There’s too much comfort, too little accountability, at Georgia

Mark Richt needs to realize that Georgia can't survive on autopilot any longer. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@AJC.com)

Mark Richt needs to realize that the Georgia program can't survive on autopilot any longer. (Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@AJC.com)

ATHENS — Smart coaches don’t go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning dumb. They don’t suddenly design bad plays, or create bad game plans, or recruit bad players.

They don’t suddenly forget how to prepare and motivate a group of young men (even if at times seemingly way too much energy is being spent worrying about the color of their helmets or jerseys).

Mark Richt is not dumb. He did not wake up one recent morning less of a football coach than he was when he led Georgia to two SEC titles. But by now he probably has realized something: He has to change. His methods have to change. Everything that might affect direction and atmosphere has to change.

Richt did not wake up dumb. But he did wake up to find the Bulldogs no longer rank as an elite program in the nation. Or in the SEC. Or in the state.

Things got too comfortable. The program has been on autopilot for too long. You watch the results — the Bulldogs are a shockingly pedestrian 10-7 since the Alabama debacle last season — and you see how Richt reacts, in that, “Don’t worry, it will all work out because it always does,” kind of way. Fans can’t help but wonder, “Where’s the fire? Where’s the anger?”

There’s also this question: Where’s the accountability?

The problems at Georgia are similar to those that can afflict any long-time success story. The Bulldogs have declined partly because they’ve grown stagnant. Autopilot doesn’t work in sports. It’s why coaches get fired so often, particularly in “emotion” sports like football and hockey. Old messages and old methods have a limited shelf life.

Georgia doesn’t need a new voice. It just Richt to raise his voice — or his foot. The program needs some tension.

Question: Do you think anybody in Gainesville or Tuscaloosa feels “comfortable”? Ever. Or do you believe like I do there is always some tension in the air? And do you believe like I do that the assistant coaches who work for Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, and the athletes who compete for them, always are on edge? There’s never a chance of things getting stale.

I don’t get that feeling at Georgia. Didn’t have it last year, either. There has been too much comfort. There has been too little accountability. Richt will tell you that he’s a different guy out of public view, that, “People who know me know I have an edge.”

Know what? I don’t want to have to go looking for it. If a team lacks an edge, the coach’s edge is buried too deep somewhere. Or it has been dulled like an old knife. That’s Georgia right now: no edge. The Dogs are like a dull, rusty old knife that really only works in the Vanderbilt game.

“If you’re going to be accused of something,” Richt said Tuesday, “being accused of being a nice guy is not the worst thing.”

Not really. Not if you’re losing.

Richt defended his resume at Athens, as he should. Then he took the appropriate detour: “It’s not like we’ve just been floundering around. [But] this year we have been, let’s face it. I don’t like it.”

It remains to be seen what he does about it. He can shake up his coaching staff. He can change his schemes and his approach to recruiting.

But the major changes need to be bigger picture. Coaches and players need to be worried more about playing to a standard. Fearing the head coach wouldn’t hurt.  They’re sloppy. They’re undisciplined. That’s not talent. That’s coaching.

Where’s the accountability? Why don’t these problems exist at Florida or Alabama?

Mark Richt: Is anybody listening to you anymore? If not, why not?

Richt knows these issues can’t be fixed during the season. “It’s got to be more of a tweak than a wholesale change,” during the season, he said. “But [after] every season, you must reevaluate. You must.”

He’s not dumb. He should know where the problems start.

423 comments Add your comment

J Dub

November 3rd, 2009
4:25 pm

first…probably read too slow

J Dub

November 3rd, 2009
4:26 pm

Jeff, I have never agreed with you more!

GSU Eagle 91

November 3rd, 2009
4:32 pm

Coach Richt sure seems like a good guy…I think his problem lies with his loyalty to assistant coaches who simply are not up to the task….It will an interesting off season….

Courage

November 3rd, 2009
4:34 pm

Amen!

Still I have to wonder. What happened to all the soul searching that was supposed to happen at the end of last season and before this one.

This year we were promised the team would tackle better, the offense would be better prepared, the defense would be better prepared, the team would be more disciplined, no more stupid penalties! What happened to all that?

Ask CMR those questions Jeff! My guess he is too comfortable!

IF CMR had answer those burning questions before this year started this melt down would have never happened!

Not Complacent or comfortable? Just Plain Blind!

