Georgia Football: I’m Out on Mark Richt – And I’ve Never Said That Before
I’m out on Mark Richt.
This isn’t a hot take. It’s not an overreaction or contrived sentiment. I don’t even think it’s a contrarian opinion among the Bulldog faithful at this juncture. I’m not looking to get a rise out of you
But I’m out on Mark Richt. And I haven’t said that before.
I’m not an athletic department, so I don’t measure programs by revenue or profitability. I’m not a paid pundit, so wins and losses don’t mean all that much to me. I’m not a football expert so things like personnel packages, formations and advanced analytic data don’t dictate how I feel about a team. I’m a fan. So for me, the measuring stick of a program (and by extension, the success of a coach) is how much I enjoy watching a team play. And right now, I hate watching Georgia play.
And it’s not just because Georgia is losing. I can live with the ups and the downs and the agonizing moments that keep me coming back for more. And for the past several seasons I’ve been able to look past disappointing losses and occasionally unfulfilling seasons because I enjoyed watching Georgia football. I hate it now. I watched the Missouri game only during commercials of other games. I started the Florida game late and uncomfortably laughed my way through the DVR of the first half. It’s not fun anymore. And while Georgia losses may not be anything new, the sour taste in my mouth after Georgia games is. It’s just not fun.
- In 2014, Todd Gurley was an absolute pleasure to watch, and even when he was out watching the dismantling of of eventual SEC East-winning Missouri was a delight. It seemed we were uniquely postured to watch the torch passing from one transcendent running back (Gurley) to another (Nick Chubb) and games were fun to watch.
- In 2013, a competitive loss to Clemson and big wins over South Carolina and LSU gave way to a momentum halt in the form of a slew of injuries, but it was fun watching big games matter. It was even fun watching a backup quarterback (Hutson Mason) ruin an out-sized Georgia Tech lead to close out the regular season.
- In 2012, the offense was explosive, the defense was packed with star-power (underperforming at times) and the Bulldogs were legitimate national championship contenders. I had a blast watching that team.
- In 2011, Georgia bounced back from an 0-2 start to win 10 consecutive football games and reach the SEC Championship Game. That was kind fun – especially compared to 2010.
And though that’s an admittedly brief sampling of Richt’s career at Georgia and one more reflective of the bad times than the good, this context matters relative to my displeasure with Georgia football.
In 2010, Georgia posted a 6-7 campaign. In the first game of 2011, the Bulldogs were thoroughly outmatched by a Boise State team with less talent, fewer fans in the Georgia Dome and no business upsetting an eventual SEC division winner. After the game, I observed:
Mark Richt had over eight months to get ready for this game and failed to do so. I think we now have four months to get ready for the next coach in Athens. Yes, it’s awfully early in the season but it’s hard to anticipate this team turning things around for a victory against South Carolina this week. It’s hard to picture this team defeating Mississippi State, Florida or Auburn and Tennessee and Georgia Tech are becoming increasingly frightening.
I wasn’t necessarily “out” on Richt at that juncture, but based on the one-game sample size of 2011 and a losing season in 2010, it seemed he would be out. But even after a second-consecutive loss (1 45-42 setback vs. South Carolina) to open the 2011 season, my tone changed a bit:
In a weird way, this new frustration – frustration of losing a winnable game – is much preferred over the old frustration – frustration of not even being competitive. And, if South Carolina is truly the cream of the crop in the SEC East and the nation’s 11th best team, then why couldn’t Georgia make a run at any and every team remaining on its schedule?
And now, more than four year later, I’m back to that “old” frustration – the one I last felt (for the only time) in early 2011. But we’re not merely back there; we’re back there with a vengeance. We’re back with questions at quarterback (heading into week 10 at a program that recruits well), struggles on the offensive line, still no special teams coach/accountability and a defense that lives only to surrender 250+ rushing yards to Florida.
Heading into Saturday’s game, there was still so much to play for. The SEC East was not only still up for grabs, but Georgia was actually in a position to control its own divisional destiny. What’s more, that path’s continued existence meant the conference title was still theoretically achievable and if one holds to the notion that the football gods will smile down upon the winner of football’s best conference, then Georgia was still in the college football playoff picture. That was just a few days ago. Now, I can’t type such sentences without rolling my eyes and feeling like a troll.
The most damning aspect of Georgia’s program isn’t how laughable those dreams are now or even how technically possible they were just a few days ago. The most damning part of this program is that we actually believed there was some magic left in this season. That’s staggering given the little amount of “good” we knew about this team heading into the annual tryst in Jacksonville. In all seriousness, here are the only positives we had heading into the matchup:
- The Bulldogs were better than a Louisiana-Monroe team that has not yet won in FBS play this season.
- The Bulldogs were slightly better than a Vanderbilt team that is 2-5 in FBS play (when Chubb was healthy and could rack up 200+ yards of offense).
- The Bulldogs were better than a South Carolina team that was so bad its coach quit midseason.
- The Bulldogs were better than FCS Southern University.
- The Bulldogs were better than a Missouri team that is 1-4 in SEC play.
