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Post “Man Enough”, take 2

Thursday September 13, 2007

It’s always an interesting exercise to watch a sports columnist try to shoehorn a few quotes and vague observations into a definitive diagnosis and prescription for a team. Jeff Schultz gives it his best shot.

The suggestion that Mark Richt is soft or bland or an unemotional robot isn’t new. It’s been the favored position of many message board denizens for years. I don’t blame them. They just see Richt on television or hear him on radio where he is calm, polished, and even a bit boring.

In fact, Georgia was dealing with this same perception five years ago. In 2002, Georgia beat Alabama in the Bulldogs’ most recent trip to Tuscaloosa in the famous "Man Enough" game. It’s a coincidence on the eve of another trip to Alabama that Schultz does his best Pat Dye impersonation and calls the Dawgs "soft" while questioning Richt’s ability to light a fire under the team.

This is one of those topics that tells you quickly who has spent much time at a Georgia practice or speaking with players about the subject. A Georgia practice isn’t church, and Richt is as intense about his job as any of his peers. How do you last for 20 years coaching major college programs without that intensity? Details like that are no match for a columnist at a press conference with a story in mind:

There are all sorts of theories as to why Georgia lost to South Carolina, not the least of which has to do with Steve Spurrier, needles and a little puppy voodoo doll he keeps on his nightstand. Matthew Stafford was off target. His receivers were off kilter. His offensive coordinator was off his rocker.

But here’s another possibility: They’re soft, and their coach is lacking in the verbal equivalent of a forearm shiver.

Let me translate: "Ignore all that football stuff and let’s run with my pet theory."

Schultz tries to bolster his point with a very selective (and incorrect) memory about Richt’s approach to team discipline.

Richt used to be soft on crime. Telling Odell Thurman to run stadium steps wasn’t going to fix the problem. But it was residual from Bobby Bowden’s school of discipline. Eventually, Richt changed. Even he grew tired of the arrests and the criticism. He got tougher.

Odell Thurman was actually kicked off the team in 2002 for disciplinary reasons and spent that season at Georgia Military College. The Dawgs started the 2003 season at Clemson with eight players suspended. Do you remember the name Randall Swoopes? Georgia’s center of the future was kicked off the team in 2003. Jasper Sanks was shown the door during Richt’s first season, leaving the Dawgs with only a fullback named Haynes to carry the ball. Schultz’s argument that Richt’s toughness in disciplinary matters was a reluctant evolution is exactly opposite of the historical record.

Just as Richt’s approach to discipline didn’t need or receive a sudden injection of toughness, Richt’s personal toughness is grossly underrated by those who just see the public face of the program. A former player wrote on the DawgVent several days before Schultz’s column,

Mark Richt is as intense as they come. He is an obsessive hard ass. And he’s tough. I don’t think any of these posters commenting that he’s too "soft" or "calm" or "lacks killer instinct" have ANY clue what he’s really like as a coach. The renewed toughness of our program didn’t come from VanGorder or Fabris or Garner – it was a mandate from Mark Richt. He is the last coach on our staff any player wants to cross or upset, and the competitive fire burns hotter in Mark Richt than any one person in our program.

I don’t know what measurement of physical toughness Schultz is using. A new offensive line with two freshmen going against an experienced defensive front seven was able to match South Carolina’s running game production. The Dawgs defense bowed up and kept Spurrier and his senior quarterback from doing much damage. The Western Carolina head coach said this week, "I feel that Georgia will be the most physical team we have faced since I’ve been here at Western. They appear more physical on film than was Alabama, so this week will be a big challenge for us this weekend." Sounds "soft" to me.

I also don’t see many problems with the mental toughness of a team and coach that stared a 6-loss season in the face last year and rebounded from a horrific midseason with three straight wins over ranked opponents. They also refused to fold down by several touchdowns to the #1 defense in the nation.

Richt will remind no one of Woody Hayes. He’s not going to get into a trash-talking competition with Steve Spurrier. Schultz and others seem to be waiting on Richt to club a player on the sideline to show his intensity, but all they have to do is open their eyes to how this program has operated for six years. Schultz downplays several times the effects of youth and maturity on this team, but sometimes the answers are just that simple.

3 Responses to '“Man Enough”, take 2'

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  • Thank you for this. I read that Schultz article too & it ticked me off to no end. Look, losing to the lamecocks at home is no picnic, but msg boards & articles like Jeff’s throwing CMR under the bus is just ridiculous
    I love & respect the fact that CMR doesn’t call attention to himself or make a scene like other coaches. I also love the fact that his calm demeanor can inspire a calm “don’t panic, just get to work” attitude in our players.
    We’re lucky as hell to have him and any true Dawg fan will realize that CMR is excatly what we need to right this ship.
    Go Dawgs!

  • […] have set aside this week to play "House, M.D." with the Georgia program. First it was Jeff Schultz’s diagnosis that Georgia and its coach were soft. Now Terence Moore offers that the problem is a lack of […]

  • […] column suggesting that Mark Richt needed to show a little more toughness and fire. Many, including myself, disagreed strongly with Schultz’s position. Others found it spot on. My biggest problem was […]