Jep Palmer

November 3rd, 2009
4:37 pm

I fail to understand with the season lost CMR will not play younger players like Grey and Ealey.
Cox and King to start Sat. ? I support CMR but he needs to get his head out the sand and build towards next year.

dawgerbrown

November 3rd, 2009
4:38 pm

Jeff, you are right on. It takes more than black jerseys, helmets, pants, backflips off hight dives, etc., to win. When Richt first came to UGA the talk was all about how tough the mat drills were, and “finish the drill” was the mantra. He’s a good man, but players have to be afraid to disappoint their coach. It doesn’t seem there is a coach on the staff the players are truly intimidated by. The team has lost it’s edge, because the staff has done the same.

B Davis

November 3rd, 2009
4:41 pm

Understand he basically just does not care.

He makes a good salary and can`t be bothered with getting his hands dirty. Well that is the only way to build a house. One brick at a time and it does involve sweat and dirt.

Given the talent that makes its way to Athens. They should always be the premier team in Georgia and a major regionall power and occasionally a top national team.

Reminds me a lot of Florida State.

The young men he coaches do not make 2 million a year but they are the reason he does.

RG

November 3rd, 2009
4:46 pm

Right on, he needs to start benching these players for making these stupid mistakes and getting the penalites and then they would listen.

GW

November 3rd, 2009
4:48 pm

Very good points without having to fight through your usual BS. I think after the Hawaii Sugar Bowl, #2 ranking and most of the players returning for 08 the coaches got raises and complacency set in. Add in the soft defensive philosophy present since 05 and injuries affecting how the team practiced it quickly spiraled downward. It will be tough to get an edge back without at least a total overhaul of the defensive staff. Coach Richt also seems very distracted. No clear thinking major college coach would have pulled the uniform switch so soon after the Alabama beatdown and against Florida to boot.

UGA75

November 3rd, 2009
4:49 pm

The UGA players have quit twice this year at Fla and Tenn, something no UGA players have ever done. That starts at the top, you are dead on about their not being a fire in the belly of the players because there isn’t any urgency from the coaches. Does anyone think Erk would have allowed his defense to quit? No way, he’d have found someone who wouldn’t quit whether they were the supposedly best players or not. Winners sometime lose, but winners never quit, not in football or in life.

bob horner stayed hurt

November 3rd, 2009
4:49 pm

Great read Jeff…great post GSU Eagle 91…I totally agree..CMR is a great guy..a father figure to his players…(that doesn’t believe in spankings..)

SWFLJacket

November 3rd, 2009
4:49 pm

I think Chan Gailey is available, if your serious about making changes.

mdawg

November 3rd, 2009
4:50 pm

i don’t know if i agree with all of it. Paterno, Bryant, Bowden, Dooley. all guys that stayed in one place and were great successes. did they win every year? no. will FL win every year after Teabag leaves? we’ll see.

jimmy

November 3rd, 2009
4:54 pm

great article

Yadro

November 3rd, 2009
4:55 pm

Oh Oh Oh, if anybody is interested they are showing the Florida Georgia game on channel 613 on Direct TV.

IslandDawg

November 3rd, 2009
4:55 pm

Spot on Jeff…your best effort so far, couldn’t agree with you more except that I think that “the tension” is FINALLY being felt. But it has taken more than concerned fans to vent, it has needed the media to get on board too in order for that to happen!

Matt B.

November 3rd, 2009
4:55 pm

Jeff, who is the editor for these blogs? Myriad typos.

Paul H

November 3rd, 2009
4:55 pm

All these dumb personal fouls suggest the players aren’t afraid of the consequences. Speaking of tweaking, where was the “tweaking” when we had a week off to prepare for Florida? 2 personal fouls in the first 6 minutes of the game and a defense that got burned on Florida’s first drive.

BB

November 3rd, 2009
4:56 pm

GA Dawgs, get you act together. You have the barners coming up and need to beat them down. Don’t get like we were under Shula. Mark Richt is a good coach, he has proven that with two SEC championships. Shula let our players walk all over him, no discipline. Come on and get tough

SOUTHGADAWG88

November 3rd, 2009
4:56 pm

The lack of top notch instate talent is what ails this team.

Andre "Pulpwood" Smith

November 3rd, 2009
4:58 pm

Jeff, this “you have to be a hard ass to be a successful football coach” meme is tired and is the laziest type of journalism. Yes, there are problems with the Georgia program, but they don’t stem from the fact that Richt is a nice guy. Sure, Saban and Meyer are hard asses, but how do you explain the success of Mack Brown or Pete Carroll?

