Fran Tarkenton grew up in Athens, Ga., minutes from UGA’s campus. He was recruited to play for the Bulldogs and became one of the best players of all time to come out of Georgia. So when he sees UGA recruiting slipping as of late, it frustrates him.
“We got to a level but we didn’t seem to be able to break through that level,” Tarkenton said. “But it all starts and ends with recruiting. You’ve got to have great players. And you’ve got to recruit great players.”
There were two players Tarkenton pointed to that stand out in his mind as a marker of poor recruiting — Cam Newton and Deshaun Watson. Both quarterbacks played high school ball less than two hours from Athens, but neither decided to suit up for former coach Mark Richt.
Watson led his Clemson Tigers to the national championship this season, while Newton has his Panthers playing in this year’s Super Bowl.
“How we could leave either one of those guys out?” Tarkenton asked. “And to compound problems, Georgia was looking at (Newton) as a tight end. Deshaun Watson lives in Gainesville, Georgia. I grew up in Athens. Gainesville’s just down the road. How can you miss him? But we missed him. We were late to the table.”
But Tarkenton has high hopes for new coach Kirby Smart.
“The number one thing, if you don’t recruit great players, then you’re not going to win,” Tarkenton said. “And that’s why (Nick) Saban has won so much, because he’s a great recruiter number one. Kirby Smart, allegedly he’s a great recruiter.
“I don’t think we’ll miss those (anymore).”
Tarkenton, who has been involved with UGA football for more than 50 years, said in talking to coaches across the country, there was once a general consensus that the best coaching job in college football is the University of Georgia. Not only does the school have a wide pool of high school players to draw from, it doesn’t have much in-state competition, he said.
“Last year, when Georgia Tech beat us, Mark Richt was asked how many of those players did you recruit at Georgia,” Tarkenton said. “You know what he said? None. So, we’ve got such a body of people here. The coaches who are coaching here are mostly Georgia graduates. This is a Bulldog state! We’re able to recruit nationally, but if we win the backyard, we play for national championships. Because we fuel Alabama, we fuel Auburn, we fuel Tennessee, we fuel Clemson, we fuel South Carolina.
“Let’s fuel Georgia.”