We don’t need to get into any of that silly “hot seat” talk about Mark Richt, a man who has averaged 10 wins a year in his nine years at UGA. I think it’s instructive that those stories usually emanate from writers in Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. Some of these folks cite “widespread” concern about the state of the program within the Bulldog Nation, but from what I’ve observed more often than not the talk about the need for a new coach at Georgia is mainly confined to a handful of anonymous Internet trolls.
It is a fair statement, though, that just about nobody at UGA or in Dogs fandom found last year’s 8-5 record satisfying, and that includes Richt himself. In fact, he was so unsatisfied that he fired three of his staff members, including one of his closest friends.
But what faces Richt is more than just coming back from one relatively disappointing season. As the Chattanooga Times-Free Press pointed out recently, while Richt got off to a very fast start in Athens, his two SEC championship trophies “are beginning to gather dust in a league now dominated by Alabama and Florida.”
It’s particularly the situation with Florida, our main SEC East rival, that rankles. A couple of particularly disheartening losses in the past couple of years dramatically increased the frustration already there from the Gators’ domination of the series over the past two decades and Urban Meyer bringing two BCS national championship trophies to Gainesville.
But Richt is competing not just with Meyer, but also with the Mark Richt of 2001-2005.
Vince Dooley summed it up nicely in the Times-Free Press when he said Richt set a high standard of success for himself. “Once the bar is set that high, then the expectations go right along with that, and anything less than that is judged by what happened last year or the year before. It’s about expectations, and expectations are built on success.”
Back in Dooley’s day, a couple of conference championships was more than enough to tide a coach over through a down cycle. Nowadays, you go four years without winning the conference or underachieve compared with expectations, even if you have winning seasons, and media types start speculating about how warm your seat is.
I don’t think most UGA supporters believe Richt needs to be on the hot seat. As for those folks who would entertain the idea of dumping the third-most-successful active coach among major programs at the prospect of maybe getting the latest fast-rising assistant to have created a buzz, well, they are talking about taking a big gamble.
Richt has been a consistent winner at Georgia, and he’s done it with class.
It’s all about perception, though, and the toughest challenge facing Richt is matching that guy in Gainesville and the younger version of himself.
I don’t have any doubt he’s up to the task.