Athens, Georgia is in a state of panic due to the recent struggles of the Georgia Bulldogs. It has been the general consensus, until recently, that while Mark Richt hasn’t been in danger of losing his job, he has definitely been feeling the heat. That’s why he brought in a new defensive coordinator this past off-season in Todd Grantham (after an extended courtship of UGA alum, and current Alabama defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart, who I actually think will make a fine head coach someday). However, a loss last Saturday to Mississippi State dropped the Bulldogs to 1-3 overall and an embarrassing 0-3 in SEC play. What to do with coach Richt?
Bleacher Fan took the route of giving the heav- ho to Richt. While stating Richt’s credentials, which seem to be rather impressive on the surface, Bleacher Fan notes that other coaches in the SEC like Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, and Les Miles have blown his doors off and won at least one national championship since Richt became head coach at the University of Georgia. It’s also stated that Georgia seems to be underachieving given the talent on the roster. The 2008 team, with future first round NFL picks Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, started out the year ranked number one… but ended up the year playing in the Capital One Bowl. It’s a New Year’s Day Bowl, but not a BCS Bowl, which should be the goal at a school like Georgia.
Optimist Prime takes the opposing view, preaching thatUGA fans should remain patient with Mark Richt. Richt is a proven winner in arguably the nation’s best conference, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be again. Three examples are brought up that I think are relevant, but one really hit me.
Frank Solich was fired after a 9-3 season in 2004 at Nebraska. Keep in mind Nebraska was arguably THE program of the 1990s with two national championships. But Solich’s 58-19 record had been eclipsed by the success at the time by Bob Stoops and Mack Brown. That’s the same kind of success Meyer and Saban are experiencing at Florida and Alabama, respectively, right now. However, we all recall what happened to Nebraska after Solich was fired. Bill Callahan. A West coast offense at Nebraska? They are just now recovering after that disaster.
Back to the situation at hand…
There are definitely some issues in Athens, in addition to the ones on the field, and Richt deserves some responsibility for that. Yet another UGA football player (the tenth this season) was recently arrested for DUI and underage possession (he certainly wasn’t celebrating a UGA victory). He was quickly dismissed from the team as new athletic director Greg McGarity, himself replacing someone arrested for DUI, has indicated this kind of activity won’t be tolerated. And as Bleacher Fan stated, Georgia consistently produces top ten recruiting classes. Where are the kids going? Other than spending time in Clarke County Jail, where are they going? (Note: Former UGA quarterback Zack Mettenberger was arrested in March in Valdosta, Georgia, where Sports Geek and I went to college). I’m on record as saying that recruiting is hit or miss to some extent. But…
Let’s look at the context of this season. As we all know, A.J. Green has missed the first four games of the season due to, quite frankly, poor judgment on his part. Richt had no control over this. He’s playing a redshirt freshman at quarterback in Aaron Murray. He’s going to be a good one, but he still doesn’t have his best weapon at wide receiver. Things look grim right now. And they are grim.
But look at the next four games on the schedule. Starting this weekend the Dawgs go to Colorado, return home to face Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and then travel to Kentucky. All four of those games are winnable. Win those four and all of a sudden Georgia is 5-3 before the trip to Jacksonville to take on the Gators. I just don’t think now is the time to pull the plug on Mark Richt. He hasn’t YET had a losing season, which is quite remarkable if you think about it. If UGA finishes 6-6, or thereabouts, at the end of the season, then some tough decisions may have to be made. But now is not that time. Let’s not panic just yet. Let’s see this thing play out. That’s why I am awarding the verdict to Optimist Prime.