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Point/Counter: Richt & UGA Need To Part Ways?
Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Georgia head coach Mark Richt began his career in Athens a decade ago to fanfare and some significant victories. However, after that initial promise, four of UGA’s past five seasons have led to failed expectations, on and off the field. CFN's Barrett Sallee and Russ Mitchell take opposing views on and whether it’s time to make a change Between the Hedges.
Barrett Sallee – Richt Deserves One Last Shot
Follow me on Twitter @BarrettSallee
Right now, at this very moment, is it time for UGA to make a change? No, but that time is getting near, and could come as soon as mid-September if the Bulldogs drop their first two games of the season to Boise State and South Carolina.
Richt exited the embarrassing 10-6 Liberty Bowl loss with a new found enthusiasm, which paid off on National Signing Day when he inked the self-proclaimed "Dream Team." With the influx of young talent coupled with a new strength and conditioning program - a perpetual sore spot under former strength and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger - Richt deserves one last shot to lead the Bulldogs to glory.
In the weak SEC East, a division title is certainly within reach for the Bulldogs. Sure, A.J. Green is gone, the running game is still mediocre, the offensive line seems to annually disappoint and the defense is still a work-in-progress. But despite all that, Georgia is sitting pretty in the SEC East.
The reason? Schedule. Georgia doesn't play the top three teams in the SEC West (Alabama, Arkansas and LSU), and plays the next two (Auburn and Mississippi State) between the hedges. The toughest road game for Georgia is at Tennessee. Going on the road in the SEC is always tough, especially at Neyland Stadium, but Georgia is more talented than the Vols.
If Georgia gets by South Carolina in Week 2, not only can the Bulldogs win the SEC East, they SHOULD win the SEC East. It'll be "Atlanta or bust" for the Bulldogs, because it's hard to find three or four SEC losses on their schedule after Week 2. In the East, that should be enough to get back to Atlanta. If the Bulldogs don't get to the SEC Championship Game, 8-4 might...MIGHT be enough to keep Richt employed, but that would depend on which four teams those losses are to.
For now though, Richt deserves one last shot. He brought the Georgia football program, which was known as a constant underachiever prior to his arrival, to a level it hasn't enjoyed since the Vince Dooley era. Richt is 55-11 during his Georgia career with a returning starting quarterback, and he’s got a pretty darn good one this year in sophomore Aaron Murray. Let's see how he does with full off-season as the unquestioned starter under his belt.
Besides, when you decide to fire a coach, you have to ask the question, "who's going to replace him?" Are there better legitimate options for Georgia than Mark Richt? Not many. But if the Bulldogs struggle again in 2011, many more will surface.
Russ Mitchell – Short-Term Thinking, and a Culture That Lacks Discipline
Follow me on Twitter @RussMitchellCFB
By all accounts, University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt is a charismatic, pleasant, trusting fellow. A generous man willing to spend what little free time he has on many a noble cause.
He’s just done a poor job stewarding Georgia’s football program, and it’s time for a change.
On the field, the Bulldogs are a mess. Georgia football has failed to live up to expectations in four of the past five seasons.
Last season goes without analyzing – as painfully fresh as it still is. The season before UGA had about seven different halfbacks lead the team in rushing in a single game, had a secondary that gave up more than Anthony Weiner, and pretty much surrendered the forward pass at the season’s mid-point.
As for the much heralded 2008 season, in which the Dawgs were nearly everybody's preseason #1, Richt’s squad played only three games against teams that finished the regular season in the Top 25 – and lost all three of them. Actually it was worse than that - they gave up a staggering 135 points in those three defeats.
So much for Bulldog pride.
You can’t argue there hasn’t been talent, either – Georgia has had a boat load of top flight recruiting classes over that span. So what is it then? Why was Richt so successful in his first five years, particularly when compared to everything since?