Further, you base your observations on what you see at press conferences. How often are you in the locker room? At team meetings? I know coaches that scream and yell make your job easier, but give this thing a rest.

Carlton Powell

November 3rd, 2009
4:59 pm

No question, you’re on point, Jeff. The entire program has lost it’s edge. And, when you’ve lost you’re edge, it’s time to do as “Cougar” did in “Top Gun,” and turn in your wings. You become a liability to the entire organization/team/others involved. That being said, I wonder if ANY player at UGA ever wonders “did I practice well enough or hard enough this week to play?” I doubt it. Resorting to stupid uniform changes, and gimmicks make the entire organization look like a joke. My impression of UGA over the past two years is that of a weak-minded, physically weak team. They were actually giving the Gators a pretty good game, even after spotting them a couple of scores until they started making all the stupid penalties. I think the most telling indictment of the program is that everyone I know had last Saturday’s game scripted just as it turned out weeks before the game. That’s pitiful. Forcing CMR to rid himself of staff is not a good way to go either. HE needs to understand he’s being ill-served, and make the changes as part of his own decision-making. If he cannot do that, then it is time to “turn in his wings,” and do something else. Pretty simple, actually.

Crime Dog

November 3rd, 2009
4:59 pm

Pay each of the coaches a base salary and then pay them by win next year, maybe that will do something. $3 Million for Richt to be 4-4 is a crime.

joe taxpayer

November 3rd, 2009
5:00 pm

nothing will change. Its going to have to get worse: much worse.

Okefenokee Dawg

November 3rd, 2009
5:00 pm

Remember … It’s a bad football team you can’t drink pretty. Or, something like that.

Bryan G.

November 3rd, 2009
5:01 pm

The sad thing is that I expect him to be like George W. Bush and stay the course….

17 out of 20

November 3rd, 2009
5:01 pm

The Georgia coaches need a big hug from the bulldog fans and a big raise from the AD. They are the best and need to stay together and coaching those dogs for a long time. I love the way they change the color of the uniforms, will pink be next? It is a shade of red you know.

David Jones

November 3rd, 2009
5:01 pm

Question: Do you think anybody in Gainesville or Tuscaloosa feels
“comfortable”? Ever. Or do you believe like I do there is always some
tension in the air? And do you believe like I do that the assistant
coaches who work for Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, and the athletes who
compete for them, always are on edge? There’s never a chance of things
getting stale.

Saban is in year three. Meyer in year five. In 2005, no one was saying
Richt had gotten complacent or had lost an edge. In fact, UGA won the
SEC that year. Neither coach has been at their job long enough to have
hit the complacency problem. If Saban is still at Bama in 2015 or
Meyer at Florida in 2013, let’s see how they are dealing with their
early success.

A better comparison would to be to compare Richt to other active coaches in the 8-10-year range of their job. Especially among the ones who are early successful, is there a drop-off? How did they recover (or did they recover)?

Gatorman

November 3rd, 2009
5:02 pm

The problem is that he has become a CEO. That’s ok if you have great assistants, how long has it been since an assistant has been hired away from UGA. It’s either loyalty to the program or no one is calling them. I think the latter. CMR had become just like his mentor and both are on the hotseat.

bob horner stayed hurt

November 3rd, 2009
5:03 pm

Carlton Powell ….so you’re saying Maverick and Goose really did “slide in to” Cougar’s spot for Top Gun..??? Goose told Iceman is was their’s all along..??

PHPDawg

November 3rd, 2009
5:03 pm

Schultz,

I’m so tired of people saying CMR has no fire. Since when do you have to get mad to have fire. Just because you kick the dog and punch a hole in the wall when you stub your toe doesn’t mean he has to. I’ll take the calm, cool, and quiet confidence he has any day. I respect that. I think most people do. It’s time to cover something else. This is boring.

