Mark Richt won the SEC East last season for the first time since 2005, did he not? Reversed a downward trend, did he not? Removed himself from the Hot Seat, did he not?
Yes and yes to the first two questions. To the third, Travis Haney of ESPN says, “Not so fast.”
Haney places Richt atop his list of coaches under most pressure to win. Others included: Mack Brown of Texas, Brian Kelly of Notre Dame, Bo Pelini of Nebraska and Bob Stoops of Oklahoma. (To be totally accurate, Haney doesn’t dub this his official Hot Seat list; it is, rather, “the precursor to the hot-seat list.”)
From Mr. Haney:
Richt is safe today, but with the expectations again high, that could quickly change. Such is life in the SEC, where the distance from the title game to the hot seat is seemingly never all that far. And the disciplinary issues only complicate that, because fans generally don’t want their school making headlines for the wrong reasons — much less repeatedly — and because it depletes the talent pool.
If Georgia sinks back toward .500 with this roster, despite its personnel setbacks, Richt could again find himself in an uncomfortable position. Or looking for a job.
Not saying it’s going to happen, but … it’s not unprecedented for a coach who took his team to the SEC championship game one season to be gone the next. Terry Bowden resigned at Auburn midway through the 1998 season after winning the SEC West in 1997, and Philip Fulmer was pushed aside by Tennessee in 2008 after his team played for the conference title in 2007. But Fulmer had been under duress for years, and Bowden fell out with the toxic booster Bobby Lowder.
Richt, on the other hand, remains well liked by those in power and the majority of his constituents. Does Bulldog Nation wish he’d hurry up and win a national title? Do Georgia fans agonize over every single loss? Absolutely. But the biggest issue folks had with Richt was that, since 2007, Georgia football had been on the clear descent.
From the disappointing 10-3 of 2008 to the uh-oh 8-5 in 2009 to the regrettable 6-7 of 2010 — that trend had to be reversed. It was. And the bounce-back season of 2011 followed by what should be another strong year would indicate that the Bulldogs are well and truly on the upward trail.
A year ago, Richt was coming off a losing season, his first at Georgia, and then his team started 0-2. Had the season unraveled further, he’d have been fired. It didn’t and he wasn’t. He’s got a contract extension in his pocket, and his team is sure to be ranked in the preseason top 10. Is he on the Hot Seat as we speak? Not even close. But here’s the trouble with an on-the-Hot-Seat characterization: Once the label has been affixed, it’s tough to tear off.
I think Georgia is going to be very good this season, so good it could render all questions about its coach moot. But Haney makes a salient point: “The Bulldogs have dodged the [SEC} Western Division powers in 2011 and 2012. If you're not going to [contend for a national championship] when you’re avoiding them, when are you going to do it?”
By Mark Bradley