Junkyard Mail: Sweater Guy, hiring Hines Ward, Dawgs underachieving, recruiting, basketball and more! (Updated)

UGA basketball fan Jesse Kenney, aka Sweater Guy. (University of Georgia)
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UGA basketball fan Jesse Kenney, aka Sweater Guy. (University of Georgia)
UGA basketball fan Jesse Kenney, aka Sweater Guy. (University of Georgia)

UGA basketball fan Jesse Kenney, aka Sweater Guy. (University of Georgia)

Rarely does a single fan’s devotion to his team get rewarded like this: In addition to calling for a Red-Out for Georgia’s men’s basketball game against Auburn Saturday, the first 1,250 students showing up at the Steg get a “Sweater Guy” T-shirt in honor of UGA fan Jesse Kenney of Athens.

If you’ve attended a Georgia basketball game in recent years, you’ve no doubt noticed Kenney, even if you didn’t know who he was. He’s the guy in the red sweater who does jumping jacks in the aisle next to his seat directly across from the Georgia bench.

I don’t think I can ever remember UGA doing a promotion like this focused on a single fan before, but Emily Deitz, assistant athletic director for promotions and licensing, noted that Kenney “has been a season ticket holder for over 30 years” and “we wanted to take an opportunity to pay tribute to his love and support of Georgia basketball.”

Well played, UGA. And, from what I hear, the fans in the student section get a particular kick out of Kenney’s antics, so I’m betting those Sweater Guy T-shirts are going to be a prized memento from this season.

Now, let’s get to some Junkyard Mail. …

In response to the confirmation that wide receivers coach Tony Ball is leaving the UGA football staff to take the same job at LSU, the name of a favorite-son candidate to take Ball’s place has been popping up quite a bit, including in our opening letter from Chop Dawg, who writes: I’m for Hines Ward being hired by UGA. Our wide receivers would be feared by defensive players and would be able to catch. I’m sure NBC wasn’t paying him $300K for as little as he was on each week.

Would Hines Ward leave NBC and Bob Costas to coach wide receivers in Athens? (NBC Sports)

Would Hines Ward leave NBC and Bob Costas to coach wide receivers in Athens? (NBC Sports)

Since Ward said on a visit to UGA a couple of years ago that his dream was to one day return to the school as a coach, his is the first name a lot of fans started touting for the wide receivers coach job as as soon as it was rumored Ball was a candidate for the LSU job.

There’s no doubt at all that hiring Hines would be one of the most popular moves among fans that Mark Richt has made in years, but I’m not sure it’s very likely. For one thing, while I don’t know how much Ward makes in his on-site analyst job with NBC Sports, coming back to Athens might require him taking a pay cut. From what I’ve read, former players in those network jobs can make anywhere from the $200,000 to $500,000 range on up to a couple of million for the bigger names. I’m not sure where Ward falls on the stardom ladder, but he did win ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” a while back.

I think a more likely scenario is luring another former Dawg, Thomas Brown, away from Wisconsin, where he is running backs coach and mentored Melvin Gordon this past season, and then switching Georgia’s current RB coach, Bryan McClendon, who was a receiver in his playing days, over to coaching the pass-catchers. An additional plus: McClendon is Georgia’s ace recruiter and Brown has a strong reputation as a recruiter. In contrast, that seemed to be Ball’s weakness, as Georgia lost out on some top receiving prospects in recent years.

UPDATE: UGA announced Monday that Brown will be returning to the Bulldogs as running backs coach and McClendon will switch over to coaching receivers. Richt also said McClendon would assume the role of passing game coordinator.

Larry Pope writes: Bill, forgive me if I missed it, but have you commented on last week’s Sports Illustrated college recruiting analysis, which shows (a) UGA has the most NFL draftees, (b) on average the No. 5 recruiting classes but only No. 15 AP poll ranking, and what that says about the state of UGA football?

No, I missed that one, but I’ve seen other analyses that compare Georgia’s recruiting prowess and reputation for producing NFL talent with its on-field results and conclude that the Dawgs have been underachievers. And you can make a pretty good case that Mark Richt’s final results haven’t lived up to expectations, particularly in recent seasons, although that can be attributed to various reasons that range from self-imposed disciplinary policies to injuries and other bad luck.

Depending on how you parse the numbers, though, Georgia’s results aren’t that far off from how they’ve recruited. For instance, Georgia’s four-year average recruiting ranking was 9.25 and in 2014 the Bulldogs finished the season ranked 10th. And as UGA football historian Patrick Garbin noted recently, if you look at just SEC teams, Georgia ranks No. 3 in recruiting in the conference during the Mark Richt era and was the third highest-ranked SEC team in the AP poll during that time.

