night. In short, the fans did their part.

In addition to the crowd, Jon Tenuta and the Jacket defense once again did their job. This, of course, should be no surprise. In a program as unpredictable as Georgia Tech under Chan Gailey, the one thing you can actually count on is a top notch defensive game plan and performance in a big game. In fact, at this point, if I was defensive player on this team, I wouldn’t even acknowledge the existence of the offense. Think about this for a minute: In their last three regular season games, the Jackets have held the #3 team in the country (Miami in the Orange Bowl), the #13 team and eventual SEC Champs (UGA at home), and the #2 team in the country (N.D. at home) to 10, 14, and 14 points respectively. And, in those three games, the Jackets are 1-2! I don’t care how big an apologists you are for Chan Gailey, Reggie Ball, or Georgia Tech in general, that statistic is simply unacceptable.

So, I think you can probably see that we have quickly transitioned from the good from Saturday night to the bad. And, trust me, there was plenty of bad. Before I begin my no holds barred torching of Chan Gailey, let me say this: Saturday night’s loss wasn’t entirely Chan Gailey’s fault. The blame must also rest on the shoulders of Reggie Ball and the officials. I hate bitching about the officials, but it can’t go without saying. In all my years, I’ve never seen a more one sided officiated football game. From the three egregious no calls when Notre Dame offensive linemen all but reenacted an episode of “OZ” on the Tech defensive line on N.D.’s touchdown drive to end the first half (including two on third and longs that allowed Quinn to run for first downs), to the ridiculous “helmet to helmet” call that directly led to N.D.’s second touchdown, to the absurd overruling of C.J.’s beautiful third down catch late in the fourth quarter, it was abundantly clear that the N.D. and Brady Quinn hype machine had a direct impact on the officials. Essentially, if you had two eyes and the capacity for rational thought, it was really clear the Jackets were going to have to overcome N.D. and the officials to win. That being said, here’s the problem: If Chan Gailey was even remotely competent, the Jackets would have overcome all those obstacles. Instead, he chose only to utilize the best player on the field for one drive the entire game (which culminated in said player catching the Jacket’s only touchdown), he chose to punt the ball on 4th and inches on the N.D. side of the field with two and a half minutes left in the third quarter when his defense had already spent approximately three hours on the field, and he chose to waste a timeout with six minutes left in the game so he could draw up a play on third and 15 that resulted in a sack of the worst four year starting quarterback in college football history. So, yes, the refs sucked, and we got screwed like a virgin on prom night, but we should have still won the game, and Chan Gailey is the reason we didn’t.

In the wake of Saturday night, the same thing is clear to me now that was clear to me the day Gailey was hired: he’s not the right man for this job. Sure, if your goal is to win 7 games a year, go to a bowl game that is likely not to exist the next year, rack up moral victory after moral victory, and occasionally actually pull off a big upset, then he’s your man. Then again, if those are your goals, you walk through life with a loser’s mentality, and I value your opinion as much as I do Alec Baldwin’s. But, being an attorney, I understand that you just can’t take my word for it, you need objective evidence in order to come to your ultimate decision, so here is the objective evidence:

In his four full seasons as Tech head coach, Gailey boasts the following losses on his resume:

  • Wake Forest (24-21 in 2002)

  • Georgia (all 4 years, including a 51-7 loss in 2002)

  • Fresno State (30-21 in 2002)

  • Clemson (39-3 in 2003 the week after losing to FSU by a point in Tallahassee)

  • Duke (41-17 in 2003)

  • UNC (34-13 in 2004)

  • Va. Tech (51-7 in 2005)

  • Utah (38-10 in 2005)

Now, these aren’t all the horrible losses, but they are the most embarrassing. Honestly, by themselves, the losses to Wake, Duke, and the 2002 beating by UGA could have been reasons to fire him. Even more devastating than the humiliating losses are the “near misses” when we had every chance to win a huge game, and we somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. For example:

  • Blowing a 13-0 lead with 7 minutes left in Tallahassee in 2003 on national t.v

  • Giving up 25 fourth quarter points to lose 34-20 to Va. Tech on national t.v.

  • Losing 19-13 to UGA on national t.v. when Ball threw the ball out of bounds on 4th down on the UGA 32 with :28 left in 2004.

  • Losing 17-14 to N.C. State on national t.v. when Ball threw a pick in the endzone on the last play of the game in 2005.

  • Losing 14 – 7 to UGA on national t.v. when Ball threw a pick on the UGA 6 yard line with 1:11 left in 2005.

