We’ve heard a lot about changes in the Georgia program during the offseason. Nearly the entire staff has turned over in the past two years. The support staff has been filled out. Even little details like travel and the logistics of where to stay before home games have been scrutinized and addressed. It’s been an invigorating offseason that started shortly after the bowl game (that’s its own story), and there’s a momentum and enthusiasm that’s seen in both the 2015 preparations and the ongoing recruiting efforts.
About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the head coach. To me, that’s a good thing. There’s no confusion about what we get from Mark Richt as a man and figurehead of the program. That man has never been more empowered to succeed.
One effect of the offseason changes is to begin to abstract away things – call them excuses, deficiencies, obstacles, whatever – that reasonably could be seen to hold back the program. Richt the salesman/recruiter has to be happy with the resources at his disposal. Richt the CEO has to be pleased with the organizational and facility improvements required to compete at a high level. These developments are the source of the “no excuses” attitude (*) that I and several others have bought into this summer. But what about Richt as a coach of football?
(*) Speaking only for myself, this doesn’t necessarily mean to expect an SEC or national title in 2015. To begin with, some of the biggest recruiting coups aren’t even on campus yet. Others (Thompson) have just shown up. The defense is still reloading. A window is opening though in which the program should be expected to become more consistently successful.
We’ve had plenty of examples over 15 years to see Richt experiment and grow in his approach to the game. Right out of the gate he had to address clock management. We’ve seen different strategies in special teams – some worked, some didn’t. We’ve seen attempts to press tempo on offense. He read the tea leaves after 2009 and endorsed a change to the 3-4 defense. That change, whether due to coaches or personnel or the scheme itself, has had mixed results. The progress hasn’t been linear, but progress rarely is. So what’s next? What growth, if any, do we need to see from Richt himself in order to make the most of the new investment in the program?
Our nature is to file the decisions that work into the “correct” bucket and those that don’t into “failure.” It’s more complicated though – strategies can succeed or fail for any number of reasons, and all you can do is try to evaluate the thought process behind them. The spike/no-spike decision at the end of the 2012 SEC Championship is a good example. Things might have gone differently had Georgia clocked the ball, but the call itself was defensible. Other decisions have been less defensible.
If Georgia does have the opportunity to have a championship season at any level (divisional, conference, national), the season will almost surely feature a handful of decisions that rest on the head coach. Georgia will be in a position to compete for a title because of the recruiting, preparation, and all of the other work that leads up to the game. All of that will get us to those few moments of truth. That’s nothing new; we’ve seen these situations come up and go both ways for Richt dozens of times. You have the 4th down decisions that won the 2011 Florida game. You have the squib kick against Tech in 2014.
Richt’s way of doing things will be left to stand on its own. We can’t blame a lack of support anymore or point to advantages and resources other programs possess that Georgia does not. With so much progress off the field, I’m approaching the 2015 season looking forward to seeing if Richt can make comparable progress in his approach on the field. It will be how we end up evaluating this next phase of Georgia football.