Yet again, a talented Georgia team begins what appears to be a promising season based on all the players from top 10 and top 5 recruiting classes returning. Yet again, the returns from such a season are, well, less than promising.
Now UGA fans, as in years past, have had a choice. They can either blame the one constant since 2001, which is Mark Richt, or they can find one of many scapegoats that changes year after year.
Since they refuse to blame the person who came in and saved their program from Quincy Carter (never mind that even with the Carter issue, UGA had fewer off-the-field problems with Jim Donnan than they have with Richt, and oh yes back then UGA players had better grades too) then it is time to bring in the scapegoats.
The scapegoats, which range from allegedly selfish prima donna players (remember all the Knowshon Moreno bashing in 2008, and don't you wish you had an RB capable of giving you all those yards and TDs in 2009 and in this season?) to the assistants.
Before, it was the WR coach. He's gone, and the WRs—save one or two—still never develop or get properly utilized.
The RB coach? More of the same.
Then the blame went to the defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Granted, Martinez had a strange strategy and scheme (basically what FSU used to run in the front seven combined with mostly zones in the secondary) that would get exploited against certain offenses, but the main problem with Georgia was the underachieving offenses, and Richt is an offense guy.
But now that Martinez is gone, the ire of fans is now on offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
The truth is that the rage at Bobo, predictably, is misdirected because inconsistent and underachieving offenses have persisted during Richt's tenure. (This is in contrast with the generally effective offenses but bad defenses of the Ray Goff and Jim Donnan eras.)
The issue is that no one noticed the offensive problems early in Richt's tenure because Brian Van Gorder's defenses were shutting everybody down. But at no point, not even during the 2002-2007 heyday when UGA was in the top 10 every season and won two SEC titles and two BCS bowl games, was it due to having some explosive offense.
Remember Bobo scapegoaters: Richt used to be the offensive coordinator who put in the strategy and called the plays, and Bobo was nothing more than an administrative guy and glorified QB coach.
But that arrangement was not working out, and people felt that it was because Richt was wearing too many hats. So, Richt surrendered the play-calling and game-planning duties to Bobo, whom Richt had invested years in training.
And Richt has never criticized Bobo's performance, not because Richt is "too nice," but rather because Bobo basically does what Richt wants, or should I say that Bobo doesn't do anything different than what Richt would do were Richt himself the coordinator.
The idea that Richt was ever this great play-caller/strategist at his days at FSU is fiction, people.
First Richt wasn't running the FSU offense during their best years, Bobby Bowden and other coordinators like former South Carolina head coach Brad Scott were.
When Richt got the FSU offensive coordinator job, he didn't do anything especially groundbreaking or innovative at FSU. By then, FSU was already a powerhouse well into their record-breaking string of consecutive top 5 finishes. FSU's offensive success during a great deal of that era was mostly due to the fact that back then (the 80s and early 90s) they were the only big time southern program relying on the passing game.
As a result, most other southern schools were built around running the ball and stopping the run, and no one had the knowledge or the personnel to defend it.
For instance, most southern schools didn't even have CBs that could cover consistently, let alone safeties and linebackers. Also, FSU back then used to recruit like Miami and USC, and had a gigantic collection of (often wasted) talent, and in particular enjoyed a huge talent advantage over the ACC.
So, rather than Richt's being this great coach, it was often just the result of playing a different style than everybody was used to seeing and defending, and also having four and five star players at every position on offense competing against two and three star ACC recruits on defense.
It's easy to look like a genius when people aren't scheming to stop you, and even easier when you have better players than everybody else.
But by the time Richt got to UGA, everybody in the SEC had caught onto defending the passing game, because by then Steve Spurrier, Peyton Manning, Tim Couch, Hal Mumme etc. had been through the conference. And while Richt has recruited well, he hasn't gotten those string of top 3 recruiting classes that Bowden got at FSU.
Richt isn't going against ACC defenses either. (As Richt has done very well against the ACC in his tenure, and not just Georgia Tech but also FSU, Clemson and Virginia Tech, he no doubt wishes that he still were.)
So, the idea that UGA was ever going to do to Florida, Tennessee and Auburn under Richt what FSU used to do to Maryland and N.C. State was ridiculous.
As a matter of fact, FSU didn't exactly dominate top SEC competition under Richt either. Florida and Spurrier held their own against the Bowden machine (despite FSU having better players), and Richt was 0-2 against the SEC in national title games as FSU's coordinator.
Bottom line: Richt is basically relying on what he learned at Miami (where he was a player and coach) and FSU (where he was a coach) in the 1980s and 1990s at UGA, and he has largely molded Bobo in the same.
The problem is what worked for Miami and FSU in the 1980s and 1990s is not going to work in the current SEC whether Richt or Bobo is calling the plays.
