It’s not easy to restart a program, but UGA’s Richt just might

How 'bout these young Dawgs? Isaiah Crowell on Signing Day. (AP photo by Mike Haskey)

How 'bout these young Dawgs? Isaiah Crowell on Signing Day. (AP photo by Mike Haskey)

Hoover, Ala. — His program, figuratively if not literally, was headed south. “Georgia had declined in record and in how people nationally perceived our program,” Mark Richt said. “I realized that.”

That was important. Realization that you’re going wrong is the first move toward making things go right again. But such knowledge isn’t always the precursor to change. Fact is, it’s harder to recapture momentum than to build it in the first place.

“You can get it back,” said Richt, speaking before his appearance before the full body of the SEC media here Thursday. (These glitzy Media Days are like the Oscars in that there’s a pre-show for selected local and national scribes.) “There’s positive momentum around our program right now. There’s a sense of excitement. Anticipation is very high.”

He’s right. There is. Over the winter, Georgia went from being the team that couldn’t score a touchdown against Central Florida to the program that assembled a recruiting Dream Team. And here’s quarterback Aaron Murray after seeing the heralded freshmen in summer workouts: “I wasn’t sure if they were going to be that good, but they’re definitely as good as advertised. Seven or eight of them could start right now.”

For all the speculation that Richt must win big or be gone, there’s no sense, as Richt himself said, “of gloom and doom.” This team thinks it can win the SEC East. (More than a few observers, this one included, would agree.) This program has overridden the grim reality of an 8-5 season followed by 6-7 … at least for now.

Here we pause to assess reality. Tennessee won consecutive SEC championships and the 1998 BCS title; a decade later, Phillip Fulmer was pushed aside to make room for, ahem, Lane Kiffin. Florida State finished in the top five 14 seasons running but not once after 2000, which is why Bobby Bowden was jostled into retirement. Having suffered four losing seasons in five years, Penn State has since had three 11-win seasons — but that was in the Big Ten, not the SEC.

In the SEC, everything is accelerated. Terry Bowden won his first 20 games at Auburn and resigned after coaching 45 more. Tommy Tuberville, who succeeded Bowden, went undefeated in 2004 and was gone in 2008. David Cutcliffe went 10-3 at Ole Miss in 2003; the next year he got fired.

The exceptions: Bear Bryant had six-win seasons at Alabama in 1969 and 1970 but won eight of the next nine SEC titles; Vince Dooley went 5-6 in 1977 and 6-5 in 1979 but was 43-4-1 over the next four seasons. Bryant’s turnaround came when he began to recruit black players; Dooley’s came when he signed Herschel Walker.

If there’s a surge coming at Georgia, it will likewise be tied to recruiting. The Dream Team, center Ben Jones said, “was the turning point we needed. The juice is back.”

Said Richt: “The recruiting class did give us momentum, and [there was momentum] even in the class itself. So-and-so would jump on, and then so-and-so, and there was a climax at the end with Isaiah [Crowell, the Columbus tailback] and [JUCO nose tackle Jonathan] Jenkins.”

There’s another component to G-Buzz 2011, and it’s a function of Richt being bold. Opening against Boise State is a considered risk — the Bulldogs might well lose, and there’d go your buzz — that had to be taken. “That game would jolt you back into the consciousness of the college football world,” he said, and the coach is milking it as feverishly as an ambidextrous dairy farmer. (Five seconds into his opening statement to the main media body, Richt spoke the words “Boise State.”)

In Athens on Wednesday, Richt stage-managed the unveiling of the Nike-styled Pro Combat uniforms the team will sport against Boise. He pretended to throw a fit when Murray and cornerback Brandon Boykin didn’t show up — the coach even threw his notepad — only to have the two players walk into the room in full (top-secret) regalia. “There’s excitement over our uniforms,” Richt said.

