A Counter Narrative

I want to throw out what I believe about the program and invite us all to argue about what’s true.

Chan Gailey is a great man and a very good football coach. I have found myself referring to the "Gailey dividends" pretty frequently. One was getting to watch two of our receivers light up the NFL for a decade. I also keep thinking, "Man, Tashard Choice is such a great guy, and super fun. I bet the guys love playing for him." Chris Reis was a blast to watch play football and recover an onside kick to help the Saints win the Super Bowl. No one else could keep Tenuta around, but Gailey figured out how to work with him. Gailey built boys into men, and we got to watch a lot of them for a long time after they played for us.

Geoff Collins brought in the greatest recruiting class we’ve ever had under Gailey. Morgan Burnett, Derrick Morgan, Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer, Bebe Thomas, etc. Gailey wasn’t quite able to make the next step (timing was tough. Richt was a magnificent coach and made things hard in our state.) not finding a quarterback for Calvin Johnson was understandably incriminating. So we brought in Paul Johnson.

Johnson did what he does best. He ran a tough guy program, lots of authority, always ready to play (somehow this didn’t seem to be the case the last few years for some reason) and he took the most talented team he ever coached to high levels. I think of hallmark Johnson victories being Virginia Tech when Justin Thomas was hurt. Matthew Jordan pounded the ball. We got a few early three and outs and a blocked punt, and we massacred a team that I was scared of before the game started. The triple option could really control games when you got out front and were able to cut block their defensive tackles 20 times before they could really get started. The Virginia game his last year was one of my favorites. The hoos probably had the better team, but our guys played with serious guts and figured out how to win the game. Johnson teams, you could count on guts, stealing a game or two, and often controlling the game with our offense. Our defenses were thin, but they figured out a way to give us 24 minutes and a few stops. No risk, field position in the high 30s every kickoff, but controlling the game with our offense. I remember watching the ACC championship game against Jameis Winston. I thought we had no chance. Sure enough, we start the game with a precious three and out, got three sacks even though I don’t remember us getting a sack all year, and we weren’t that far from winning the game. We had no business doing that with the team we had, but Johnson figured out how to almost beat Dalvin Cook.

Johnson retires. I remember texting a friend that’s a Virginia Tech fan, as they beat us in one of Johnson’s last game, "We are going to SUCK next year." We haven’t had anyone drafted for years. The second we left the triple option, we knew that it was going to be a mammoth job to turn over our roster.

Collins gets the job. I was thrilled. Clearly, his plan was to play NFL everything, recruit huge linemen, chaos defense, and his strengths were flashiness and convincing 17 year olds to play for us. He executed perfectly. Poor guy stayed all positive as we lost game after game. When we beat Miami his first year, I think that’s the craziest win I’ve ever seen. We were so outmanned. Props to the guys, that was Johnson like guts. But Collins doesn’t seem to be organized, and his strategies seem to be a step down compared to previous coaches. He has tough company, because we’ve had almost all amazing coaches. His recruiting is excellent though. First year, his recruiting was no better than Johnson, who wants to come for a transition like that. What are you supposed to say, "You’ll have a great senior year." ? Second year, we get a bunch of good players, Sims and Gibbs being the two blue chips. Then Covid extends our transition. While we’re trying to build lines and get athletic receivers, hopefully having other teams graduate their good players, the NCAA gives them an extra year. We go 3-7. We get another excellent recruiting class, a bunch of powerful defensive players, more linemen, more time for Sims to put it together, and we end up having to play a bunch of 24 year olds with our 18 and 19 year olds. We lose a bunch of close games. Every run is for 1 or 2 yards even though everyone seems to agree that we have the best running backs in the conference and maybe the best o line coach. What’s the problem? You have to stack lineman classes. We only have two good lineman classes, and they’re all young besides a few transfers. Skill players can be great early sometimes, but rarely can linemen do it. Collins’ plan is exactly the plan I want. Chaos defense with a bunch of athletes flying around and a defensive line that can compete with UNC and Notre Dame and Georgia and Clemson. NFL offense with a good quarterback that can get the ball to excellent receivers, big ones on the outside and lightning in the slot (Malik Kalani Jamal Nate). Our first big commit at receiver dies. Our next one tears his ACL in pre season. The house blueprint is still the same and still exactly what I want for us, but none of the pieces have come together. You think it’s pat’s fault? Or Sims? Or the receivers? You try to move the ball with what we’ve got right now. One part of the blueprint came together for one game. We massacred the Tar Heels. What a wonderful game that was. Notice, it was early in the season. Also, our offense still never did anything. Jeff scored running. A few injuries, and we don’t have the depth to keep it up. We played 11 guys on the defensive line that night, which we may end up having 11 guys that can play on the defensive line, but we were fortunate to be able to do that. We don’t have 11 guys that can play there yet. I love that the plan is to rotate defensive lines, but we never controlled the line of scrimmage again. Coach Knight seems to be a very good coach. We just had injuries and are still young. Last year we had to cancel our last game because we didn’t have enough players. This year we finished the season, but we wore down. We will have depth next year, and even more the next year, but we still didn’t this year. 3-9 was sloppy coaching partially, but we’re still not as deep as we need to be and will be with time. The recruiting class is excellent AGAIN. We’re still going to be young, with the extra Covid year for all of college football, next year. But I think we can win. The challenge for recruiting now is selling. The substance is there (assuming we can get better at coaching and the x’s and o’s).

We should be thankful for Collins doing an extremely difficult job. It was inevitable when we hired Johnson that we were going to be horrible when he retired. Collins should have gotten credit when he brought in Johnson’s greatest team. He should not be a scapegoat now. I think of us being a smart fan base. I don’t think we’re acting like one. Credit should go where it is due. Building infrastructure is a big part of great football teams. (I would love to hear what Kelly Quinlan thinks of what I’m saying. Maybe I’m totally wrong, but it seems like the fans are going for Collins’ head way too quickly. What do you want him to say, "Yeah, I was handed a not talented football team in a great and easily sellable location. I stayed positive…." He’s a grace heavy coach. I think that’s great.)

I acknowledge that the secondary is bewildering. Tre Swilling looked like a monster early in his career, but, Bryce young had two picks on Saturday. He’s had three all year. There’s a reason that Collins loves having strong defensive lines. It makes the secondary look better. We faced better quarterbacks than normal with our worn down and young defensive line, but I do acknowledge that the secondary should have done better.

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