Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dink NeSmith Has a Hammer and All He Sees are Red and Black Nails.

It apparently comes as a surprise to Dink NeSmith that the media is a two-way communication device. Which comes as a surprise to the rest of us, since, for nearly two decades, NeSmith has been running a chain of newspapers throughout Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

Although NeSmith claims that 74% of respondents to this piece "barked 'Amen,'" NeSmith still felt compelled to go after the other 26% with this piece, which clarified nothing about his original editorial, except that NeSmith believes it's his First Amendment right to not tolerate dissent, or something to that effect.

Fretting that "Erk is dead … and so is the storied Junkyard Dawg intensity," NeSmith last week proposed a pay-for-performance salary and bonus plan for Georgia coach Mark Richt that works like this:

"Your base salary will be $500,000. Your $800,000 radio/TV and $530,000 Nike deals go to the athletic association. You work for us, not them. You can earn it back and more. Each victory triggers a bonus. The bigger the game, the bigger the bonus. Win the SEC championship, get $1 million. Win the national championship, pocket another $2 million."

Worried, like the rest of us, that Georgia football has fallen off the plateau it reached between 2002 and 2005, NeSmith believes a fire needs to be lit under Richt, who, as a not-so-minor side note, is the winningest coach in Georgia history and one of the most coveted young coaches in college football. Never mind that Richt is only in his sixth season in Athens and perhaps it's a bit premature to draw trendlines.

What's important is that we all buy NeSmith's underlying assumption that business and athletics have the same dynamics and thus that the University of Georgia should take a business-minded approach to its athletics.

That three true freshman on the offensive line aren't pancaking people like Max Jean-Gilles did is just details. Details are for little people. And Dink NeSmith, in case you didn't know, is kind of a big deal. He's the president of Community Newspapers, Inc., which operates such media powerhouses as the Dahlonega (Ga.) Nugget and the Palatka (Fla.) Daily News.

NeSmith views himself as a major Bulldog shareholder trying to drive some upside. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

As always, Sen. Blutarsky at Get the Picture and Groo at DawgsOnline more than capably unwind NeSmith's tangled thread of illogic.

Groo boils it down to NeSmith wanting more hustle and being willing to pay for it. Richt, like any other coach, already has an incentive-based contract, although apparently it's not incentive-laden enough for NeSmith's tastes. Again, NeSmith assumes everyone thinks like him, except the other 26%, who hate free speech and want the terrorists to win. Blutarsky pokes a gaping hole in that assumption by asking, "Exactly why do you believe that Mark Richt is so crassly motivated by money?"

Indeed. I reckon $2M/year goes pretty far in Athens, and there are only so many yachts you can ski behind. We're talking about a guy who's adopted two kids from the Ukraine and goes on mission trips to Central America. A guy who, after presiding over the dominant FSU teams of the 1990s and bringing two SEC titles to a Georgia program that had gone through a two-decade drought, never heeded the siren call of a lucrative NFL contract. If Dink is unsure of Richt's desire to win, Dink can have a look at the FSU and Georgia trophy cases.

But since NeSmith insists on framing this in a business context in which Richt is motivated as much by dollars as by wins, Blutarsky asks why Richt would be willing to exchange his current package for one that carries the risk of a significant pay cut and, in the event that Richt politely declines, what coach would accept such a proposal? I'm left to wonder if NeSmith just assumes that Richt, perhaps like any of NeSmith's managers at CNI, will take any contract shoved in his face.

What amazes me about NeSmith is the following quote from his original piece:

"We expect victories. Our fans and the University have opened their checkbooks, within NCAA guidelines, to give you, the staff and the team fabulous resources to compete with the nation's best. Thanks to your leadership, we repeatedly recruit rosters of nationally ranked all-stars. It's past time for the investments to pay off."

Having reeled off his bona fides as a Bulldog supporter for nearly four decades, NeSmith claims an long memory of where Bulldog football has been. Trouble is, NeSmith still seems to be there, rather than in the present. College football's arms race – with its private jets for recruiting trips, $4 million annual coaching salaries, 100,000-seat stadia, indoor practice facilities and millionaires' club locker rooms – appears to have gone unnoticed by NeSmith. Florida and LSU, NeSmith must assume, stepped into a power vacuum created by Richt's not hustling hard enough.

Given all the glad-handing with alums, fans, media and administrators that Richt and other coaches have to do, I'm kind of sympathetic to current and former coaches like Jim Donnan and Nick Saban, who have been pretty surly in response to all duties not related to winning football games. When you add in megalomaniac über-boosters like Bobby Lowder, in whose footsteps NeSmith is dangerously close to treading, it's not much of a mystery why, for example, Steve Spurrier is currently coaching against his alma mater.

Of course Richt's boss, Georgia athletic director Damon Evans, could address NeSmith's issues far more knowledgeably than I or any other average newspaper reader. I suspect NeSmith knows this, which makes me, along with Groo and Blutarsky, wonder why NeSmith decided to air his grievances in newspapers rather than take it up with Evans directly. Aside from being a multi-millionaire donor, NeSmith is a former president of the Georgia Alumni Association and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the UGA Athletic Association.

Dink, if you want to get on Damon's calendar to tell him what you would do if you had his job, just call him. When he's not preoccupied with running the country's most financially and athletically successful ADs, I'm sure Damon's got all the time in the world to hear how a newspaper boss would run a Division I athletic department.

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