If Georgia loses to Boise and then to South Carolina the next week, excitement will yield to raging speculation over how Kirby Smart will fare as the Bulldogs’ head coach in 2012. In his pre-briefing briefing, Richt was reminded by Ivan Maisel of ESPN that Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins once said, “No matter how pretty a woman is, there’s somebody somewhere who’s tired of her.”

Richt laughed out loud. Then he said, “I know where you’re going with this. We’ll see how pretty we look at the end of the season.”

The guess here that they’ll look pretty darn good. The guess is that Richt will do what demonstrably great coaches have failed to do: He’ll execute a mid-course correction and take Georgia back to the top of the SEC East.

By Mark Bradley

239 comments Add your comment

stevie zero

July 21st, 2011
11:37 am

stevie zero

July 21st, 2011
11:43 am

todd grantham

July 21st, 2011
11:44 am

he might, he just might

sdidst

July 21st, 2011
11:45 am

first – thwg

JYD

July 21st, 2011
11:45 am

todd grantham

July 21st, 2011
11:47 am

Mark, please tell me the new uni’s dont look like grambling.

ScoutDawg

July 21st, 2011
11:48 am

Everyone is going to hate it when Richt rights the ship.

todd grantham

July 21st, 2011
11:48 am

i think CMR WILL be demonstrably great if he turns this around. if not, then selah.

Somewhere over the Dwayne Bowe

July 21st, 2011
11:49 am

I understand the optimism from the coaches, players, and fans. It wouldn’t be fun if hope didn’t spring eternal. The problem is that Richt was saying all the same stuff last year. Every coach says it.

Plus, his Dream Team reflected a lower than average (over the last ten years) haul if you believe the rankings.

Chuck

July 21st, 2011
11:49 am

wow are you and mr secret lovers? lost your top 2 wide receivers, one the best in the game. lost your top 2 rushers and the 3rd best sits out against a top 10 team. Also lost a couple of OL and 2 key defenders. Any other rational thinking person looks at that and says yikes. Not uga homers. As stewart mandel said, the most delusional fan base in the country.

Just Me

July 21st, 2011
11:51 am

Just not buying it yet. Mix all the UGA Koolaid you want, but don’t get drunk on it yet.

DawginLex

July 21st, 2011
11:52 am

Richt really looks like he is disgusted with where things are but also has the look of someone who knows he has something coming that is going to be really good.

Steve O

July 21st, 2011
11:52 am

Man, if this was all going down at Ga Tech, the UGA homers would be all over these boards gloating. And I didn’t go to either school, so I have no interest in the issues really, just an observation how quickly UGA fans will jump on something if it suits their agenda.

Nate

July 21st, 2011
11:53 am

Again the the dream team crap? Over the past decade, they had 3 years where their recruiting rankings where HIGHER than this coming class. And another 3 years were of equal footing. Give me a break with this drea, team crap. Stars by a players name doesn’t translate into a great player. Most 4 and 5s are busts.

ScoutDawg

July 21st, 2011
11:53 am

Chuck just because you are a nerd and on PROBATION, AGAIN you don’t have to hate on us.

todd grantham

July 21st, 2011
11:54 am

what worries me is no depth on offense anywhere.

Just Me

July 21st, 2011
11:55 am

It is still the Old Lipstick on a pig thing, a silk purse from a sow’s ear, or a hooker into a housewife.

Tide Roll

July 21st, 2011
11:55 am

You’re right Mark.Until Bear Bryant begin recruiting black players, his program was on the downswing. Until georgia decides to do the same on their offensive line, they’ll remain on the downswing. Would someone remind Richt, McGarity and the rest, that the program no longer needs to be stuck in the 1970(s), that we’re now in the 21st century, and they need to drag their program up to speed.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2011
11:57 am

Kudos, dude.

$5 Dawg

July 21st, 2011
11:57 am

The last two majors to lose to Boise on opening night went on to win their conference. (Oregon and Virginia Tech).

Brad

July 21st, 2011
11:57 am

yeah the guy holding up a stuffed animal sure seems like a good pickup. NOT

Buckeye

July 21st, 2011
11:57 am

Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah.

