Sometime soon Mark Richt is going to have his end of the year press conference. I would suggest that the head coach at Georgia have that presser sooner rather than later because, to be perfectly candid about it, he has reached a crossroads in his leadership of the football program in Athens. Georgia finished the 2010 season with a 6-7 record after a-less-than-inspiring performance against UCF in the Liberty Bowl.
No, let’s don’t choose our words carefully here. Let’s call it what it really was: It was a lousy performance. Georgia looked like a team that didn’t want to be there and at 6-6, maybe the players DIDN’T want to be there. But since they were there and since the University committed itself to play the game and provide programming for its television partner, it falls upon the head coach to demand that the guys who wear the uniform representing the state university at least play hard. And Georgia did not play hard against UCF.
Mark Richt will be back for his 11th season at Georgia and he has earned the right to fix what is wrong. And right now there is a lot that is wrong with the football program at Georgia. He needs to figure out exactly what is wrong and tell everybody exactly how he plans to fix it.
Then he needs to fix it–now.
I would not presume to speak for the people of the Bulldog Nation. But I am going to suggest that these are just a few of the things they would like to hear from their head coach in the very near future:
**–That he loves being the head football coach Georgia and is passionate about its success: Georgia is like any major football playing school in the South. Its people care deeply about the success of the team and are invested, both emotionaly and financially, in the program. And it pains fans to think that they care more than the players and the coaches. Of course Richt cares about his work and the success of Georgia. Just have a five-minute conversation with the man and you understand that. But here is where Richt, a man of deep faith and a belief in the balance of life (both admirable qualities), needs to step outside of his comfort zone. Georgia people want passion and they want a sense of urgency when things are not going well. I believe Richt feels these things but has not done a good job of communicating it to the Georgia people.
**–That recruiting is going to get better: Here is where Richt as a head coach and Georgia as a staff has to look in the mirror and be willing to face the truth. The fact is that outside of A.J. Green, Justin Houston, and the two kickers, there weren’t a lot of players at Georgia who could start for Alabama. (I’m going to use Alabama and Florida as measuring sticks, for obvious reasons). The running backs (Caleb King, Washaun Ealey), for all the hype coming out of high school, continue to be very average. The offensive line, for all the talent and depth that was supposed to be there, has underachieved for three years. The defense was in transition and was about what we thought it would be. It’s not fair to judge after just one year in Todd Grantham’s system. But in other areas, either the players were not as good as everybody thought or they haven’t been coached very well. Richt needs to figure out which it is and address it. Georgia needs better players and a lot more of them.
**–That players are going to be disciplined on and off the field: I hear about this more than any single thing other than wins and losses. Georgia people are tired of reading about knucklehead stuff that keeps players off the practice field and out of games. How hard can it can be, they want to know, to make players understand that their life is pretty simple: Go to class, go to practice, study, play in the games, and behave the rest of the time. When players show a lack of discipline on or off the field they need to be punished publicly and the punishment needs to be firm. Again, Nick Saban at Alabama seems to have a handle on this. I’ll bet Will Muschamp will get a handle on it at Florida in short order. When it comes to this area, a healthy fear of the head coach is not necessarily a bad thing.
**–That players are going to be developed and will get better under his watch: You don’t build a football program on players who perceive themselves to be great because they had a bunch of stars by their name coming out of high school. Of course you have to have the elite athlete, and Georgia doesn’t have enough of those. But you also have to have good players who will work to become great and average players who will work to become good. You can’t have a roster of guys who think they can get by on talent alone. You have to have hungry players. You have to be able to take average talent and develop it. Players have to get better from year to year. Georgia has not done that.
**–That players are going to get bigger, stronger, and faster. That nobody is going to outwork Georgia in the offseason: Look at Alabama’s players in their uniforms and then look at Georgia’s. It ain’t even close. Look at Florida and the strength and conditioning program it has under Mickey Marotti. When Will Muschamp got the job at Florida, it took him about 45 seconds to know that he was going to keep Marotti. This used to be a strength of the Georgia program. It is no longer. Joe Tereshinski has already replaced Dave Van Halanger as the strength and conditioning program director and will get a chance to fix it. Again, this is not complicated. Look at what Alabama and Florida are doing and do that.
**–That everybody from the head coach on down is going to be held accountable: Richt not only needs to make it clear internally, but he must make this clear publicly to the Georgia people. Everybody, and that means everybody, is expendable if they are not willing to commit to the goal of getting the program back among the SEC’s elite. A good head coach at this level has everybody a little on edge. The players need to step up and hold each other accountable at every workout and every practice. Those who can’t, or won’t, commit at this level will have to leave.
**–That the people who wear the uniform for Georgia will again play the game with passion: I know we are dealing with a different generation of athlete who feels more entitlted (because the process has told him he’s entitled). For the most part today’s athlete is not going to buy into the love of the institution like the folks to sit in the stadium. That’s just a fact of life, a generational difference. Still, it can be managed. But, as I said at the top, the head coach can demand that his student-athletes give their best effort when those athletes represent the University. I know that is a quaint, outdated, and probably naive notion that it is a privilege to wear the uniform. But the Georgia people don’t feel that way and their feelings have to be taken into account.
Greg McGarity, the new athletics director at Georgia, is not going to say these kind of things but I will because these are just facts. After 19 years at Florida, he’s been at Georgia for four months. That is not enough time to evaluate a football program at this level. You have to go through a recruiting season, an offseason conditioning program, a preseason while watching the day-to-day operations. There are a lot of moving parts to a football program and McGarity has only seen two: a preseason and a regular season.
And all those folks who wanted to let Richt and his staff go after this season probably haven’t looked at what it would cost. It doesn’t take a lot of checking to see that such a decision, which would have included Richt’s buyout (just under $7 million) plus the cost of buying out the assistants would have cost Georgia in the $9-10 million range. Then you have to hire a new coach (at least $3 million) and another staff. So right now that would be about a $15 million decision for Georgia. I don’t think that was a factor in this decision but in this economy you can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist.
As I said at the top: Very soon Mark Richt will have to tell the Georgia people two very important things. 1) What he believes the problems are and 2) How he intends to fix it and that he intends to fix it now.
And as uncomfortable as it may be, Mark Richt needs to make his case with passion–a lot of passion.
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