Georgia Bulldogs Football: Keys for Mark Richt Getting off the Hot Seat
Much of the offseason talk in Athens, GA has focused on the stability of Mark Richt’s position as head coach at the University of Georgia. Complaints about a decline in performance and disciplinary issues are prevalent and the term “hot seat” has become increasingly commonplace over the past few seasons. While I am frustrated with the performance of the past few years I’m not quite ready to call for heads to roll. Is Mark Richt on the hot seat? Of course he is. However, isn’t everyone earning $3.5 million annually held to a pretty high standard of accountability and excellence? I think it’s worthwhile to spend some time looking at what factors are heating Richt’s seating and what he can do to return to a more comfortable post.
There has obviously been a general decline of the program (a 6-7 season is not acceptable), but what got the Bulldogs to this point and can they rebound? Let's take a closer look.
Mark Richt is a man of Christian principles and undeniably high moral character. However, the same cannot always be said for his players. Since 2008, there have been over 25 arrests within the team. Such a statistic is not a point of pride for any program, but such behavior directly conflicts with the standard that Richt has tried to set for his players. I have no doubt that Richt is consistently preaching to his players, but they clearly aren’t listening. Richt has lost control of his players off the field.
In addition to the arrests there have been countless other disciplinary issues that have been handled internally and numerous academic related suspensions. Just this month Georgia lost starting RB Washaun Ealey to irreconcilable differences (he was too much trouble for Richt to correct) and now rumors of backup Caleb King’s academic eligibility are in the air. Unfortunately the loss of these players is not an isolated event, but rather the culmination of a program lacking in control.
Admittedly, every program struggles to keep 18-22-year-old men out of trouble and in the classroom, but this is getting ridiculous. And, unfortunately for Richt, 12 losses over the past two years won’t do much to overcome the poor reputation of his players.
The Bulldogs have lost entirely too many winnable games over the past two seasons. Last year the Bulldogs lost to a lower ranked South Carolina team in their second week of play. The Dawgs then lost to a much better Arkansas team, albeit in a game that belonged to the Dawgs late in the fourth quarter, before losing to seemingly inferior opponents in Mississippi State and Colorado. The season ended with a disappointing 10-6 loss to Central Florida.
In 2009 the Dawgs were embarrassed (45-19) by a Tennessee team that entered the game with a losing record. The Bulldogs also suffered a loss to Kentucky—a team that the Bulldogs are always expected to defeat.
Over the past two seasons, six (South Carolina, Mississippi State, Colorado, and UCF in 2010, Tennessee and Kentucky in 2009) of UGA’s 12 losses were to teams that the Bulldogs should have defeated regardless of situational differences. The Dawgs should have finished 2009 and 2010 with a record of 10-3 in each season.
Where Are the Big Wins?
In addition to bad losses, Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs have struggled to win big games. In 2008 the Alabama Crimson Tide came to Athens, GA and dismantled the Bulldogs in the second blackout game. The Dawgs went on to lose rivalry games to Florida (49-10) and Georgia Tech (45-42).
In 2009 the Dawgs failed to defeat Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were ranked slightly higher (OSU was ranked ninth and UGA 13th), but the Dawgs trailed only by seven at the start of the fourth quarter. The Dawgs lost a heartbreaker to LSU at home in the final minute, and they were destroyed by the Florida Gators yet again.
The 2010 season saw the Dawgs collapse late to Arkansas and run out of steam against Auburn. Over the last three seasons the only major victory of note is a 30-24 defeat of Georgia Tech in 2009 (the Yellow Jackets entered the game ranked seventh in the nation).
Where Does This Leave Us?
The Georgia Bulldogs have underperformed over the past few seasons to say the least. UGA consistently brings in top recruiting classes and the NFL talent scouts continue to draft Dawgs. However, while these players are in Athens something is not clicking. Between off-the-field issues, ugly losses and a lack of big wins, Mark Richt’s seat is undeniably hot, but it could be hotter.
