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.