ATHENS, Ga. — A series of arrests. Players kicked off the team. It’s been a tumultuous offseason for the Georgia Bulldogs, raising questions about the way coach Mark Richt runs the team.
Richt insists there are no major issues, just a few bad apples.
His players, on the other hand, thought the situation was serious enough to meet before the start of preseason practice on Friday.
“We just felt like we needed to get together and hash some things out,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “That’s the first time we’ve done that in the three years I’ve been here.”
There was plenty to discuss.
Starting safety Josh Harvey-Clemons was kicked off the team after being suspended twice last season. Four players were arrested on charges of illegal check-cashing, including another starting safety, Tray Matthews, and defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor. Matthews was eventually dismissed from the team and transferred to Auburn. Taylor was soon gone, too, after his second arrest of the offseason, this one for the alleged beating of his girlfriend.
Last weekend, just three days after Taylor was sent packing, freshman linebacker Davin Bellamy was arrested in Athens on charges of driving under the influence.
“We needed to get everybody together, get the leaders together, and just get it fixed,” Jenkins said.
Senior receiver Michael Bennett said it’s imperative for everyone to take a stake in the team, to look at themselves in the mirror when one of their teammates gets into trouble.
“It does bother me,” Bennett said. “It kind of makes me feel like I let them down in a way. We all did a little bit.”
But Richt said it’s not fair to blame the entire program for the actions of a few.
“The guys that misbehaved have been the problem, and that’s why we discipline them,” he said. “Some are still here and some aren’t. It’s part of the consequences of not doing what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it. But the majority of our guys are doing a great job.”
While critics of Richt have long said he is too lenient, the coach said it’s important to distinguish between youthful indiscretions and truly bad behavior. He makes no apologies for the way he doles out punishment, which range from giving some guys the boot to announcing Friday that Bellamy will be suspended for the first two games. Two of the players involved in the check-cashing scam received internal discipline but were not suspended.
“Even a good man makes a mistake sometimes,” Richt said. “We’ll take care of those things. We always have and always will, and not hide from that.”
Richt was asked if he plans to be more diligent during the recruiting process about trying to weed out players who might shows signs of getting into trouble once they arrive on campus.
He said that already happens.
“The reality is, if you look at the guys we sign, they’ve usually got offers from five to 20 other schools we compete with,” Richt said. “That doesn’t mean we’re all recruiting bad guys. We’re all doing our homework. There are people we cull during the recruiting process that you don’t read about. We can’t say publicly that we dropped this guy, but there are guys we drop from the recruiting process. There are things we find out on a visit, of maybe some of the current players say, ‘He’s not going to make it around here.”’
Just last year, Richt said, the Bulldogs nixed a high school prospect because of offensive comments he had posted on social media and, then, his attempts to keep up the rant by setting up another account under a fake name.
“He was thinking we wouldn’t find out, but we found out,” Richt said. “So we culled him. We rescinded our offer to him. If he wasn’t going to do what we wanted him to do at that point, what makes you think he’s going to do it when he gets here? There’s definitely a vetting process that we’re very serious about.”