  • Then, finally, the devastating loss of last Saturday filled with all the mental mistakes and questionable calls already detailed above.

So, there is your objective evidence. In four seasons and one game, Gailey has managed to coach the Jackets to 7 unquestionably embarrassing losses to inferior programs and six losses resulting directly from poor decision making either by him or his quarterback. The quarterback, I remind you, that he has unwaveringly staked his fortune to over the past four years. If, however, that’s still not enough for you, then consider this:

Chan Gailey has spent his career as an offensive coach. Hell, when we hired him, he was the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins. So, you would think that, if nothing else, we could find ways to score points. Well, you would be wrong. In his now 4+ seasons as Tech’s head coach, the Jackets have scored over 30 points only 8 times (twice against UConn, once against Vandy, once against UNC, once against Duke, once against Wake, and twice in shitty bowl games against Tulsa and Syracuse). So, in 51 games, this offensive guru has only managed 30 points 8 times and NEVER against a quality opponent….NEVER.

Finally, if you still somehow harbor a belief that Chan Gailey is a quality football coach fit to run this program, I want you to think back to Saturday night, and I want you to remember that time late in the third quarter I already talked about. You know, the time when the Jackets had 4th and inches on the N.D. side of the field and the defense was in desperate need of a breather and the offense was in desperate need of a score, and we punted. Yea, that time. Well, now, I want you to think about the moment N.D. faced 4th and inches at mid field with just over a minute left clinging to a four point lead. Do you remember what they did? That’s right, they lined up and shoved it down our throat and got on a plane and flew back to South Bend undefeated. It doesn’t take an Ivy League degree to know that is the difference between a man with the stones to be a big time head coach and one that lacks them. The only question now Tech fans is whether you want Georgia Tech to be a big time program? As for me, if you don’t want to be big time, then you shouldn’t even play the game.

OTHER MUSINGS ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S OPENING WEEKEND:

Of course, the heartbreak at Bobby Dodd wasn’t the only action on college football’s opening weekend, so here’s a few thoughts on what else we saw:

  • Lloyd Carr has a lot to be worried about. We all know this is a make or break season for him, and last week I detailed the difficulty of their schedule. Well, let’s just say that if you can only muster 27 points against Vandy at home, it might be time to start talking to your CPA about the tax ramifications of liquidating that 401K!

  • We didn’t learn much about Colt McCoy except that he is good enough to beat North Texas at home. Nothing more. Let’s wait until next week to start the hype machine.

  • In case you forgot, Adrian Peterson is the best running back in college football.

  • Speaking of the Sooners, on paper 24-17 against UAB doesn’t look that impressive, but Paul Thompson settled in and played well in the second half. Not to mention, the Blazers are coached by Mack Brown's brother, Watson. So, it's not hard to imagine that they were well prepared for the Sooners. At the end of the day, I think the Sooners will be more than ready for their trip to Oregon in two weeks.

  • David Cutcliffe + UT = Good times on Rocky Top.

  • Speaking of the Vols, please take this to heart. Whenever a Pac-10 team not named USC is favored on the road against one of the SEC heavyweights, max out your credit cards and bet on the dog. It’s the easiest money you will ever make. Trust me.

  • And yes, USC is still awesome. No, check that, they are disgusting. Is there any chance they lose this season? Now that we know Cal is shit, does it all come down to the Irish? If so, go ahead and pencil the Trojans in for the Fiesta Bowl, because when you wipe away all the frustration and bitterness from Saturday night, one thing became abundantly clear: Notre Dame is a decent football team. Nothing more. They have some talent at the skill positions, they have a solid offensive line, but their defense is suspect at best. Tech had receivers open all night, especially C.J. Notre Dame was just lucky that our quarterback is 5’6” and dumb as bricks. At the end of the day, the Irish probably would at best be the third best team in the SEC East, SEC West, or Big 12 South. That is, of course, if you are playing 11 on 11, which is clearly not the case when the Irish come to town.

Finally, please forgive me for failing to give you my predictions on Friday. Between drinking and watching football on Thursday night, and matching Fite, Shalls, and Hans double bogey for double bogey on Friday, there just wasn't any time. Believe it or not, however, I actually had a pretty decent weekend of prognosticating. Well, that is until Memphis inevitably screwed me with a late two point conversion that I saw coming a mile away. You know you've had too many horrific gambling losses when you bet on a four point favorite and they are up 4 and you are pissed when they score a late touchdown to go up 11 instead of having to settle for a field goal to only go up 7. If you don't understand why this is a bad thing then consider yourself lucky, because you clearly don't have a gambling problem.