There’s a belief Damon Evans’ fall will render Mark Richt’s job less secure. For the life of me, I can’t imagine how.
Evans was apparently seen by some as an ardent Richt defender, but was he really? It was Evans who responded to a question posed by this correspondent via e-mail last October, saying he had “some concerns about where we are at this point in the season.” He also expressed “total confidence” in Richt’s capacity to “properly evaluate our team, address concerns and prepare the right path that will direct us back into the position we all want to be in — competing for championships.”
That seemed, at least to me, a nuanced statement: Not pleased but not at all panicky, expectant of improvement ASAP. I didn’t read it as anything approaching a blind-faith endorsement of the head coach. And I would remind you that the same athletics director issued a recent challenge to his charges after Georgia finished second — second, please note — in the SEC all-sport standings. Said Evans:
We are not where we want to be nationally. I think our program should be much higher than it is. This is probably one of the toughest years from a competitive standpoint that we’ve faced in quite some time.
At the SEC meetings last month, Evans said of Richt:
“Mark is a good football coach. I’m glad he’s our football coach. He’s had a great track record here … I think when they see a little adversity, people want to jump on it and attack it. There is no need for that because he’s not on a hot seat. Mark is in a good place with us.”
I read that not as a he-can-coach-here-as-long-as-he-likes burst of effusion but as standard operating procedure. (I’m unaware of any AD who has ever said of his coach: “Know what? He is on the hot seat.”)
Let’s recall: Evans didn’t hire Richt; he inherited him. The relationship between the two appeared neither exceptionally chummy nor uncommonly chilly. Evans wasn’t Richt’s mentor in the way Bobby Bowden and Vince Dooley are; Evans was his boss. I never expected Evans to fire Richt after one lesser season; at the same time, I never thought Evans would be one who ardently supported his highest-profile coach through several lesser seasons.
Administratively, Evans was a pragmatist. He wasn’t an ex-coach, and ex-coaches tend to be easier on current coaches. (Ex-coaches, like many current coaches, find reasons to make excuses: Injuries, scheduling, bad luck.) Evans was ready to dump Dennis Felton — whom he also didn’t hire — before the coach won the SEC basketball tournament in 2008, and even that seeming breakthrough bought Felton only 10 more months.
After six years on the job, Evans was also secure in his job performance: He’d presided over a department that was the second-most profitable in the nation, and he had reason to feel buoyed by his decisions to can Felton and hire Mark Fox. I submit that an entrenched Evans would have been quicker to cool on Richt — or any coach — than an AD new to the position.
And that’s what Georgia will have. New ADs are traditionally slow to make major decisions. (Dan Radakovich, who fired Chan Gailey 21 months after taking over Georgia Tech, is an exception.) New ADs prefer to take time to assess, which only makes sense. Put simply, I can’t see Greg McGarity or Carla Williams recommending that Richt be fired if he goes 7-5 again this fall. But I could have seen Evans issuing a statement of extreme displeasure.
Not many people can be said to have gained in Evans’ ouster, but Richt is surely chief among them. Bulldog Nation has just been buffeted and embarrassed, and if there’s one thing this famously placid coach isn’t apt to do, it’s cause a stir.