ATHENS – Nobody is going to admit now what tight end Orson Charles acknowledged two weeks ago: “Our first two games will make or break our season.”
Because when a team is 0-2 after two perceived make-or-break games, players and coaches must nonetheless publicly cling to a series of improbabilities. Otherwise the rest of the season morphs into a three-month death march.
But reality is that it will take a miraculous finishing kick for the Bulldogs to have a successful season and possibly save coach Mark Richt’s job. What does that amount to? Try 9-1 in the next 10 games.
That may seem extreme. But Richt’s contract situation, the backdrop of the past two-plus seasons, the demands of coaching in the SEC, the divided fan base and a cryptic comment at a recent athletic-board meeting indicates if the Bulldogs do anything less than win the SEC East, which may take a 9-1 finish, Georgia may make a change.
Richt insisted Tuesday, “There’s not a cloud hanging over us” after losses to Boise State and South Carolina. Maybe he just hasn’t gone outside.
He said the attitude has been positive since Saturday’s 45-42 loss to South Carolina, adding, “If the game went the other way, then Georgia’s the front-runner in the East and everybody starts thinking about the positive possibilities.”
The problem being that Georgia didn’t win, and the SEC isn’t about “ifs.” The game actually just reaffirmed what many have suspected. The Dogs have talent. They can compete with most teams when they play hard and, for the most part, smart. But they seem to have forgotten how to win these kinds of games, either because of a turnover, a special-teams breakdown or a penalty.
Richt would prefer that the rest of the season not be about his job status. It’s not exactly a conducive atmosphere for wins and pep rallies. But it’s reality.
• The contract: Richt will have two years left on an eight-year deal after this season. That’s basically death in recruiting unless Georgia extends the contract, probably by at least two to three years. To not extend the contract also would set up the extreme rarity, particularly in the SEC, of a coach potentially entering his third straight “hot seat” season and working on a contract that had not been amended since after the 2007 season (when Richt received a raise).
• The schedule: Every remaining game is winnable. To put it another way, there are no “good” losses left. Florida? Maybe. But how would Richt dropping to 2-9 against the Gators go over with athletic director Greg McGarity, school president Michael Adams and the fan base? Losing to Florida means losing tiebreakers to both the Gators and South Carolina in the East. Beating Florida could salvage division hopes, but only with a strong finish.
• The record: McGarity probably doesn’t have a specific number of wins and losses in mind. But let’s look at this logically. Going 9-1 the rest of the way means a 9-3 finish, while 8-2 means finishing 8-4. Two losses mean the Dogs probably will have lost to Florida again. And/or Georgia Tech (making Paul Johnson 2-2 in the series). Or Mississippi State (for the second straight year). Or Tennessee (to Derek Dooley).
• The backdrop: It’s significant that at a recent UGA Athletic Association meeting, board member Tommy Lawhorne stated, “There are many of us who are really concerned about the status of the football program. Yet we have confidence in Greg McGarity to get us where we want to be.” Note that he referred to McGarity and not Richt.
Winning this week over Coastal Carolina, an FCS (formerly Division I-AA) school, won’t change the important numbers. If you take out wins over FCS (Tennessee Tech, Idaho State) and Sun Belt (Louisiana-Lafayette) schools, Richt is 11-14 overall since 2009. He’s 6-10 in the past 16 SEC games and 2-10 against ranked teams. To go 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the SEC the rest of the way is possible. But it would be a stark contrast to what we’ve been witnessing.
Richt said the South Carolina game “could’ve gone either way. Did we improve tremendously? There’s no doubt about that. I left the field sick about losing but encouraged about the team.”
Improvement is good. But winning saves jobs. Richt has left himself no room for error.
By Jeff Schultz