University of Georgia Football Coach Mark Richt is a good man. He treats all people with respect and dignity, no matter who they are. He exudes warmth and calmness in everything he does. He places the highest value on family, friends, and loyalty. Yet it is these same qualities that define him as a man, as well as fundamental failings in the team's performance, that may be turning into his undoing between the hedges of Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA.
Since his arrival in Athens in 2001, he has set the Georgia Bulldog faithful on fire by winning two Southeastern Conference championships and, going into this season, putting together an impressive 82-22 record, including a 48-19 conference record in the rough and tumble SEC.
But the Bulldog Nation has not been entirely happy. He has never brought home a BCS Championship. Fans I have talked to this year say it is unacceptable that LSU and Florida can win the BCS title, but that the Mark Richt-led Bulldogs have not. Of course, these are the same fans who once praised the work of Offensive Coordinator/
Quarterbacks Coach Mike Bobo and Defensive Coordinator Willie Martinez, but now want nothing less than their firing.
It is no surprise that the fan base wants this outcome, but are their expectations valid? With Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford gone, there was no offense to come back with this year. Everybody knew it would not be a stellar year, but no one expected the old-fashioned can of whoop-ass thrown on Georgia by the University of Tennessee and the University of Florida. Everyone thought that Richt would come through on his promise to cut down on the number of penalties racked up by the team the past few years.
But this has not happened. Throw into the mix starting quarterback Joe Cox's inability to throw the football with any power and avoid costly interceptions, the total absence of a running game, and a defense that cannot stop anybody when it has to, and you have the makings of a total implosion.
Mike Bobo was a competent quarterback when he played for Georgia. And he has done a nice job as the Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks since his returning to Georgia...with a caveat. He had David Greene, the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA Division 1-A history, and Matthew Stafford to work with. Now he has Cox, who is the first to admit he is no Stafford, and back-up redshirt sophomore quarterback Logan Gray.
Willie Martinez inherited the defensive unit from Brian Van Gorder after Van Gorder became a coach in search for the right fit. People never really took to Martinez or his style of play, but as long as the team kept winning, the drumbeat never grew to the deafening cacophony it is now. The bottom line is that there is no rational reason for the defensive lapses as the piling up of stupid defensive penalties that appear to be the direct result of focus and discipline.
Going into yesterday's game against Florida with an overall record of 4-3 (3-2 in the SEC), Richt knew the team had to perform. They had two weeks to prepare for this game and work on the fundamentals that have been giving them so much difficulty.
Do they do this? Of course not. Instead, Richt decided that the criticism was not enough, so he decided to put a huge "Kick Me" sign (some might say a target) on his back by having the team wear black helmets for the first time in school history. He said this was to motivate the team. Of course if the team played fundamental football, the motivation would have taken care of itself.
It cannot even be said that this year is a true re-building year. If you look at the depth chart and recruiting pipeline, it is not clear how or when Georgia will be able to climb out of this mess. But there are some things Mark Richt is going to have to do immediately if he wants to keep his job:
- Bench Joe Cox and start developing Logan Gray now. There is precedent as he did bench senior Joe Tereshinski in favor of Stafford. To do this, he as to admit that he has to write off this season because at 4-4 they are not going to a decent bowl game, if they go to one at all.
- Fire Willie Martinez and bring back Van Gorder. Martinez is not delivering and his defense cannot improve unless it stops making the mistakes it has become known for. Could it be he is yelling so much that the players have stopped listening?
- Take back the role of offensive coordinator and let Bobo concentrate on developing Quarterbacks. Nothing else seems to be working, so what is the risk?
In 1995, I knew that end was there for Georgia Coach Ray Goff when there were thousands of empty seats at the Auburn Game.
The question is whether or not Richt can hunker down, find the passion, and do what needs to be done to turn Georgia around. Otherwise it is entirely possible that the same thing could happen to him when Auburn comes to town in November.