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Bill King

Matthews dismissal shows Mark Richt’s challenge: Balancing need for talent, desire for discipline (UPDATED)

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Tray Matthews' dismissal from the team isn't really surprising. (Jim Hipple / UGA)

Tray Matthews’ dismissal from the team isn’t really surprising. (Jim Hipple / UGA)

There are no clear-cut answers to Georgia’s continuing attrition problem, as Tray Matthews’ dismissal marks the latest departure from Mark Richt’s team.

In the short term, the Dogs still have a loaded, talented offense and the defense looks to be strong up front, but I expect every opponent on the 2014 schedule to test the depleted secondary by throwing long and often.

Mostly due to his inability to come back from a nagging hamstring issue, Matthews never became the dominant defender he’d shown flashes of in his first spring in Athens and, in fact, lost his starting safety job late in the season.

Of course, losing athletic talent like Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons, no matter how inconsistent they were last season, is never a good thing, even if Georgia does have other defensive backs and some exciting new talent coming in. The lack of experience that plagued the Dogs’ secondary last year looks to still be an issue. Unless Jeremy Pruitt proves to be some sort of magician, the likelihood is that, again, the defensive backfield will be one of the team’s vulnerabilities.

Looking at the long-term considerations of the seeming revolving-door out of UGA’s program, Richt and his staff face a conundrum: how to recruit — and, more importantly, keep — the same top talent everyone else is going after while dealing with the hard reality of an institutional disciplinary philosophy that is less flexible, shall we say, than is practiced at other SEC schools such as Auburn and LSU. There’s no denying this puts Georgia at a competitive disadvantage.

For fans, I guess the question is, would you rather have UGA be one of those schools like Louisville that have become the go-to repository for failed Bulldogs or stick to its tough standards?

UGA’s administration obviously falls in the latter camp, which presents a problem for the coaching staff: When you’re dealing with high school prospects, it’s tough to predict who’s going to mature and adjust in college and who’s going to act out. Obviously, former UGA staffers Todd Grantham and Scott Lakatos didn’t have the answer about what sort of defensive backs would fit in at UGA.

The head coach doesn’t seem rattled, though. On the subject of all these player departures, Richt told Dawgs247 recently, “I’m not afraid of attrition. Sometimes attrition is good. Life is too short for guys not being where they ought to be or where they want to be, all those types of things. In the end, you want everybody to be where they want to be and have the best opportunity to do what they want to do.”

Jeremy Pruitt and Mark Richt face a conundrum. (John Kelley / UGA)

Jeremy Pruitt and Mark Richt face a conundrum. (John Kelley / UGA)

As for the not all that surprising dismissal of Matthews — who is one of four UGA players facing arraignment Thursday in Athens on charges resulting from their alleged double-cashing of checks — it provides additional evidence that Richt has lost patience with players who don’t adapt to “the Georgia way” and isn’t nearly as willing to bend over backwards providing additional chances as he was earlier in his tenure in Athens. His comment on Tray’s dismissal was unusually blunt and terse: “We are trying to make room for guys who want to do things right.”

Earlier, Richt had talked in the Macon Telegraph about Matthews needing to “take some ownership” of his hamstring issues, which caused him to miss a half dozen games last season and this year’s G-Day spring game, perhaps an indication that the player had not been all that diligent in rehabbing.

Even so, just last week, the head coach had expressed some optimism when it came to Matthews, saying, “I think he’s on a turning point of maturing some, and becoming a very dependable guy. I’m not saying he is a dependable guy, or has been at this point. But I have a feeling that that’s his desire to become that. And he needs to. It’s time.”

Obviously, time ran out for Matthews and something made Richt conclude that wasn’t ever going to happen.

UPDATE: Check out the AJC’s exclusive interview with Matthews about why he was dismissed from the team. Basically, the rumor circulating on social media (and in letters to the Junkyard Blawg) that it resulted from him disrupting a UGA class is correct. Details of the incident are in dispute, but this was apparently the final straw for Richt. As for Matthews, he maintains, after the fact, “I was leaving anyways, I just hadn’t put that in the media.”

And so, once again, a talented player who couldn’t cut it under UGA’s strict rules will look to reach his potential elsewhere.

It’s become an all-too-familiar story.

I’ll be off for a few days, but the Blawg will be back next week and I’ll answer Junkyard Mail, so if you’ve got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics or a question, email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

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