Mark Richt has actually been aided over the past few seasons by some untimely departures. In 2008 Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno entered the NFL draft as underclassmen. Fortunately for Richt this went a long way in validating 2009 as a rebuilding year. Had Stafford and Moreno remained in Athens for another year expectations for that team would have demanded a BCS Bowl game appearance. Those expectations would not have been met as the 2009 edition of the Georgia Bulldogs struggled primarily on the defensive side of the ball. It would be hard to demand Stafford and Moreno to keep the Tennessee Vols, Florida Gators, and the Kentucky Wildcats from scoring 45, 41 and 34 points respectively.
Willie Martinez was relieved of duties as Defensive Coordinator at the end of 2009 and Richt was yet again able to rebuild with new DC Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 scheme. While the improvement of the defensive unit was debatable, this defensive change combined with A.J. Green’s absence for the first four games of 2010 did just enough to convince higher-ups that 2010 was a season of chaos and an outlier in Richt’s tenure. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the primary aforementioned higher-up was a brand new athletic director brought in to replace maligned former AD Damon Evans (yet another key departure) who was fired after being charged with a DUI last summer.
So How Does Richt Keep His Job?
To remain Head Coach of the Georgia Bulldogs Richt obviously needs to see a turnaround of the program. Without a doubt another losing season lands him in the unemployment line. But just how much will it take to save the program and his job?
The disciplinary and academic issues are in many ways a reflection of the overall direction of the program as of late—a general lack of effort, ignorance to expectations and disappointing results are transcending the football field. Truth be told, Richt will be judged by what happens on the football field in 2011, which is probably a good thing for him as he faces a favorable schedule.
Win the Easy Ones:
Georgia opens the season against Boise State and South Carolina, two top-25 teams, one of which will begin the season in the top seven or eight of virtually ever pre-season poll and one of which just won the SEC East. Many have said that if Richt loses both of these two games his fate is doomed. I disagree.
A half-way decent coaching job combined with Georgia’s level of talent should yield victories against Coastal Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State, Kentucky and Georgia Tech. Richt must win these seven games.
Mississippi State will be playing in Athens, Florida is still rebuilding and adjusting to new coaches, and Auburn’s overall lack of experience sets them back tremendously. If Georgia can win two out of these three games, throw in a bowl victory and Richt has a 10-win season.
Win a Big One
If Richt can’t lead the Dawgs to nine victories in those ten games then he’s going to need to pullout a big win. Obviously, a victory against the Gators would kill two birds with one stone, and if all other previously mentioned games are handled appropriately then Richt will be fine. However, a loss to the Gators combined with another loss in a winnable game will necessitate another big victory. In this case Richt will need a signature victory that is demonstrative of the program’s return not only to relevancy in the SEC but also to prominence on the national stage. A victory over Boise State or South Carolina might do the trick.
While many have said “he needs to win ten games” I think that examining the games in terms of what is realistic and what would be a big boost puts that figure in perspective.
I think that Richt can secure his job by simply winning the games that he should win. If he falls short, then he’s going to need to pull off a few upsets. Of course, as I write this, no game seems like too much of a stretch (Boise State travels a long way to play and we all remember the last time the Broncos came to Georgia, South Carolina has QB issues and Florida is a whole new team), but that in many ways encompasses just why Bulldog fans are so frustrated. Even following a losing season I could still see the Dawgs coming close to running the table. There is not a game on the schedule that I would label as a sure-fire loss at this juncture. I would not be shocked to see the Dawgs win 10, 11 or even 12 games this season, because I feel they are capable of that type of season.
Is the expectation of 10 wins realistic? I think so. Is that expectation present? It’s everywhere. I hope that expectation is met. If Richt comes up short, one of two things is going to happen: either there are going to be new (and lower) expectations for the University of Georgia football program or there’s going to be a new man running it. Greg McGarity might be making his first major decision as Athletic Director in about seven months. I’m sure he is hoping that decision is delayed indefinitely by a January bowl game. After all, when push comes to shove I think McGarity will find it easier to change head coaches than to change the outlook of thousands of fans.
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