Fan talk: UGA’s playcalling, Richt’s future and more

Mark Richt says playcalling is "overrated." (Curtis Compton / AJC)

Mark Richt says playcalling is "overrated." (Curtis Compton / AJC)

A lot of the fan talk going on this week centers on the intertwined futures of Mark Richt and the UGA football program. Seems like a good time to check out some Junkyard Mail …

Bobby Sharp writes: ESPN analyst Todd McShay dismissed Georgia’s offense the other day as “vanilla.” I have to say I agree with him in the sense that Mike Bobo has to be the most predictable playcaller in the SEC, if not all of college football. If the Dawgs stumble again, do you think there’s any chance Mark Richt might take the playcalling duties back?

I’ve certainly had my share of complaints about Bobo, but I think McShay is overstating his case when he calls Georgia’s offense vanilla. The Dogs’ offense isn’t gimmicky but when it’s executed properly it’s capable of covering a lot of territory pretty quickly. Too quickly, sometimes. The Dogs also generally have been pretty prolific points-wise under Bobo and, in fact, statistically have been above what they did when Richt was calling the plays. For the most part, defense is why Georgia has lost games the past few seasons, not offense. But, yes, Bobo can be predictable and frustrating as a playcaller. Between the 20-yard lines, he’s great, but for some reason as soon as the Dogs get into the red zone he has a tendency to quit doing what got them there and try something different. It’s as if he doesn’t trust that what he’s doing will continue to work. As for Richt taking back the playcalling, I’d say there’s little chance of that. I was at a UGA Alumni Association breakfast in Athens last week at which the head coach was asked whether he “missed” calling plays. And you could tell the fan asking was wishing Richt would take back the playcalling. After praising Bobo’s work, Richt grudgingly conceded that sometimes he misses calling plays, but he noted that he is still involved in the development of the offensive game plan and doesn’t see any need to revert to the previous arrangement. As he put it, “Playcalling is overrated. Most of the time, it’s not the plays, it’s the execution.” I’d say that was certainly the case in the South Carolina game.

But then again, Russ Akins writes: The remarks made by Bobo and Richt are very familiar to Alabama fans during the Mike Shula era — “execution” is and was always the excuse. This is something that concerns me because it is the coach’s job to figure out what “works” and what will not work against defenses. I can tell you that it is obvious that execution is important, that is a fact, but the best coaches put their best players in a position to make plays. Is [Aaron] Murray not the best player? Is this approach the best for him? Just a thought. I am a Bama fan but live in Georgia so hate to see so much of the same things now that plagued Alabama and Shula. Richt is way better than that.

That’s the thing about college athletics. You can’t fire the players (well, not unless you’re Nick Saban), so when things aren’t working the coach must take the heat. But, as you point out, that’s not unfair.

Robert Waller writes: If Richt were let go, who would be your dream coach to replace him out of the coaches who are presently available or who would realistically leave their school for Georgia?

I don’t really have a “dream” candidate and, frankly, I hope Richt is able to get back on track and keep his job. I don’t really want to watch Georgia go through another coaching transition. But if he doesn’t, I’d imagine the short list of candidates Greg McGarity would assemble would include UGA alum Kirby Smart, the defensive coordinator at Bama, and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, who McGarity knows from his time as offensive coordinator at Florida. Those are the two names I hear bandied about the most. Smart probably would keep the 3-4 defense, which would save a year of growing pains like we went through last season, but I’m not sure how much credit he should get for the Crimson Tide’s D with Nick Saban looking over his shoulder, or how he’d do as a head coach. Mullen probably would want to switch to the spread offense, which requires a specific type of quarterback (like Tim Tebow or Cam Newton) and flounders without one (John Brantley). As I’ve said before, I’m not sure Aaron Murray could take the pounding a spread QB gets, though Christian LeMay might flourish in it. Some folks would like to see Georgia take a run at TCU head coach Gary Patterson, who has a defensive background and was 2009’s national coach of the year, but I’m not sure how realistic that is.

Matt Cafaro writes: Ask yourself this: would Nick Saban or Urban Meyer have put up with inadequate coaches/coordinators such as Willie Martinez, John Jancek or Mike Bobo as long as Richt has? Now, I know Mike Bobo is a good QB coach, but he is a tire fire as an OC. Soft Willie oversaw the demolition of what was once a disciplined and aggressive defensive unit built by Brian VanGorder, and the list goes on and on. It all goes back to accountability. For far too long at Georgia, there has been NONE when it comes to the coaching staff under Richt. … It’s time for Richt to go.

I’ll agree Richt should have pulled the trigger earlier on Martinez. As for Bobo, as I noted above, he can drive you crazy with his inconsistency, but Georgia’s offensive production hasn’t dropped since Richt handed the playcalling over to him. Still, overall the program definitely has faltered over the past three seasons. Is that reason enough to make a change and start over with someone new as head coach? Right now, I’d say no. Ask me again at the end of the season.

From bluegrass country, Dawginlex writes: Don’t you believe that Greg McGarity has been clear on his plan for Coach Richt? Week to week evaluation. Two more losses or a loss to Ole Miss and he announces that this will be Richt’s final year? Don’t you think Richt finishes the year regardless but at some point, depending on the results, the announcement might get made and the public search for a new coach begins?

No, I don’t think McGarity would treat Mark Richt that way and I don’t think Richt would want to be a “lame duck” coach for most of a season. I also don’t think installing an interim coach in the midst of a season would do the program any good, and it might send it into a tailspin. Certainly it wouldn’t do anything to help with the uncertainties recruits might be feeling. No, if Richt is going to get fired, I think it will be after the regular season ends.

