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Post Is Mark Richt on the hot seat? Should he be?

Wednesday May 19, 2010

Whether you consider it silly pot-stirring or a legitimate question, the topic is unavoidable. I suppose the fact that we’re even batting this question around gives it some sort of validity because it’s certainly not something we’re used to dealing with every season.

If you want to twist a Georgia fan up in knots, get them going about Mark Richt. Everyone starts out with the same disclaimers: genuinely great guy, glad he’s our coach, couldn’t ask for a better representative of the University, won’t forget that he brought SEC titles back to Athens. But then opinions really start to diverge.

As Matt Hinton reminds us – absent a national title – these are the glory years for Georgia football:

Since 2000, he’s ended the Bulldogs’ 20-year SEC championship drought in 2002, added another conference title in 2005, led a struggling team out of a midseason slump to a No. 2 finish in the final polls in 2007 and won at least 10 games six times. The Bulldogs finished in the top 10 four years in a row from 2002-2005, the longest streak of the decade in the SEC and matching the Herschel Walker years from 1980-83 as the best run in school history.

How on earth could anyone be displeased with that track record?  You might or might not buy into all of these, but critics have countered with a number of points:

  • Georgia is just 10-10 against the SEC East since 2006.
  • That divisional record includes home losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt and 1-3 marks against Florida and Tennessee.
  • The Bulldogs are 2-7 against Florida under Richt and haven’t even been competitive since winning in 2007. Through 2006, all of the losses were at least in close games.
  • Georgia’s contributions to the NFL Draft, particularly on defense, have dropped off since 2006.
  • Unless it happens this year, the best trio of offensive skill players to play on the same team at Georgia (Stafford, Moreno, and Green) will leave Georgia without any of them playing for a conference title.
  • Off-field incidents continue to plague and embarrass the program.

What’s underlying the concern is the changing stakes in the SEC and the fear that a window has closed. Georgia won three SEC East titles in Richt’s first five years, but they’ve struggled to return to the Dome since while three other teams have emerged to split the past four national titles. There’s an uneasiness that even if the program regained the talent level and attitude of Richt’s earlier years, would it be enough to compete with entrenched national powers at Florida and Alabama?

We noted in the wake of last year’s jarring loss at Tennessee that what might’ve once been a defensive problem or kick coverage problem had become a program problem. There were few areas working well, and just changing an assistant or two wasn’t going to be an automatic fix. Mark Richt had to get his program back.

David Hale does a good job of framing the key questions, so I’ll close out by responding to those directly:

Have all the offseason moves left you with as much confidence in Richt as you ever had? Or did two years of stubborn insistence on a largely unsuccessful approach shake your belief?

I’ve been impressed with nearly every offseason move.  The hirings all made sense.  Grantham has given the fans plenty of red meat. The program has become more aggressive and effective on the recruiting trail despite all of the negativity. I’m not particularly bothered by the off-field stuff (other than it leaving Georgia thin at QB).  My confidence in Richt has never been shaken to the point of needing such a shot in the arm, but there’s no mistaking that just the air of change has improved spirits among the fans.   We’ll see how long that lasts once the product gets on the field.

Clouding the question of Richt’s future is the sad reality that, even after nine seasons, many Georgia fans still don’t have a sense of Richt. They mistake his demeanor for meekness – we saw all of those who insisted that he didn’t have the stomach to make the tough decisions following last season. They question his desire to match the obsessive Saban and Meyer both on the recruiting trail and on the field. They cling to the notion, disproved time after time, that seniority rules over merit. They mistake a sincere culture of loyalty with one of complacency and unaccountability.

Sorting through that fog makes it tough sometimes to get down to actual problems. Hale devotes some time to what might be a certain stubbornness from Richt. I don’t buy that Richt was aloof or bull-headed about making changes following the 2008 season; he made it clear that his decision to fire three coaches was “made over the course of time” and not “not a one year knee-jerk reaction to this season.”  If you think that’s being too deliberative, fine, but it does imply that Richt was aware of and thinking about issues with the program long before the 2009 season took a nose-dive.  Richt himself admits some flaws and instances of the staff trying to outsmart themselves, and correcting that aspect of the culture is as important as shaking up the staff.

Will you stick by Richt if Georgia finishes 8-5 again this year, but does it with a more fundamentally sound D, a better approach to kickoffs and a duo at tailback that understands how to play the position?