Nothing new here except the uni’s tucked away in some undisclosed location. Good thing they’re not in the locker room.

oldbird

July 21st, 2011
11:59 am

It is scary that UGA beating Boise State will make a statement instead of vice versa. How has this happened?

Buckeye

July 21st, 2011
11:59 am

Hey DawginLex,

We need an updated troll list for UGA. – 2011 and beyond. I’ll start………..

1. Dream Team

Tide Roll

July 21st, 2011
12:00 pm

Dream team! They bring in the 9th rated offensive line class in the Conference, and call this a dream team! Why don’t you evaluate by positions? none of these kids, other than Xzavier Ward, are SEC caliber offensive lineman.Dream Team!? Ya’ll not only drink the Kool-aid, you’ve got to be spiking it as well.

P-Man

July 21st, 2011
12:01 pm

I, for one, believe in this coaching staff and the players. That does not make me delusional. It makes me a fan. I believe they will work hard and play hard (and smart), and we will see what the record is at the end of the year.

Go Dawgs!

Alaska Dawg

July 21st, 2011
12:01 pm

Pretty good analysis, Mark. Richt’s record speaks for itself. I agree that the team has underachieved at times, but overall Richt has had a pretty good run. Your comment about a mid-course direction change is spot on. I think Richt has the personality to pull it off. Just wondering if you think Samuel being touted as #1 back is a media ploy to throw Boise State off. I like Samuel, but if he wasn’t able to be one of our 4-5 main backs last year, then I can’t help but think Crowell or Malcome are better options.

Just Me

July 21st, 2011
12:01 pm

The Dream Team could be good, great, or just still Dreaming of being a Team. Football is ALL questions until the players get hit in the mouth in the first game. I am guessing All UGA fans are getting the betting line from Vegas on the Dawgs chances of winning the SEC East and the SEC. If you guys are buying what Richt is selling, then take a couple Hundred Dollars and put it on UGA to win the East and the SECCG. Put your money where your hopes and dreams are. You could make a chunk-o-green.

Alex G

July 21st, 2011
12:02 pm

Exactly chuck. Kellen is going to throw all over this team. Uga will get some scores but they will lose in the end. Then SC will shut down their impotent offense.
Boise 36 uga 25
SC 27
Ga 13
Every year it’s the same pump uga kool aid drinking morons. This year takes the cake with how much offense they are losing.When you have 7 turnovers in your first 2 games, I will be here saying told you idiots.

Mean Machine

July 21st, 2011
12:02 pm

It would be a great story, especially considering the impatience of today’s college football fan. But the odds are against it. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the program right now. Great coaches surround themselves with a great staff. CMR’s staff are guys promoted from within, with the exception of Grantham, who was Richt’s 3rd choice. When you compare UGA’s staff with the other top tier SEC programs, they don’t measure up.

Turd Ferguson

July 21st, 2011
12:03 pm

Chuck…Let them play the season before you start writing them off.

SEC Rules

July 21st, 2011
12:04 pm

Yeah Mark! Richt has only had UGA football on MEDIOCRITY autopilot for the past several years and now we are supposed to overlook that all because UGA has the easiest SEC schedule of any team and a moron could guide this talented team to a 9 win season. If we had a “great” coach instead of mediocrity we’d likely be in the hunt for a National Championship this year. Instead we are all talking about whether a 9 or 10 win season will save Richt’s job. He should have been fired last year and this year we’d have new blood with new ambitions than saving a coach’s job.

Turd Ferguson

July 21st, 2011
12:04 pm

Roll Tide…. STFU!

Alaska Dawg

July 21st, 2011
12:07 pm

Mark, I think you may just be right. Richt’s record speaks for itself. He is a winner! I think he is poised to lead the mid-course direction change that you mentioned. Just wondering if you think Samuel being named #1 back for BSU is a media ploy by Richt to throw off the boys from Idaho. I have to think that if Samuel was not one of our best 4-5 backs last year, that Crowell or Malcome aren’t better options.Go Dawgs!!!!

