Michaux: Richt's decision took guts


Zach Mettenberger might have become the kind of quarterback whose picture graced billboards, media guides and magazine covers.


Instead, Mettenberger's mug should be plastered on posters in every collegiate and high school locker room in the region.

A would-be leader has become another sad example. Mettenberger has morphed into a verb -- to foolishly throw everything away.

University of Georgia head coach Mark Richt made the drastic decision to kick his promising redshirt freshman quarterback off the team Sunday, just eight days after Mettenberger put up the best statistical performance in the team's annual G-Day spring football scrimmage.

The source of Mettenberger's dismissal happened six weeks earlier outside a bar in the south Georgia town of Remerton. More than the questionable judgment of spending a portion of one's spring break on the outskirts of Valdosta, the 18-year-old Mettenberger got himself arrested and charged with possession/consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct, obstruction and two counts of possessing false identification.

These are all pretty significant misdemeanor offenses for a teenager, but nothing that harkens complete dismissal.

It's pretty clear that there is more underneath the surface of this incident that is still being investigated. You don't give up on the local kid who played Little League with your son and whose mother is the first face you see every day when you walk into UGA's football office simply because he got a little rowdy drinking beer on a fake I.D.

Whatever Mettenberger did, Richt needs to be applauded for the authority he's shown in dealing with it. There have been times when Richt -- like too many other big-time football coaches -- has been willing to be overly forgiving when star players commit egregious breaches of ethical conduct. When your career relies on the performance of young men, it can cloud reasonable judgment when doling out second, third and fourth chances.

But Richt made an aggressive call on Mettenberger despite the ramifications it could have on his own future. Make no mistake, this is a critical year for Richt and the Georgia football program, and this situation doesn't make it any easier.

Mettenberger had been moving to the forefront of a muddled quarterback situation. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds he had the best physical gifts of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job in 2010. After a spring showing in which Mettenberger completed 6 of 10 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns playing with the second-team unit, there was talk that he might emerge over last year's back-up Logan Gray or fellow red-shirt freshman Aaron Murray as the best choice.

Now Georgia's season hopes look dimmer with such a shallow quarterback pool that will have to look to incoming freshman Hutson Mason and walk-ons to fill in the depth chart. It doesn't bode well for a rebound from last year's disappointing 8-5 campaign that fostered grumbling about Richt's once secure place at the program's helm.

All of which makes Richt's disciplinary decision more impressive. Getting a college scholarship and competing at the Southeastern Conference level is a privilege, not a right. And kids who believe their athletic skill entitles them to act outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior should forfeit that privilege.

Richt -- like so many others -- has made the mistake of granting too much leash to bad seeds before (see Odell Thurman). But he's been less tolerant in recent years and more demanding of accountability. Defensive end Michael Lemon was dismissed from the team in 2008 after assaulting a fellow student. Linebacker Montez Robinson was kicked off the team two weeks ago after his third arrest in six months.

Now Mettenberger gets the boot before he ever got to play a down for the Bulldogs. And it's this dismissal that should send a clear message to kids everywhere that being young and stupid isn't going to be tolerated even if you have special athletic gifts. Not many programs have the guts to cut loose a potential starting quarterback. South Carolina stuck with Stephen Garcia after a series of troubling misbehaviors, and he seems to have made the most of the second chance. Virginia Tech was grudgingly forced to finally dismiss Marcus Vick after a succession of deplorable criminal misconducts that never warranted even a first look.

We all understand that kids make mistakes. We all probably did some foolish things in our lives that we look back on with regret and wonder what we were thinking.

But there's no excuse for crossing some lines. Mettenberger much have crossed one of those lines if Richt was willing to sever ties with the son of his longtime administrative associate.

Let's hope other kids can learn from Mettenberger's mistakes. And let's hope other coaches are willing to deliver the same hard lessons to those who don't get the message about being accountable for your actions.



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