Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Willie Martinez Question

"Fire Willie Martinez!"

"Martinez is a $?!&$ idiot!"

The cries of much of the Bulldog Nation leave little to the imagination regarding opinions of the embattled Georgia defensive coordinator. It is, after all, incumbent upon him to hold opposing offenses to as few points as possible.

If you're not familiar with the statistics, you're at least familiar with the trend. Georgia's defense has gotten progressively worse since former UGA defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder left after the 2004 season to become the LB coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and then left to become the head coach of the Georgia Southern Eagles, and then left to become the DC of the South Carolina Gamecocks, and then left to become the DC of the Atlanta Falcons.

So that you're aware, in 2005 the Dawgs yielded 16.4 ppg (.1 ppg less than they did in '04, Van Gorder's last year). Most people figured that the system was in place, and Martinez (CWM for short) had worked hand in hand with Van Gorder (BVG for short) enough to where there would not be any drop off. However, the first half against West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl was a harbinger of defensive misery. In 2006, Georgia's defense began the season just fine. Then the second half came against a mediocre Tennessee offense, when the Vols scored a ridiculous 37 second-half points. Georgia finished giving up 17.1 ppg that year, 20.2 in '07, 24.2 in '08, and have given up an avg of 30.5 in two games this year.

Somebody Tackle That Man!

OK, those are the statistics. But, as we all know, stats are a good at-a-glance indicator of a performance or trend, and don't always tell the real story.

Certainly, there have been times where offenses have painted CWM's face white, put a big red wig on his head, a big red nose on his face, and big red shoes on his feet. Many times, Willie's been a clown. Be that as it may, one can choose to simply look at the stats and say, "We gave up 44 points. CWM is terrible," or one can peer deeper into the circumstances of a game or season, understand the facts, and then formulate an educated assessment. I prefer the latter.

The Case in Defense of Willie Martinez

If I told you that, in a particular game, Team A throws three interceptions, loses a fumble, and has a punt blocked and recovered for a touchdown, and Team B is a solid team with respectable talent, who would you suspect wins that game? That's what happened in the 2006 Tennessee game, and is a microcosm of a significant aspect of Georgia's troubles in limiting the opposition's scoring. Obviously, every team turns the ball over from time to time, but in Georgia's worst games points-wise, problems like these have been prevalent.

Then, there's the actual player performance issue. During the BVG years, the Dawgs had their best Defensive End ever (and one of the top 3 SEC DE's ever) playing on Saturdays in David Pollack. They also had some of the best safeties to ever play for Georgia in Jermaine Phillips, Sean Jones, Thomas Davis, and Greg Blue (though Blue's weaknesses were brought to the surface when he became the undisputed leader of the secondary). The BVG, and by extension, CWM style of defense relies heavily on contributions by the DE's and Safeties (according to the coaches themselves). Georgia has gotten less and less production over the years, particularly in '08, from its DEs. As for the safeties, though they busted their butts and got the most of their talents, the Bulldogs started an undersized former walk-on, and a two-star (if you care about such recruiting ratings) safety whose only other offers were to Southern Miss and Troy. Not to call those players out by any means, but there's been an obvious drop off after having several safeties who are now playing on Sundays.

The Case Against Willie Martinez

Despite being put in several bad positions, there have been several occasions where opposing teams pulled his pants down in front of the whole class and laughed at him.

The first half of the West Virginia game was embarrassing. Although the Mountaineers had been a prolific offense for much of the year, Georgia still had plenty of talent, and was simply carved up. There was no inkling of preparation for what was being thrown at them (with nearly a month to game-plan). The same thing was true in the first half against Alabama last season, against a Crimson Tide team that made its reputation on ball control and defense, and certainly not being an explosive offense. Even just last week against South Carolina, a tight end was left wide open in a soft zone repeatedly, with no apparent desire by Martinez to make any changes. Scheme and preparation issues abound.

To counter the lack of talent-at-certain-positions argument, well, Georgia DOES have talent at certain positions, even if they're not at DE and Safety. A key job of an offensive or defensive coordinator is to find ways to get your best players involved and in positions to make plays. It seems as though CWM is running the same exact type of base defense that was successful with great DEs and Safeties, only he hasn't exactly had great DEs and Safeties. It's not my job to suggest what might be a better plan of attack, but if something is clearly not working, and if a defensive coordinator is worth his salary, he'll at least attempt to devise a different plan of attack that has a chance.