I don’t outright reject the possibility of another 8-5 season. The defense will take some adjustment. We’ve seen that even Vanderbilt and Kentucky are ready to pounce on a sign of weakness.  You can bet that everyone on the schedule from Mississippi State to Tennessee to Georgia Tech sees the opportunity to take their shot at a program that might be doubting itself a little. You only have to look over at Foley Field to see how the wheels can come off a season when negative momentum starts building. In fact, as Hale notes, the job the team did pulling it together at the end of last season against two big rivals is one of the underrated stories from a year ago (and is what keeps us from adding Richt’s first losing record to the ledger).

At the same time, it would be devastating to go 7/8-5 against this schedule.  You’re trading Oklahoma State and LSU for lesser opponents.  The home schedule is extremely favorable.  Five losses against this schedule would include some very, very bad losses as well as losses to rivals that don’t sit well even in the best of years. Think about which five teams on this year’s schedule you’d accept losing to.  Improvement in relatively obscure areas like kickoff coverage won’t mean much if the offensive line doesn’t live up to billing or if Georgia’s highly-rated starting quarterback isn’t ready for prime time.

That said, I do think the moves that have been made will lead to the wins that will make this discussion seem ridiculous in hindsight. Allowing myself that kind of optimism for this season, that should be my last word on Richt’s future for a long time.

2 Responses to 'Is Mark Richt on the hot seat? Should he be?'

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  • We are going on 5+ years without an East Title. That is unacceptable. If we go 2 more seasons without one, that is 7+

    How could ANYONE find that acceptable whatsoever?

  • Thank you both.

    That is the very best article ever written on this junk that UGA fans, alumni, recruits, players and supporters would answer the question that Coach Richt is on the hot seat.


    It is so very far from true that we would vote that he is.

    When a gentleman so well-known and respected in The Bulldog Nation for all these years says what you state here for all to see really where we are, it is clear that we are not at all satisfied.

    So much promise the first 5 years.

    Now, this second 5 years of the Coach Richt Era has not shaped up well at all.

    The biggest stubbornness on Coach Richt’s part is not that he waited to make necessary changes, but that he is giving up being head coach, CEO, to take over for the offensive coaching staff.

    That and that we have prepared only DJ Shockley as a back-up QB in the entire 10-Year now this season Coach Richt Era. There are those who say that that was only because of a promise Coach Shockley made Coach Richt promise DJ when Coach Richt redshirted DJ 2001.

    I applaud your decision to delve into this. Really the issue boils down to 3 wins 8 losses vs Top 10 Final AP Poll teams AND 8 losses vs not ranked in the Top 25 Final AP Poll teams in the Coach Richt Era. That, and like you say the off-field issues demonstrated on field by 4 years in a row averaging # 96 in NCAA Penalties along with 4 years in a row of 21 fumbles a year all last 4 years and 14 interceptions a year all last 4 years too. # 9 in SEC Football graduation rates in the latest NCAA study released for us 2010. 39 arrests / suspensions the last 3 years according to David Hale macon.com you refer to above for UGA leads the nation.

    And, 38-14 the last 4 years is good for only # 19 in the nation.

    No one can deny what you write here.

    14-game seasons nowadays and we average 10 wins.

    Orson Charles should not have with 23 catches his freshman year not be made starter until the game number 12 because Aron White had 3 catches his freshman year. Knowshon Moreno should not have been redshirted so we only got the best RB here in 30 seasons for only 2 years. Washaun Ealey whom we ripped the redshirt off in the 3rd quarter of the 5th game was the # 11 best Running Back in the Nation. He led the team in rushing and should have had more than 2 starts, and they not even the last 2 games. Branden Smith we threw 2 passes to all season, just as we threw only 2 passes to Marlon Brown. Zach Mettenberger should have played against Okie State, not just Joe Cox with the flu and with his chronic shoulder both. # 1 in the nation and we averaged 14 carries by Knowshon Moreno in the 3 losses of 31 to nothing at half at home to Bama, 42 unanswered at JAX, and 29 unanswered to a lousy Georgia tek team who obviously would not have been ranked had they not beaten us.

    9-4 in 2006 no qb prepared
    8-5 in 2009 no qb prepared
    ?-? in 2010 no qb prepared what ? 9-4 ? 10-3 ?

    I have as much hope and optimism for my alma mater as anyone, and I am truthful as you here and thank you again for this 1 truthful article on the entire Internet sir.

    28 games we scored no more than 2 touchdowns in the Coach Richt Era and we lost 23 of those 28. We only lost 4 games the entire Coach Richt Era when we scored more than 2 touchdowns. It is the offense that is the problem.