Add that to the fact that it was Richt's decision to waste both last season and this season by starting Joe Cox instead of playing Aaron Murray.
Had Richt played the much more physically gifted Murray over the over-hyped recruit with the mid-major arm and high school ability to make decisions when pressured fellow in Cox (and no disrespect meant to Cox by the way, there is no shame in failing to be an above average SEC QB; the truth is that he never should have been set up to fail in the first place), UGA has about the same season last year as they wound up having anyway.
The difference is that with a year of experience under his belt, Murray would have been a much better QB this season, and in position to contend in an SEC East where Tennessee is a mess, Florida has real problems on offense, and South Carolina and Kentucky cannot compete with UGA's raw talent.
So, start Murray last year and they still go 8-5 last year. The difference is that they are almost certainly 2-1 and possibly 3-0 and in the top 10 playing a guy who has a year of experience in the SEC under his belt, and so the world's largest cocktail party in that scenario is the de facto SEC East title game.
As it is, Kentucky (who has an experienced QB) is more likely to win the SEC East than is UGA, and South Carolina (whose QB also took his lumps last season) even more so.
Now granted, some people may claim that Zach Mettenberger would have won the QB competition had there been one prior to the 2009 season. Fine, but if that happens, Mettenberger is still in Athens instead of getting kicked off the team for lying about a misdemeanor.
We know this because other UGA starters have remained in Athens for doing much worse. That's football, people, and Richt is a football coach, period. The only thing that the Cox fiasco did was waste two seasons instead of one, and the responsibility for that lies with Richt, not Bobo.
Not saying that Richt is a bad coach who needs to be fired. You can't accomplish what Richt did in the SEC from 2001-2007 by being a bad coach. Richt is a proven winner, and firing him always carries the risk of getting someone who isn't. Plenty of schools have fired a good coach looking for someone better and wound up with someone—indeed a string of people—much worse.
Instead, Richt needs to hire a coordinator who can win without A) the gigantic talent advantage that Miami had over the Big East and FSU had over the ACC and B) in an SEC where polished QBs, WRs and pass-blocking offensive linemen are rare.
And yes, Richt's coordinator needs to have the background and profile to challenge his more questionable decisions, such as to redshirt Moreno and the aforementioned Cox issue.
Instead of focusing on who Richt should replace Bobo—who could be "promoted" to QB coach/assistant head coach. Firing Bobo outright would be unfair since he is only doing what Richt has trained him to.
The issue is the sort of offense that would succeed at UGA in the SEC. The answer isn't that hard. Basically what Alabama is running now, what LSU ran with Jimbo Fisher, what Tennessee ran under David Cutcliffe (especially when Tee Martin was the QB), and what Auburn ran under Al Borges before Tommy Tuberville undermined him.
UGA cannot hire Cutcliffe or Fisher because they are head coaches. The Alabama coach Jim McElwain: forget it. He has a better job now and will be a head coach in the future, as soon as after this season.
Al Borges, on the other hand, is unfairly stuck at San Diego State because of what Tuberville did to his career and should be strongly considered.
And it is what Steve Spurrier finally consented to running at South Carolina now that he A) no longer has Florida Gators talent and B) the SEC has figured out how to stop the fun-n-gun (a Noah Brindise or Jesse Palmer would never win games in today's SEC like they did for Spurrier and the Gators in the 90s).
Again, Richt is a good head coach. But his employment at Georgia past this season should be determined by whether he is willing to not only replace Bobo as offensive coordinator (and as I stated, Richt should be fair to Bobo and so should UGA), but to replace his own offensive philosophy. Like Joe Paterno at Penn State (who at one time called the plays on offense AND defense for the Nittany Lions!).
Or perhaps a better analogy being Mack Brown at Texas (who unlike Paterno actually is the head coach involved in day to day operations of the program).
Richt needs to hand over control to the assistants, to allow Borges or whoever is brought in to run the offense the same control as Grantham will have over the defense. Richt will then be free to recruit, handle administrative and disciplinary issues, and be an ambassador and general leader of the program.
Again, Richt is great at these things. All UGA fans should recall the mess that UGA not only was when Richt was hired, but the rudderless ship that they had been ever since Vince Dooley retired (that plus Dooley's last few years were anything but memorable).
But just as Brown finally reached the next level when he started bringing in defensive coordinators like Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp and began to allow Greg Davis to have a much larger role in the offense, Richt is going to have to do the same.
Bottom line UGA fans: Richt is the real problem. It is time to apply pressure to make Richt solve it.
Retaining and forcing him to replace Bobo with a coordinator who will implement his own offensive system (one that at long last makes use of the big OLs, excellent TEs and FBs, and great RBs that UGA wastes year after year) is the best option.
A far better one than trying to lure Will Muschamp (who isn't coming) or Kirby Smart, or rolling the dice with a mid-major coach or a top coordinator.