Then there's the fact that no other teams, that we know of, seem to be calling CWM on his mobile phone, or Twittering him to get him to come coach for them. Lesser schools are constantly hiring former offensive and defensive coordinators from bigger, more successful programs as head coaches. I can't foresee CWM becoming the head coach of, say, New Mexico St. anytime soon.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, it comes down to this: CWM has caught quite a bit more flack from the Georgia fan base than perhaps he deserves.

Anti-CWM'ers label all the bad spots his defense has been put in as "excuses." An excuse is simply a word that those opposed to a thing use instead of using the word "reason." To the critical eye, it's clear that the lack of success that has befallen Martinez is due to factors beyond his control.

That being said, at some point, no matter whose fault it is, a change in management becomes necessary. Picture a manager of a sales team. There's a recession, he's had half his sales force quit, and there have been several production issues. Sales are waaaaay down. None of those things may be his fault, but he may get canned just the same.

I suspect that, if there aren't some major improvements seen as this season goes on, and if (this part is huge) Richt, Evans, et. al. can identify a potential replacement that they really feel good about, we will have seen the last of Willie Martinez. Just realize that the end of his run may not have been his fault.


  1. Dave, I could not agree with you more. That is the best summary I have seen anyone put out, and that includes all the media, the newspapers and television.

    I too have been frustrated with the points we give up, but I tend to look at what position the defense was put into. the 2006 TN game is one example, and yet I remember last year against Florida the defense taking the field after a turnover on our OWN 8 and even 1 yard line. Hard to blame Willie for that.

    Even the 30.5 per game that has been given up this year is misleading. The 2009 "Willies" have given up only 12 points from drives longer than 32 yards. I may be wrong, but I think that would be the ONE amazing catch by Dez Bryant at OK State and then 2 field goals to SC last week.

    Sorry this was so long, but you struck a hot point with me. I happen to think Willie is a good coach, but like you say, may not have the best fortune due to some circumstances where according to numbers alone, he has no defense.

  2. I loved your view of this situation. Look forward reading more of your blog

  3. Thanks Stephen and Calder for the positive comments!

    Stephen...Very true regarding the other stats you pointed out. I suppose some folks simply think that Georgia should never give up more than 14 points and 300 yds in a game regardless of how things actually shake out.

    Hopefully, the D will have a chance to play a "straight-up" game, and then we'll see what happens.

  4. The Dawgs's defense is suspect. And, no one can deny that it has been in decline, with the exception of a nice run in 2007, since the departure of BVG.

    I do not even pretend to be an expert on defenses, but the inability to create pressure, which leads to turnovers, is simply killing us. The "bend but not break mentality" has left our players on the field an unacceptble amount of time.

    Irrespective of whether CWM may be getting a raw deal, it simply is time for a change. CWM has been given plenty of time to make things right but it just has not happened!

    No one can point to where CWM has a history of being a successful d-coordinator at a BCS shcool or otherwise. Unfortunatetly he has reached his level of incompetence and I do not think it is in Richt's DNA to make such a significant change. The emotional relationship is just too close.

  5. No doubt this is an unusual situation with some extenuating circumstances. What you don't mention is that the game is ever changing- better qbs, wide receivers, tight ends and most importantly, lots of speed. Virtually all SEC teams are too good to hope they shoot off their own foot somewhere on a drive. Great defenses today create pressure on the QB in some form and force mistakes and turnovers. Bottom line, I think the time for the "Bend but Don't Break Mentality" is past and an attacking, agressive defense is mandatory to beat the top teams. I don't doubt that CMW knows defense, but I think his philosophy of how to defend is fundamentally flawed. It works against lesser teams but gets UGA lit up by good QBs and good offensive coordinators. If the talent is even on both sides of the ball, the offense wins because they know what they are doing ahead of time and our guys cannot play the soft zone and beat Florida, LSU, Alabama,and the like with any degree of regularity. CMW needs to see the light or leave, voluntarily or involuntarily.

  6. Simply put Richt will not fire this clown. The decision will have to come from over his head. It's sad actually. But it shows the type of undying devotion from our head coach.