March 25, 2009

Martinez: It all starts with me

When you're the defensive coordinator for a major college football program, criticism comes with the territory, especially when the opposing team's points, yards and ultimately the outcomes aren't what fans expect and demand.

This is a fact that Georgia's Willie Martinez knows very well after the type of defensive letdowns the Bulldogs experienced last fall.

Fans anxious for someone to blame pointed a collective finger directly at the fifth-year defensive coordinator, blaming him specifically for Georgia's breakdowns, although head coach Mark Richt refused to lay specific fault and scoffed when suggested that a change needed to be made.

While Martinez appreciates the show of support from Richt, along with players who have taken up his cause, he understands that ultimately the success of the Bulldog defense is ultimately his responsibility to bear.

"It all starts with me and I understand that," Martinez said. "But it's also important that you stay unified when adversity hits, because that will make you stronger. It's not when you start pointing a finger here and there, I think that's counter productive.

"Not anytime when we lost those games the way that we did, did we have guys pointing fingers and that was a good thing. They took ownership, I took ownership. We've just got to play better on a consistent basis and that's what we'll continue to work on and try to improve."

Martinez added that worrying about what fans have said won't do him or his defense any good.

He certainly received an earful.

On message boards like the Dawgvent on UGASports, Martinez was vilified with almost daily demands for Richt to fire the man who replaced Brian VanGorder when the current defensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons left Athens for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I know that critiquing is part of it, but we just concern ourselves with what we can control. That's the way we practice, that's the way we prepare and you focus on your opponent and the things you can improve on, take it to the ball game and execute. That's the bottom line," he said. "I don't get caught up in what people are saying, stuff like that. I get caught up in a player is saying it, that's our team and we've got to stay unified. I thought the guys did that for the most part, they kept it in- house and I thought they did a nice job in the bowl game coming back and trying to finish on a strong note."

That said, Martinez said he understands why fans were frustrated with what they saw on the field last fall. He was just as upset.

Five times last year the Bulldogs surrendered 38 or more points, including an unspeakable average of 45 points in the three losses to Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech.

"We did not have consistency on tackling and there were too many missed tackles in the open field," he said. "We gave up way too many big plays. Number-wise we gave up maybe on the average of 1-2 less than the pervious years but it just can't happen at the times that it happened. It can never happen."

So what did happen? Martinez explains what went wrong.

"It was a number of things. It could be a break down in fundamentals, technique, scheme, thought process or a case of what were you thinking here?" Martinez said. "You just try to hit on those things and try to improve and not repeat history in a bad way, learn from it and do a better job on sudden chance."

To make sure players are as mentally prepared as possible, Martinez and the rest of the defensive coaches have been putting the players through different scenarios this spring in an effort to get them ready for any situation that might occur.

For example, players are challenged to turn the ball over, see if they can force the offense to go three plays and out, force a field goal, make something happen positively, and above all - hustle, hustle, hustle.

"That's what we've been stressing. That's not that we didn't say those things or emphasize those things. I think injuries did have something to do with it, where the next guy in or next guy up did not perform like he needed to perform," Martinez said. "We didn't have them ready. We've got to do a better job coaching and players have got to do a better job preparing. It all goes hand in hand. Again, you just try to fix the problems and build on the positives. That's what we're working on in the spring."

Linebacker Rennie Curran said the defense is more determined than he's ever seen.

"Nobody liked what happened to us last year," he said. "It was embarrassing. We haven't forgotten that."

Martinez said it won't.

"I hope they take it personal. It was us. We want to do a better job," Martinez said. "It's like anything any year, you're trying to build off the positives but also learn from your mistakes, why they happened. A lot of times too guys didn't make plays when they were in position to make plays, but we've got to do a better job. We've got to do a better job of finishing games. We didn't put 60 minutes together in games. We should have and we're doing everything in our power to make that doesn't happen again."

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