I would like to take a moment today to address the Georgia Bulldog nation. Unlike President Obama, I do not try to speak to our nation very often. But here we are at the mid-point of the season, the Dawgs are 3-3, and the nation is in a state of unrest.
So if you will indulge me for just a few minutes, I would like to speak directly to all of the Bulldog fans who frequent Bleacher Report.
First of all, let me say that I am not here to defend mediocrity. I state in my weekly column in our local newspaper (click this link if you would like to check it out) that a record of 3-3 should be considered “Ray Goff numbers.”
Not since Jim Donnan’s first year, when he began to clean up the mess that Goff made, have the Dawgs started the season 3-3. That was 1996. Those are days we want to forget.
Donnan had a decent run, but he failed to beat Georgia Tech for three consecutive years. Two straight four-loss seasons would end his short run at the University of Georgia.
That of course is when Mark Richt came to town. I have never doubted since that day that Mark Richt would succeed at Georgia. I would have voted then and there to give him a lifetime contract.
Eight-and-a-half seasons have passed since that day. Richt has led the Bulldogs to 85 wins. The Dawgs have won two SEC championships, and finished in the top 10 in most of those seasons.
Mark Richt set the bar high at Georgia.
It was last season when I really noticed the rumbling beginning in the Bulldog nation. I’m not exactly sure when it started, but a "fire Mark Richt" Web site surfaced. What started as a season with National Championship hopes soon turned to disappointment.
The Dawgs laid the proverbial egg against Alabama and again against Florida. Against Georgia Tech the Dawgs blew a 28-12 halftime lead, and would lose to their intrastate rival for the first time since 2000.
Two culprits emerged from those three losses—the defense (mainly the defensive coordinator) and several key injuries. Injuries you really can’t control. But a defense not executing to its level of ability should be something you can fix.
So the majority of the Dawg Nation took the bowl win over Michigan State and the 10-3 record the Dawgs finished with and patiently waited for a few changes.
It’s very difficult for me to call loyalty a bad trait. After all, don’t we teach our kids to be loyal?
But college football is not only a passion; it is big, big business. When you don’t make a change in your "business" that everyone seems to think is needed, you will get questioned.
When that same change you failed to make continues to come back to haunt you, it quickly becomes a burden and a potential point of failure.
Willie Martinez has now officially become a burden for Mark Richt. Willie knows it. Mark Richt knows it. The Bulldog nation knows it.
Any further loyalty to Martinez beyond the next six games could damage Richt’s future at Georgia.
When Brian Van Gorder patrolled the sidelines as Georgia’s defensive coordinator, the Dawgs allowed their opponents to score more than 33 points only one time.
Since the beginning of the 2008 season, Willie Martinez and his soft cover zone defense has been torched for: 37, 41, 45, 45, 38, 39, 38, and 41 points. Georgia has played 19 games in that time span. In eight of those games, 37 or more points were given up.
I promised to be brief, so let me wrap it up with a few final thoughts.
To the Bulldog nation I say this: We are all disappointed in what has happened this season. But I believe that no one is more disappointed than Mark Richt.
I am confident beyond words that Mark Richt will make the changes needed. I don’t believe midseason is the time to make those changes. It appears obvious, to this writer, where those changes need to be made.
But firing Mark Richt is not the answer. How many programs in this country would not happily take this man off our hands? Five? Maybe 10?
The Bulldog nation needs to step back and take a deep breath. We need to get behind the players and scream and cheer as we never have before beginning this week in Vanderbilt.
The talent at Georgia is young and plentiful. We tried to convince ourselves that this would not be a down year. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that maybe, just maybe, we are not who we thought we were.
Sure, Georgia Tech is off to a good start, and yes, they beat the Dawgs last season. But would you trade places with your average Tech fan, and his pocket protected friends? Having one or two good seasons a decade? Of course not.
I am not convinced that this season is lost. But no matter what the outcome in these remaining games, I am convinced that Mark Richt is the man for Georgia.
Most programs are one bad decision away from going through "Ray Goff years." Most of the time, patience will pay off and common sense will take you far.
Be careful what you wish for, Bulldog nation. Mark Richt has taken us to a new level. To lose faith in him the first time he falters, or fails to live up to our expectations, would be a mistake.
I hope you are with me, Bulldog nation. Let’s pull together and support this team like never before.
Never forget those simple words: "It's great to be a Georgia Bulldog."