It’s interesting to see how Mark Richt’s way of trying to motivate his players after a couple of rivalry losses last year contrasts with how the coaches of those teams approached their games with Georgia.
After the 2007 Dogs beat the Gators in a game that featured a very un-Richtian appeal to raw emotion in the infamous end-zone celebration, Urban Meyer made beating Georgia the keystone of his 2008 Florida team’s preseason preparations. His players had to do 42 reps on every weight station as a reminder of the Dogs’ 42 points scored in 2007, and they had to do 188 sit-ups, push-ups and crunches during workouts to drive home the memory of Knowshon Moreno’s 188 yards against the Gators.
From the very day he became Georgia Tech’s new head coach, Paul Johnson made no bones about the importance of beating Georgia. He may be acting now like it was all the players and alumni that made a big deal of it, but at his introduction as the Jackets’ new coach, Johnson said that the game against the Dogs “is a game Georgia Tech needs to win. I embrace that.” And from that point on Johnson harped constantly on beating Georgia and made it the game the Jackets keyed on.
But Richt has learned a thing or two about motivational ploys. When they work, they’re hailed as brilliant, but they can bite you in the tail as well. It’s a fine line for a head coach to tread. You want to motivate your players and your fan base without making it a distraction for your players. The first “Blackout” against Auburn in 2007 was perfect. But last year, it got out of hand the week before the Alabama game. It’s one thing to set your fans afire, and the 2008 Blackout certainly did that with the Sanford Stadium crowd. But Richt let the Blackout become the overwhelming focus of the week, including among his players, and the result was a team that appeared to have peaked emotionally before they ever took the field.
This year, Richt isn’t letting his team forget about last year’s losses to Florida and Tech. As both the Athens Banner-Herald and the Bulldogs Blog have noted, posters with the scores of the games and pictures of the opposing players celebrating have been put up in the team meeting rooms at Butts-Mehre. “Do you remember the feeling?” the posters ask.
At least publicly, though, Richt isn’t zeroing in on the 2009 games against the Gators and Jackets. He’s sticking to the old one-game-at-a-time mantra and is talking up the season opener against Oklahoma State. As he told the ABH, “Right now I’m to the point where I have to begin focusing on the most important thing, and that’s the first game. That’s kind of where my mind’s going. Not to say we don’t look at the big picture, because we do most of the offseason. [But] if I address the team in any way, we’re talking about Game No. 1.”
Still the message on the walls is clear: Rivalry losses aren’t acceptable at UGA.