Scott Hall writes a long and impassioned defense of Georgia’s head coach as a good man who UGA should be proud to have at the helm of its football program. He winds up thusly: As a UGA alumnus and football fan, I can’t imagine a better role model for a large group of young men ages 18-22 than Mark Richt. In my opinion, people’s lives are more important than football scores. A classic vitriol against UGA (as well as many other teams) is “those guys/that school has no class.” If we choose to fire Mark Richt because of that reason, perhaps those critics are right.

I can’t argue with Richt’s virtues as a man. But this is big-time college football we’re talking about, and at some point good deeds and the high moral ground aren’t enough. For years, Richt also was successful on the field. I think he could be again, but if he doesn’t get enough wins this season, he might not get the chance.

Which brings us to Andy Bell, who writes: Jeff Schultz thinks Richt can only afford to lose one more game and keep his job. What’s your take?

Only McGarity knows for sure if there’s a “magic” number of wins for Richt, but I believe he could lose two more, for an overall record of 8-4, if one of the wins is over Florida. On the other hand, 8-4 probably wouldn’t cut it if he lost to both the Gators and Tech (as Jim Donnan found out). Can Richt survive if he loses to a first-year coach (again) in Jacksonville? Yes, but probably only if he wins all the other games and finishes 9-3.

Clark Colwell writes: Bill, your blog on the Dawgs is about the only one I regularly follow. You are at least realistic about the state of affairs with our beloved Bulldogs. But I think there are some questions about last [Saturday's] game that no one seems to be asking and they need to asked. So here goes. Is it possible that most of the mistakes the offense made were because players were trying too hard? Maybe they felt the pressure of trying to save their coach’s job and were pushing too hard to win? And that pressure didn’t come from the coaches or staff but from us, the fans and alumni? While blogs and the Internet are great ways of getting news out and sharing ideas, all too often they serve to blow things completely out of proportion. Maybe the problem with the Bulldogs isn’t that the university owes us, the fans and alumni, a better coaching staff or team. Maybe we owe it to those players out on the field playing with all their heart to save their coach to be better fans and stop crucifying the coaches and players for every little mistake they make. Just a thought.

I don’t think there’s any doubt Murray sometimes tries to force passes when he shouldn’t or holds on to the ball too long or tries to manufacture something when he should just take a sack, but I doubt that’s attributable to him worrying about his head coach’s job. Likewise, the mistakes made by offensive linemen and so on. Mistakes happen a lot in college football, and the Dogs were making them long before Richt’s seat got hot. I will agree with you, though, that the 24/7 media environment of today makes a head coach’s job tougher. Vince Dooley got to slog through several disappointing seasons before he got back on top and won a national championship. Pressure from media, fans and alumni make that a tougher call for an athletic director these days. As Dooley noted in a recent interview with Athlon Sports, “There certainly seems to be less patience today than ever before — and there wasn’t a lot of patience back then anyway. Nevertheless, the coaches are getting paid a heck of a lot more than they ever did before so the fans are more demanding because of it.”

Bryan Ingram writes: Please spread the word. Richt coached a great game [against South Carolina]. We SHOULDN’T fire him.

If a loss can ever win a coach brownie points with the fan base, I think Georgia’s showing against the Gamecocks was probably it. The opposite was the case in the miserable showing the Dogs made against Boise State. If the team continues to improve and remains competitive, I think that will factor into McGarity’s decision as much as how many wins and losses Richt has at the end of the season.

Lon writes: Bill, there is no denial that we are not where we want to be, and I hate losing as bad as anyone on this earth. But I hope our fans support our players, will give [the coaches] and the players time to work this out and respect them as young men that play for our TEAM. It is embarrassing to see so-called fans act with no class. This is not the example we should be setting and I can only imagine what our recruits and those considering coming to UGA think. We do have problems, but MR is certainly better in every way than his predecessors Goff and Donnan. I enjoy reading your column.

Thanks, Lon. I’m not sure how much of a factor fan dissent is when an elite recruit is deciding where to go to school and play. I think success on the field probably has more to do with it, though a losing season didn’t seem to derail Richt’s “Dream Team” push last year. Still, if at the end of this season Richt’s future still looks murky and the fan base is divided, that might do more to scare off some athletes than a griping fan base. I’ll agree, there’s something to be said for spending your energy cheering your team on rather than bemoaning the coaching.

D. Keith Gettmann writes: Bill, I am a Tech fan but have two children from UGA (one graduate and one graduating in May) so I watch as many games as I can. In looking at both lines, they appeared to be puffy fat, not muscular. Has this coaching staff put too much emphasis on 300-plus linemen and not enough on being in shape so that they can gun it for 60 solid minutes?

I’m betting you probably don’t have one of those “UGA Dad” decals on your car’s back window, but I congratulate you on taking an interest in your kids’ school. As for your point, ideally, you want ’em big as well as in great shape. Georgia’s defense definitely did look gassed in the third quarter against Boise’s hurry-up offense and they seemed to wear down some against Marcus Lattimore in the fourth quarter Saturday, so the verdict is still out on whether the Dogs’ revamped conditioning program is paying off.

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352 comments Add your comment

Carl Gump

September 22nd, 2011
9:48 am

Any other big time programs (Bama, Fla, etc.) trying to hire Bozo away from UGA? Didn’t think so.

Carl Gump

September 22nd, 2011
9:48 am

There’s a reason why.