I’ve done a lot of radio interviews this spring and invariably the host has asked me the same question: Going into the 2010 season whose seat is hotter– Mark Richt or Les Miles? Even my friend Paul Finebaum linked the two men together in his most recent column.
First of all, I don’t understand the linkage, other than the fact that both men coach in the SEC , where they are expected to win every game, and that the top coaches in their respective divisions (Nick Saban, West; Urban Meyer, East) have won the last two national championships.
But there the similarity ends.
Les Miles took over a program that Nick Saban built and won a national championship in his third season (2007), when the players in Saban’s last class were seniors. In the past two seasons LSU is 8-8 in the SEC and fans on the Bayou wonder if Miles can win a title with his own players.
When it comes to Miles, there is this nagging sense that he and his staff are not maximizing the talent on this team. Actually, it’s more than a nagging sense. When it comes to offense, LSU really hasn’t had much of a clue as to what it is doing the past two seasons. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has not gotten one bit better since this time last year. A team that used to be known for blue collar football (LSU ran for over 200 yards a game in the national championship year but was 11th in the SEC last season), the Tigers are now look pretty soft on that side of the ball.
Let’s put it this way: LSU had better beat North Carolina on Sept. 4 at the Georgia Dome or there will be folks in that part of the world with Jon Gruden’s number on speed dial.
Richt took over at Georgia in 2001 and won a conference championship in 2002 with a team made up mostly of players he inherited from Jim Donnan (who still doesn’t get enough credit for what he did at Georgia to rebuild the talent base). But then he won another championship with his own players in 2005, and was as good as anybody in the country in 2007.
He’s won 90 games in nine years. He’s 50-22 in the SEC. In six of those years he has been 6-2 or better in the league. He has never been worse than 4-4 in the SEC.
Having said all that, has Georgia looked like a well-coached team the past two seasons? The answer is decidedly “No.” Here are two important numbers:
113: That was Georgia’s national ranking (out of 120 Division I-A schools) in penalties per game. Georgia had 105 penalties in 13 games. Only five schools in America (Troy, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas Tech, Arizona State) had more penalties. By contrast, BCS champ Alabama had 69 penalties in 14 games. This has been a problem for two years and has not been fixed.
118: Georgia’s national ranking in turnover margin, which I think is the most important statistic in football. Georgia forced 12 turnovers last season (2 fumbles, 10 interceptions) but turned the ball over 28 times. That’s minus-16 in turnovers. Only one team in America, Miami of Ohio (minus-24) had a worse turnover margin. By contrast Alabama was plus 19 (31 takeaways, 12 turnovers) in 14 games. The hope at Georgia is that Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 defense will partly address this issue.
So I’m not saying that Richt and his staff don’t have work to do. They do. Georgia has done things the past two seasons that well-coached teams don’t do. And there is the fact that he is 1-4 against Meyer, who has won two national championships, and that the gap between Florida and the rest of the division seems to be growing. Some Georgia fans, and I hear from a lot of them, are worried that the program has lost momentum. I get that.
But Richt’s situation and that of Miles just aren’t comparable. If Miles goes 7-5 and 3-5 in the SEC there will be a concerted effort to nudge him back towards Michigan, his alma mater, where Rich Rodriguez faces a most uncertain future.
If Richt goes 7-5 it will certainly impact his quality of life in the offseason but it won’t jeopardize his job. He will feel pressure to make some more changes to his staff. But nobody in authority is going to say that he should relocate. In nine years Richt has put a lot of good will into the bank and that matters to the decision makers.
I could be totally wrong about this. What say you?
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