On the final day of 2010, Georgia lost to Central Florida to finish 6-7. If you’d asked then, or even a month later, what the mood of Bulldog Nation would be come July, I’d have said, “As grim as Nick Saban with an impacted wisdom tooth.”
Which shows, not for the first time, how wrong I can be.
The Bulldog Club of Metro Atlanta held its kickoff meeting Monday night at the Cobb Galleria, and I’ve attended this annual event — I saw Vince Dooley address these folks, or perhaps their parents, in his final season as coach — often enough to be attuned to nuance in the Red & Black. I’ve seen some tepid Bulldog Club gatherings. This wasn’t one.
Even Georgia’s coach conceded that things could have been different. “This room could have been empty,” Mark Richt told the throng. “Everyone could have said, ‘Georgia’s in the tank.’ ”
Last week Richt sat in Hoover, Ala., and said, “There’s no sense of gloom and doom.” To the assembled SEC media not based in this state, that sounded strange. Wasn’t this guy perched on the hottest seat in the college game? Who was he kidding?
Well, I’m here to attest: Richt’s not kidding. The outside world might look on Georgia and see a program poised to dump its coach, but that’s not the reality. At least not yet, and maybe anytime soon. Indeed, the first question from Monday’s gathering began: “Coach, we love you.”
“There are a lot of good vibes,” said Greg McGarity, the Bulldog grad who’s now the Georgia athletic director. And how, someone asked, do you go from not scoring a touchdown against Central Florida to believing you can take the SEC East?
The Dream Team happened. “That was a salve,” McGarity said, speaking of the ballyhooed recruiting class. “We needed something to calm the waters.”
But it wasn’t just one signing class. (Although Richt did tell the gathering that three incoming freshmen have “Dream Team” tattooed on their arms.) Said McGarity: “People also responded to the [staff and personnel] moves Coach Richt made. That sent the message that it was not just business as usual. They sensed a renewed sense of passion.”
And then? “We had a quiet summer,” McGarity said.
Here he knocked on a wooden tabletop. His obvious point of reference: No Bulldog has lately made the sort of summer headlines — meaning: gotten arrested — too many had made in summers past. Said McGarity: “We’ve had good news on top of good news on top of good news.”
Moments earlier, Richt had sought to explain how this fire has been rekindled. “I think, ‘We’re Georgia, ‘ ” he said. “We’ve got good players. We stumbled last year, but we weren’t far off. Greg has done a good job supporting us. The fans have done a great job supporting us.”
Then this, indirectly addressing his job status: “No one’s pushing the panic button. We believe in what we’re doing.”
Yeah, you’re doubtless asking, but will anyone still believe if Georgia is 0-2? The Bulldogs open against Boise State and then face South Carolina, the reigning SEC East champ. Two victories would thrust UGA into the top 10. One would be considered acceptable. None would prove problematic.
“That’s the thing,” Richt said. “If [0-2] happens, can we withstand all the stuff that will come? But just looking at it on paper, those might be the two best teams we play all year.”
For all the emphasis on Boise and Carolina, we forget this part: Even at 0-2, Georgia wouldn’t necessarily be sunk. There’s a chance it could still be favored in every remaining game, a chance — at least on the proverbial paper — 0-2 could become 10-2. And 10-2, in the grand scheme, would be viewed as a Bulldog resurgence.
And Richt, whom the watching world expects to be as restless as a Dawg on a hot tin roof, looks serene even by his own famous standards. He acts as if he knows something something others don’t. “I plan on having a hell of a year,” he said.
(And yes, Mark Richt really did say “hell” — but he meant it in a heavenly way.)
By Mark Bradley