2011 5 Thoughts - In Defense Of Mark Richt

Posted Sep 5, 2011

2011 5 Thoughts - Week 1. Why Mark Richt Deserves A Break

CFN Analysis 

5 Thoughts, Sept. 5

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Week 1 Thoughts  2010 5 Thoughts 
- Fiutak: The Game The Pac-12 Couldn't Lose
- Cirminiello: Clemson & Virginia Tech's Big Wins 
- Zemek: In Defense Of Mark Richt
- Sallee: It's Over For Richt
- Mitchell: The Top Heavy SEC   

By Matt Zemek

Week one's aftermath – in any college football season – is usually characterized by overreactions, so we'll leave the team assessments for a later point in time. Right now, the lone individual being talked about, fair or not, is Mark Richt.

It's no secret that Richt's job is squarely on the line this upcoming Saturday following Georgia's loss to Boise State. If Georgia doesn't get off the deck and beat South Carolina, the ride is over in Athens. Bulldog fans will have reason to boo and vent their frustrations.

Not now, though. Not right now.

For one thing, Georgia isn't as good as Boise State. Secondly, it's not shameful to be inferior to Boise State. Just ask Oklahoma, Oregon, TCU, and Virginia Tech, among others. Third, Georgia's game against South Carolina has SEC East title implications. Acting as though the season is over – or that Richt's fate is already sealed – isn't just a disservice to the kids on the UGA roster; such a response to the Boise State loss lacks common sense as well. What does it say about a community when a large percentage of it gives up the ship before its final moment of reckoning has arrived? (Interestingly, several thousand Auburn fans bailed on their team with 3:38 left in regulation against Utah State. The Tigers came back to overcome a 38-28 deficit in those three and a half minutes. SEC fans are supposed to be more loyal than this, on the Alabama Plains and Between the Hedges. What gives?)

Next Saturday night and Sunday morning, Mark Richt's Georgia obituary might very well be written. There's no harm in acknowledging that possibility. However, the agonies of the present moment should not make Georgia fans ungrateful to Richt for what the former Bobby Bowden assistant has done as a major college head coach.

Remember what life was like before Richt came to town? Georgia hadn't made the Sugar Bowl since the 1982 season (New Year's Day of 1983). The Bulldogs were stale and stagnant as a program. Herschel Walker was an increasingly distant memory, Vince Dooley an athletic director who needed to find a worthy successor. Ray Goff and Jim Donnan could never win even one SEC East Division championship, always blocked by Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators or Phil Fulmer's Tennessee Volunteers. Richt, though, won the SEC in his second season. Remember that, Georgia fans? Remember when Michael Johnson outjumped Horace Willis in the back of the south end zone of Jordan-Hare Stadium on that unforgettable November evening in 2002? Remember thumping Arkansas for that elusive SEC title a month later? Remember winning the SEC East again in 2003 and then waxing LSU for the 2005 SEC crown? Remember marching to the 2008 Sugar Bowl and destroying Hawaii in one of the most physically overwhelming performances of the BCS bowl era?

Yes, Richt has lost his fastball the past three seasons, failing to deliver the goods with talented rosters. His career is sliding downward; it appears to be in need of a fresh start. A win over South Carolina would drastically change this equation, but even if the Dawgs do lose and Richt gets his pink slip, this coach revived the program and gave it a few moments in the sun, moments that simply did not emerge for an 18-year period stretching back to the 1984 Cotton Bowl upset of Texas.

Richt is struggling at the moment, and he'll have to go if he can't beat South Carolina in a few days. That doesn't mean he isn't owed a very large debt of gratitude by the Georgia football family.