The hiring of Rob Sale seemed to light a fire under UGA's recruiting of offensive linemen. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

The hiring of Rob Sale seemed to light a fire under UGA’s recruiting of offensive linemen. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Speaking of recruiting, Steve Upshaw writes: Mark Richt has publicly stated a dominant offensive line isn’t necessary to win big. He said they won all those games at FSU without having great offensive lines. The Seminoles do not play in the rugged SEC. You have stated several times how the OL is a perennial problem with the Dogs during the Richt era.  As written in your most recent posting, once again there did not seem to be an emphasis on getting top O linemen signed.  Nine of the Top 10 and 17 of 20 top OL prospects in Georgia chose to leave the state. It’s pointless to despair over Mark Richt.  He is who he is, and that is a man who will never change nor adapt while everyone else around him is in constant adjustment mode and winning championships. So Dog fans, let’s get ready for another 10-win season.  I love my team and school.  That’s why I’ll be there again in section 137, row 60 hoping against all hope we’ll finally witness something different in 2015 — but I doubt it.

As I previously wrote, one of the areas I was most concerned about was offensive line, more with future seasons in mind than 2015, since those guys generally take a year or two to develop. And while Georgia did pretty well here in the latest recruiting class, it bothered me they didn’t really seem to put top priority on signing offensive linemen until after new coach Rob Sale was hired last month, when they suddenly launched on a frantic quest for prospects in that area. I think you may have touched on why this has chronically been the case under Richt — he’s convinced himself that a merely adequate OL is good enough — but I’m hopeful that the turnaround after Sale was hired might be an indication that mind-set is changing in Athens.

Andrew Smith writes: Hey Bill, Well, another signing day has come and gone. Some people put too much stock into signing day and others don’t put enough. The success of the four playoff teams this past season had a lot to do with the talent brought in on national signing day but, of course, it doesn’t stop there. I agree with your sentiments; the 2015 class seemed to be a major win for the defensive side. Trent Thompson was certainly a huge catch. Those who weren’t comforted by this can take stock in the “there is always next year” cliche. Ben Cleveland and Jacob Park will, most likely, help to bring in some wide receivers and make 2016 an offensive juggernaut.

I think that the focus of the 2016 recruiting class indeed will be more on the offensive side, and having the nation’s top-rated quarterback prospect, Jacob Eason, committed to Georgia could help lure some more big-time talent.

Mark Fox doesn't lack for personality during Georgia basketball games. (John Kelley / UGA)

Mark Fox doesn’t lack for personality during Georgia basketball games. (John Kelley / UGA)

And then there’s recruiting in another sport, which prompts Warren to write: The UGA basketball coach can’t recruit because he has a flat personality. All quality coaches have great personalities. He can’t even get UGA to the Big Dance. The athletic director can do himself a favor and do what South Carolina did and that is hire a coach that is proven from a quality basketball school. That only takes common sense.

I don’t mean any offense, Warren, but it sounds like you haven’t actually watched an awful lot of Georgia basketball during the time Mark Fox (that’s his name) has been coach. It’s true Fox has had his troubles recruiting highly rated prospects, but I think that has more to do with Georgia’s basketball history than Fox’s personality. And he did bring Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Athens. But the thing with those top prospects is, you’re lucky if they stick around two years. So you end up with an endlessly revolving door of players coming in and leaving.

In contrast, in case you hadn’t noticed, Fox has put together a pretty good team that, when they’re completely healthy, is about as good as any team in the SEC this season not named Kentucky. No, there aren’t any big stars with league-leading numbers, but Fox has a solid talent base that plays well as a team, with five players currently averaging double figures.

As for personality, if you watch Fox during Georgia games, he’s out there screaming with the best of them. After Georgia’s recent big road win over Texas A&M this week, Fox’s voice was so wrecked he sounded like Hugh Durham on helium in the post-game interview, a clip of which even made Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” monologue Friday night!

A group wants to call the student section at Stegeman Coliseum The Junkyard. (John Kelley / UGA)

A group wants to call the student section at Stegeman Coliseum The Junkyard. (John Kelley / UGA)

While on the subject of Georgia basketball, UGA students Gantt Jones, Ryan Pitts, Kurt Mueller and Will Brinson write: Dear Mr. King, We are students at the University of Georgia and avid basketball fans. A few of us have decided on a name for the student section, The Junkyard, in an attempt to unify the student section, enhance the atmosphere at games, and make Stegeman a hostile environment for opposing teams. We have already received tons of support and followers in less than two days. It is obvious that people are wanting to get behind and support this idea and we feel that with the buzz around the basketball team right now, this is the perfect opportunity to capitalize. The only problem is, we have hit a wall and are trying to find out ways to get our name out there and to have students and the fan base aware of what we’re starting. We would love for your help in promoting us in any way you would like. Twitter shout outs, Facebook posts, or blog recognition would really help our efforts. … Our hope is not to compete with any other site or Twitter page, we just are students who love basketball and want to see us compete with the best in creating a student section tradition.  Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

I like your idea of The Junkyard and I’m happy to help spread the word, guys. You can follow them on Twitter here and check out their Facebook page here.

Finally, the dates and cities for the upcoming UGA Day tour by Georgia coaches has been released by the alumni association. Here it is: Savannah (April 21), Rome (April 23), Albany (April 28), Augusta (April 30), Charlotte (May 18), Macon (May 20) and Atlanta (July 27).

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.


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