1953Dawg

July 21st, 2011
12:08 pm

Todd Grantham, it’s not only no depth on offense anywhere, there is no depth anywhere on the whole damn team. There are no proven playmakers on defense, none on the d.l, none at l.b, and absolutely none at the safety positions. This for a program with the same head coach in place for the past 10 seasons. This should never be the case at UGA, especially with the same coach in place. Yet here come these kool-aid drinkers spewing about Richt and how great of a coach he is. If he and Rodney Garner had a clue on how to recruit by position of need instead of rivals 4 and 5 star players, UGA wouldn’t be in this position, but Garner only recruits guys that are ranked high on rivals, and he could care less about position depth.

gambling man

July 21st, 2011
12:09 pm

Boyz is 13.5 +
That does not seem like a gamble…That’s a LOCK!

Curious George

July 21st, 2011
12:09 pm

Why do so many of the ‘Hoodratz and fast-running gangsterz Mark Richt recruits wind up WORSE OFF and STILL-ILLITERATE when they leave UGA in contrast to when they began there?

RTR

July 21st, 2011
12:10 pm

Yesterdays Article- A+… todays UGA nonsense- C-…. Your better than that Bradley!

Alaska Dawg

July 21st, 2011
12:10 pm

Thanks Turd Ferguson! I can only assume that Roll Tide doesn’t know how to access the Birmingham newspaper!

Joey

July 21st, 2011
12:11 pm

Murry: “Seven or eight of them could start right now.”
***************************************
Wow, can’t wait for Bobo to get his hands on all that talent!

Seriously, that sounds great. Lord knows there are openings . . .

Lowcountry Bulldawg

July 21st, 2011
12:12 pm

Shoulda, could, woulda fired CMR last year. We didn’t so either get on board the ship or jump off. We may be talking about what will save CMR job because every other blog on the AJC alludes to it. The media is driving the bus more so than the fan base. The media loves to have the hot topic of “coaches on the hotseat”. Richt seems to have regained the edge he had lost. Lets just see how this thing plays out. I would rather dance with the devil I know than take a chance with the devil I don’t. So lets hope Richt pulls this thing out.

BigTimeTechFan

July 21st, 2011
12:12 pm

“I wasn’t sure if they were going to be that good, but they’re definitely as good as advertised. Seven or eight of them could start right now.”

way to throw your current teammates under the bus.

Curious George

July 21st, 2011
12:14 pm

Why is Coach Nick Saban so much better at his job (and his Ford Commercials) than Coach Mark Richt?

Joey

July 21st, 2011
12:14 pm

Jeez. All of that embarrassment over at “Probation U” doesn’t slow down the nerds on here does it?

Steven H

July 21st, 2011
12:15 pm

Hey Alaska, you’ve had the 2nd best recruiting class of all teams over the past decade and you think winning two secs and no nat champ games is pretty good? Wow.

just sayin'

July 21st, 2011
12:15 pm

turd roll is why racism still exists today…..

DawginLex

July 21st, 2011
12:15 pm

nice interpretation BIG TIME TECH FAN

i’ll interpret it another way:

Seven or eight of them could start right now, if there weren’t upperclassmen ahead of them who are better.

smith

July 21st, 2011
12:16 pm

Every year it’s the same crap out of uga homers. THis year we will win big.
And what’s worse is this year they’ve lost their top two rushers and top two receivers and their 3rd rusher is sitting out. But yeah. things will be great! Gonna be funny when you have 8 turnovers the first two games and are 0-2. The writing is on the wall yet so many of you fools can’t even see it. MB must be paid by uga to write this idiocy.

dixiedawg

July 21st, 2011
12:18 pm

When you look at their schedule, it doesn’t seem so unrealistic to expect them to finish with at least 10 wins. I believe they will win the east & play LSU or Bama in the SEC Championship.

DawginLex

July 21st, 2011
12:18 pm

Why is a monkey on a UGA blog giving us advice about football?