Jimmy

November 3rd, 2009
5:04 pm

It’s defintely the coaching. I was watching “Inside the Polls” on ESPN this morning and Tom Luginbill was talking about how great Florida WR Riley Cooper has become. They basically showed two clips of Cooper going against DB’s from Arkansas and LSU. In the game winning drive against Arkansas he pushed off on the DB to make a key third down reception. Against LSU he pulled the DB’s jersey so the guy couldnt cover him as effectively. Remember last year one of the Florida DB’s pulling on a UGA WR’s jersey to stop his route so he could get an INT?? Add Brandon Spike’s eye gouging and it all adds up. Lugenbill said that Cooper did these things when the refs could not see because so much action was going on. Spike’s eye gouged at the bottom of the pile where the refs couldnt possibly see. Luginbill was basically bragging on the fact that Cooper has been taught to cheat when the refs can’t see.

These guys are COACHED to cheat.

My point is this; Florida fans, be happy w/ your national champtionships that are earned by coaches who recruit THUGS and teach them to CHEAT. I’ll take Mark Richt and his classy staff who preach family, working hard, and Christianity!

dagnabit

November 3rd, 2009
5:05 pm

Richt deserves a lifetime contract with a 7 million buyout. Come on Jawja and appreciate what you got.

Slim Pickens

November 3rd, 2009
5:09 pm

………Nesbitt for Heisman

gtm

November 3rd, 2009
5:10 pm

Why keep focusing on something so surface-level as how he appears to be handling it? Would it really be any better if he screamed and ranted constantly and got the same results?

Greg Norton is HOT!!!

November 3rd, 2009
5:12 pm

The problem of course is no matter how bad his coaches perform Richt fires none of them and even goes so far as to often defend them of all things! Martinez should have been gone after last season if not earlier…I blame that on Richt. Why is Martinez still here?

Fony Barnfart

November 3rd, 2009
5:14 pm

CMR is an okay guy. Many of the players however are real low lifes; are not coachable, act like thugs on and off the field, show no disclipine. That’s just not my opinion — check the arrest records, yards penalized, etc. UGA need to recruit higher quality people and many in the bulldawg nation need to shut their ignorant pieholes.

Herschel Talker

November 3rd, 2009
5:14 pm

Schultzie:

Great column, as usual. Keep up the great work. Except for on thing:

Why do you say that Richt is a good coach? How could this possibly happen to a good coach? Are you defining a “good coach” by X’s and O’s? Even then, it is dubious the Richt is a good coach. But even if we assume that his X’s and O’s are stellar (based on this time at FSU and early in his UGA tenure), what about the other coaching aspects? I don’t see other “good coaches” (e.g., Saban and Meyer) harping on uniform colors so often. I don’t see other “good coaches” obsessing about ways to motivate their teams when playing their biggest rivals. I don’t see other “good coaches” surrounding themselves with mediocre assistants and then putting up with their obvious mediocrity. I don’t see other “good coaches” having teams that EVERY GAME play without discipline and then go on to tell us in the halftime interview and postgame interview that they are shooting themselves in the foot.

Has it ever dawned on you that Richt’s poor coaching has been covered up in the past by having natural born leaders on his team (e.g., Greene and Pollack) and having assistants who had enough fire to make up for Richt’s lack thereof (e.g., Van Gorder) and that without those, Richt has been exposed as the emperor with no clothes?

So, please tell us, what is it that makes Richt such a good coach, other than your supposed comparison to his predecessors Goff and Donnan (and to tell you the truth, I don’t remember any Donnan team underachieving as badly as UGA has done the last two years, 2000 included)?

Abilene

November 3rd, 2009
5:14 pm

Jeff’s analysis is spot-on. And it all starts and ends with Richt. Richt simply doesn’t have the fire or drive or whatever he had when he came to UGA, and I haven’t seen any indication that he can or will re-ignite that fire. This is a program in decline, and it’s been going down for long enough to recognize that.

Black helmets. What next, will Richt hire a fashion coordinator?

He’s through at UGA. I doubt if anyone has any confidence that Richt can turn things around.

An interested observer

November 3rd, 2009
5:15 pm

Jeff, do you remember the radio guy Beau Bock? . He had an expression about certain teams needing “Grandma Talent”. In other words, they needed so much talent to overcome the poor coaching that a “Grandma” could be coach and they would still win. I think that’s where Richt has been in the last few years. Georgia had so much talent 2-3 years ago , that they overcame the coaching shortcomings. But this year the talent level is down for several reasons and the lack of coaching is showing up. He’s a good man, but maybe he’s best at being an Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach just because of his more laid back personality.

