I’m not going to sugarcoat this. What I see from the football team at the University of Georgia is not good. I picked Colorado to win last Saturday because I really wondered how much fight was left in this team. To Georgia’s credit, and I trust Tim Tucker’s judgment on this, effort was not the issue Saturday night in Boulder. The inability to execute basic plays in pressure situations and the inability to play defense at the most fundamental level was the problem.
Based on my mail and the folks who call in to my radio show, there are a lot of people who are convinced that the Georgia football program after 10 years under Mark Richt has lost the necessary edge of coaching, talent and game day savvy to compete at the very top of the SEC.
I get all that and when a team is 1-4 all those arguments can be made and they are fair. Still, I am not backing away from this position: I believe that Mark Richt will be head coach at Georgia next season. But if this season continues to go South, some tough decisions are going to have to be made.
When things start going bad, the reaction always seems to be to fire the head coach because people believe there is always another Urban Meyer or Nick Saban waiting around the corner. You just have to go out and find him. Rarely do coaching transitions go that smoothly.
Florida had to go through Ron Zook in order to get to Urban Meyer. Alabama went through Mike DuBose and the devastating NCAA probation that followed. Then it was two years of Dennis Franchione, an embarrassing episode with Mike Price, and Mike Shula before Nick Saban returned them to the promised land. And also remember that Rich Rodriguez took the Alabama job and changed his mind or Saban would probably not be the coach today.
Changing head coaches in this league isn’t a simple process. A lot of the time the program has to go backwards before it goes forward again.
As I said a week ago, I look at Georgia and I see a team that isn’t very good. The offensive line has underachieved. The running backs aren’t bad but they aren’t All-SEC caliber. It’s easy to blame the defensive problems on the scheme but these guys were getting gashed pretty good last year running the old scheme.
Yes, you can make the point that the landscape of the SEC has changed pretty dramatically since Mark Richt won his last SEC championship in 2005. Meyer and Saban have raised the bar, there is no doubt about that. You can argue that it’s hard for any coach to maintain his edge after 10 years in one place. At some point you wonder if the players start tuning out the head coach.
But understand that when you let go of a guy who is a proven winner, you are taking a tremendous risk. Ole Miss couldn’t understand why it wasn’t as good after Eli Manning left. So they forced out David Cutcliffe, who only led the Rebels to five straight winning seasons. They wanted somebody more exciting in Oxford and chose Ed Orgeron, a good recruiter who wasn’t ready to be a head coach then and will probably never be a head coach again.
Tennessee was two bad passes away from winning the SEC championship in 2007. But after 16 years under Phillip Fulmer fans wanted something new and exciting instead of the tried and true. They wanted a rock star as their head coach like Alabama and Florida had in Saban and Meyer. So they hired a sun tanned Wonder Boy from Southern California. And we know how that one turned out. He’s back at USC and Tennessee had to hire a solid man in Derek Dooley to clean up the mess. Now Tennessee is looking at several difficult years before the program can be restored.
Greg McGarity, who became Georgia’s athletics director in July, learned from Vince Dooley and Jeremy Foley, two of the best ADs ever. He hasn’t told me this but I’m guessing that the last thing he wants to do just five months into the job is let go of a head coach who has won a pair of SEC championships (2002, 2005), played for another (2003), and might have had the best team in the country in 2007.
Having said all that, there is no question that things are not going well in the football program at Georgia and that something needs to be done. So how about this:
McGarity sits down with Richt at the end of the season and says: “Coach, here is what I see. We should be competing consistently for the SEC East championship and right now we are not at that level. In order to do that, what do you need that you currently don’t have? Whatever it is, I’ll get it for you. But I want you to identify the problems and then give me a plan to get us back on the right track.”
If you’re Mark Richt, you have to be willing to look at everything. Start with yourself and your level of commitment. Do you have the passion and the fire in the belly to do what is necessary to get Georgia back on top?
Then you have to look at your entire organization. What about your recruiting organization? Are you bringing in the right players but just not developing them to the SEC championship level? Or, is your talent evaluation not good enough?
You have to look at your strength and conditioning program. Is everything being done there that can be done? Look at the way Alabama’s players fill out their uniforms and look at yours.
What is the level of accountability throughout the organization? Have you changed? Are you doing things differently from when you first got here? You have to look at everything because at this point everything has to be on the table.
If Greg McGarity is satisfied with that plan, then everybody moves forward. I just believe that Richt has earned the right to fix what is wrong. I know a lot of people disagree and I respect their right to do so.
I would argue that Saturday’s game with Tennessee is a very important 60 minutes of football in the short term history of the program at Georgia. The crowd may be flat. They saw Georgia lose a heartbreaker to Arkansas on Sept. 18 followed by two inexplicable road losses at Mississippi State and Colorado. They are upset and dispirited. Coach Richt, you and your team have to change that with the way you play on the field. We are at the point where the team needs to lift its fans.
Here is what drives fans crazy. They feel that wearing the Georgia uniform and having the chance to play at Sanford Stadium is a privilege. They are emotionally invested in the program and have been for generations. The fans would like to believe that Georgia’s players feel the same way. Fans that I hear from are starting to wonder if the players care about Georgia as much as they do. And that is not a fun place to be.
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