ATHENS – It’s probably best that we start with the latest indication of Mark Richt’s future employment.
“Mark’s going to be our coach in 2011,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “I haven’t seen anything in 11 games that would lead me to any other decision. I’d be stunned.”
The thinking is, it’s always best to end such declarations with even the smallest of escape routes. Because if for some reason Georgia were to lose to Tech 42-10 Saturday, finish the season 5-7, not go to a bowl game and later that evening 17 players find themselves in handcuffs for whatever reason – well, let’s just say you want the escape route.
But Richt will be back. And he should be back.
Let’s be clear about something. There are significant problems at Georgia. There are problems that may not go away under Richt.
The team has disappointed and underachieved. The Bulldogs are 7-9 in SEC games in the last two seasons. That nearly equals their conference loss total in the previous four years (22-10).
Celebrated recruiting classes haven’t turned into celebrated teams, an indictment of the coaching. Changes in Richt’s staff have not significantly improved the defense. Physically and emotionally, the team too often still seems overmatched by good teams.
But we should judge coaches like we judge athletes – in fact, like we judge all people. Life is a series of credits and debits. Mark Richt has built up a lot of credits. He deserves a chance to fix this.
He won two SEC titles in his first five seasons. I know. That’s so yesterday. As even McGarity joked when alluding to the fact the program’s off-field issues have quieted somewhat: “You’re only as good as the last few minutes.”
It’s the same on the field, especially in the SEC. When Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Les Miles are combining to win four straight BCS titles, and Gene Chizik is undefeated at Auburn and – cover your eyes – even Mississippi State seems to have passed you by with Dan Mullen, nobody in the fan base is talking about that great 2005 season.
The more likely response is: Fire the coach.
But dial it back for a moment. Richt was 82-22 overall and 44-15 through his first eight seasons in Athens. There were some bad performances in 2006, hiccups in 2007 and the smack downs by Alabama and Florida in 2008 that quickly extinguished any national title hopes. But the bottom line numbers are too overwhelming to ignore so quickly.
McGarity hasn’t been in his job for long. He said he understands “that everyone is frustrated.” He added, “The bottom line is we’re 5-6 and nobody is happy with that. Nobody is pleased, and nobody should be.”
But he has spent the past several weeks analyzing various aspects of the program, particularly since the Colorado game – “That’s when things began to slow down for me,” he said — and doesn’t believe a change is warranted.
“We’re dealing with a team that’s competitive every week,” he said. “I know people don’t like to hear phrases like, ‘We’re competitive’ and, ‘We’re giving it everything we’ve got.’ Trust me, I get that. We all want different results. But I also see a program that is not in disarray.
“The bottom line is we need to close games better and I also believe this is a critical recruiting class for us. I feel like there are a lot more positive signs than negative signs, even though it hasn’t shown up in the win category.”
McGarity and Richt have a standing meeting every Friday. McGarity said the two have a great and open relationship. “We’re brutally honest with each other,” he said.
He declined to discuss specifics of their discussions but said: “We both want the same thing. The question is how we get there.”
It’s justified for anybody who follows the Georgia program to be upset about the record, about the loss in Colorado, about the fact the team hasn’t been a player in the SEC East for two years. It’s justified to wonder about direction. But Richt deserves another season to figure it out. His resume has earned him that.