TheItalianDawg

November 3rd, 2009
5:18 pm

Richt assistants are mediocre! do you think Crompton will hang 45 pts on BVG??!!!!!! or Alabama score 31 on him on the 1st half!! or Florida put up 49 pts, or lose to Vandy. BVG is a solid DC he plays chess, understand the game and able to adjust within seconds. his players play physical and hard. Mark Richt must start from scratch if he want to get back on track, he needs to evaluate his assistants and make tough decisions

james

November 3rd, 2009
5:18 pm

All the typical rednecks on this blog aside, this is the best column I’ve read yet on the subject. Well done, Jeff. Nice to have a writer articulate the frustration rather than lazily fan the flames of frustration with attempted wit.

Abilene

November 3rd, 2009
5:20 pm

Yeah, and we keep getting back to the kind of players that Richt recruits. You would think that he would understand that there is a connection between arrest records, lack of character, poor academics, penalties, and quitting when they’re down. Why can’t he see that and stop recruiting illiterate hooligans?

Hank

November 3rd, 2009
5:24 pm

Let me put it to you this way: If Steve Spurrier had the talent Georgia does at South Carolina they would playing for a National CHAMPIONSHIP. Betcha the “ole ball coach” would have the Dawgs playing for championships. But feel free to keep the nice guys around. I love it.

U-no

November 3rd, 2009
5:24 pm

Winning just enough to keep the alumni off your back is a disease that can affect any coach. Everyone would like to think they can go undefeated, but to do it takes hard work (beyond the norm), a commitment to excellence and discipline that can be communicated throughout the entire organization.

CMR has not communicated the values to the players that would inspire them to improve, on their own. Staying later, after practice is over to work on getting better, even if you are already pretty good is something that can be caught, if not taught. The growing reputation that UGA has this year of being a bunch of thugs is something that should warrant great concern from those even above CMR’s head. Thugs don’t win championships. Disciplined, well coached, focused players who have a commitment to playing as a team win championships. And, many times do it undefeated for the year.

Winning can become contagious, but it also can become dangerous if the reputation is expected to win games and not the hard work it takes to back the reputation. Smack talk is fine, as long as you keep winning. But, the level and intensity of the play on the field should be what the opposition should be concerned about, as opposed to figuring out how to overcome your reputation.

Win. Everything else takes care of itself. Gimmicks don’t win… at least consistently. It is a real sign of trouble when a coach, whoever he is, begins to draw on some new fashion statement to motivate the players to do what should come naturally… which is win.

95Dawg

November 3rd, 2009
5:24 pm

Jeff: Excellent column. I really think you hit it on the head.

A big thing that Meyer and Saban have going for them is I think the players and coaches are genuinely scared of these guys. Their intensity level is palpable even when watching them on TV. Coach Richt probably has that gear (who knows), but we sure as hell never see it. I certainly hope he is a better speaker/leader than he comes across as on his god awful radio show and Tuesday media conferences.

I know most of that is probably just the calm persona he wants to project, but I sure as hell would love to hear him for once say something other than “Well, we’re fightin….. Things just didn’t go our way….. We were in it there and had a good drive going before we had the ball intercepted…”

Fear is a great motivator regardless of what industry or line of work you are in. Most companies use fear tactics to motivate employees and weed out those that cannot produce up to par or who have become too complacent in their jobs.

Fear will properly motivate some and it may alienate others. The ones that don’t have the stomach for it need to go and find something else to do with their careers.

In this economy with people getting canned/laid off left and right you have to make yourself indispensable to your employer. If not, then you need to go. How many of these guys on Richt’s staff are indispensable? Rodney Garner for one…. Who else???? Probably none of them.

If anyone listened to Coach Richt’s radio show yesterday the first caller did an excellent job of voicing most of our collective concerns. He basically said that UGA deserves to have the best coaches working for the institution and that Coach Richt needs to put personal feelings aside and do what is right for the program.

Coach Richt must have been fuming, but the caller was right on the $$$.

Fony Barnfart

November 3rd, 2009
5:25 pm

I agree with Abilene. CMR seems to be recruiting based on raw football ability rather than looking at the character of the individual.

Supes

November 3rd, 2009
5:27 pm

Jon Gruden will be available after UGA goes 6-6 again in 2010 and CMR and his “pals” are out of town.

Hank

November 3rd, 2009
5:28 pm

17 out of 20

November 3rd, 2009
5:28 pm

Georgia people need to be satisfied with the 8 to 10 wins that Richt gives them. Georgia has not won anything since Zook has been gone.