To answer that one must step off the football field. Discipline is a top down trait; it doesn't work its way up from the bottom. During the past three to four years it seems nary a month has gone by without some Georgia football player splashing the headlines with a transgression or two (yes, we'll circle around to Urban Meyer). This highlights a lack of leadership - or the right kind of leadership - at the head coaching level, which filters down to the players and, for that matter, the staff. Don’t think so?
When was the last time this many transgressions happened at Penn State? How about under Mack Brown? Or Nick Saban? Or Les Miles? The latter two illustrating it is possible to have different coaching styles and still not tolerate this lack of discipline. Hell, you can eat grass and still carry the absolute respect of your players.
You think Richt's players respect him absolutely? If they do, they certainly have a funny way of showing it.
Before the start of the 2008 season, Miles fired his meal ticket in the form of fourth year junior, SEC Championship MVP, starting quarterback Ryan Perrilloux...plummeting the Tigers into a nuclear winter of a quarterback wasteland for two years. In the process, nearly costing Miles his job. But there wasn’t a player on that team who didn’t respect him for it. And there’s not a player at LSU today who joined after Perrilloux was booted that doesn’t live with the positive effects of that decision.
Flash to Richt. It starts with wantonly breaking the rules on the field – ordering (wink wink) players to collectively break the rules. Specifically, the infamous “End Zone Party” of 2007. Like many at the time, I thought it was harmless – and perhaps in isolation, at a different program, it still might be.
But that was before it had become apparent Georgia is a rudderless ship from a discipline perspective. The aforementioned coaches would never have condoned, let alone organized, such in-game behavior…and their players know it! They carry themselves on and off the field with that knowledge. That restraint. And it is this which is lacking in Athens.
Not to say other schools are perfect. We’re talking about herding 85 young men here – there will be mistakes. But nowhere near the volume of those under Richt’s “leadership”.
Some of you are thinking about Florida right now, and the 30+ players arrested during Meyer’s tenure. Don’t kid yourself – that was catching up to Urban too. Meyer also had more overall talent during those years than Richt, not to mention perhaps the greatest leader in CFB history in Tim Tebow. Without Tebow to control the locker room, Meyer started losing his team last season even with more talent on the bench than most coaches have in a starting roster.
Richt runs a loose ship, often focusing on unimportant things like fashion rather than discipline. Perhaps he has wanted to give players more responsibility - to help them grow as men by taking charge of themselves. Regardless, he has permitted coaches and players to make significant blunders that go virtually unpunished. He’s trying to change that here towards the end of his career at Georgia, but it’s too little, too late.
Take defensive coordinator Todd Grantham choking his throat at Florida kicker Chas Henry, and barely getting a slap on the wrist. THAT ECHOS! Can you imagine Jo Pa letting that go without some form of material punishment? You think for a minute that impressionable young men don’t notice that – don’t notice that their coach allows egregious behavior to go unpunished? And that’s just a single example.
Steve Spurrier is doing it right now with Stephen Garcia and his fifth suspension. It’s short-term thinking…and it spreads like cancer. Short-term thinking like Jimmy Johnson’s at Miami. Pete Carroll’s at USC. Butch Davis’ at Miami. And yes, Meyer's at Florida. None of them lasted a decade. Richt? Just finished his 10th year.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with short-term thinking – the problem is that Richt apparently wants to be in it for the long haul.
Lack of discipline/respect leads to half-assed behavior off the field. It leads to half-assed behavior in practice and weight training, which in turn leads to injuries and mistakes on the field. It leads to a careless disrespect for authority, not to mention structure and restraint.
Even if Richt could suddenly change his coaching style, he cannot undue this culture he has nurtured over years. And one winning season won’t change that; it’s just a Band-Aid atop a wound. One winning season has as much to do with luck, schedules, experienced players and what’s happening at other programs. Winning consistently requires a solid core of discipline/respect which is lacking at Georgia.
Georgia football will never win a national championship with Richt as its head coach, let alone achieve consistent top-shelf performance. That short-term window has closed. It’s time for a change.
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