We knew those “good” things and that’s all we knew on the positive side, and we continued to think big things might be ahead despite glaring insufficiencies across the board. Losing magnifies problems, but we still felt there was a way for Georgia to be…well…at a minimum…Georgia.
On the flip side, here’s what we now concretely know on the negative side:
- Georgia could not compete with Alabama.
- Georgia was embarrassed by a more deserving Tennessee team.
- Georgia could not compete with Florida.
And that’s what separates the current state of Georgia football from all prior disappointments and renders the on-field product (not just the results) unenjoyable. It’s not the loss to Florida, Tennessee or Alabama that tarnished my faith in Richt. It’s not even the combined impact of the three losses. It’s that unlike in years past when disappointing and questionable losses occurred, these disappointing and questionable losses now occur so damn decisively.
Two of Georgia’s three losses last season were close (a 3-point loss to South Carolina, an overtime loss to Georgia Tech). The losses were disappointing and questionable, but at least they were close. As such, there was reason to think such setbacks could be overcome.
Four of Georgia’s five losses in 2013 came with margins of five points or less and the final four came after the team was dismantled by injuries. The losses were disappointing and questionable, but at least they were close. As such, we hoped for improvements and clung to “if only this team was healthy” narratives that had real merit.
So on paper, losses to the likes of Alabama, Tennessee and Florida may mean “more of the same” for the #FireRicht crew that demands a national championship or blood, but this season is distinctly different in its futility. I didn’t want Richt fired after the loss to South Carolina in 2011, because I saw fight and competitive spirit in that team. That team ripped off 10 straight wins beginning the next week and positioned itself for a hell of a 2012 season. Change seemed achievable back then. It doesn’t any more. And for that reason, I’m out on Richt.
To be sure, I expect Georgia to try things. Lord knows Right will try things. Hell, he started a third-string QB at QB and a second-string QB at punter. He will try to fix this. And I expect the Dawgs to keep their collective heads held high and say the right things. As Richt said after the game, Georgia needs to handle this situation like “men.” The implied subtext: we need to play with integrity and attentiveness.
As Richt said on his Sunday conference call, “We’ve got what it takes to turn this thing around.”
The problem is, Georgia has always needed to play like men. Effort, attention to detail, preparedness and execution have always been prerequisites for victory. And if there were no signs of such traits on Saturday in a rivalry game that meant everything relative to season-long goals, why would the team suddenly come to life now? What did Georgia gain between Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening that would imply this team was capable of a turnaround?
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results, Richt might or might not be insane. But we’d certainly be insane for expecting wins against Kentucky and Auburn. And as a fan, I’m OK with being a fanatic, but I’m not comfortable being insane.
Georgia has not scored a touchdown in more than 134 minutes of football. Georgia has given away or failed to convert special teams points in each of the team’s last 900 (or something like that) football games. Georgia’s defense still has a long way to go and it’s not getting there by giving up big plays. This team doesn’t consistently do anything at a winning level, and that’s why Georgia is losing.
So a winning conference record (beating both Kentucky and Auburn puts Georgia at 5-3) seems like an unrealistic expectation and 3-5 seems as likely as 4-4. And I think we all know Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech are perfectly capable of upsetting a Georgia team that is still haunted by special teams errors, plagued by a complete lack of offense and just as prone to “learning experiences” than “making statements” on defense. Sure, this team could still win 10 games (counting a bowl). But I think eight is the more realistic ceiling and seven feels all too realistic.
And the problem for Richt is that there’s no easy fix here, because we’re not talking about a handful of close losses by an injured squad like we saw in 2013. And we’re not talking about a slew of setbacks for a team that is young across the board like in 2010.
The problems are not merely an inch wide and mile deep and as easy to fix as changing one piece of the puzzle. Nor are the problems a mile wide and an inch deep as an entire roster needs to mature. Georgia’s problems are a mile wide and a mile deep and the answer might be a whole new puzzle altogether.
Even the most pointed-to perceived “answer” to Georgia’s troubles isn’t going to be an answer any time soon. The best defense of Richt right now is some variation of, “Just wait till Jacob Eason gets here.” Or “this recruiting class is something special.”
The reality is a true freshman quarterback is not going to elevate a program that is aggressively pursuing across-the-board mediocrity. Sure, Georgia needs help in the passing game, but expecting the passing game to improve exponentially with an 18-year old under center is foolish faith. And the passing game is just one part of the current rut Georgia is in. Further, if we think a class of 18-year olds will play better than the current bunch of 18-22 year olds on the roster, then something has gone awry in development. Young talent will not get Georgia out of this rut.
We’ve seen what Richt has to offer in the form of getting out of a rut. It includes a poor hire at offensive coordinator (though in fairness, that was not a reaction to a rut), loyalty to a fault that vests itself in a lack of accountability towards players who continually fail to execute in identical situations, a third-string QB getting starts with no gameplan alterations to fit his skill set and predictably disappointing results.
In fairness to Richt, this is a new rut specific to this season. Firing him in 2009 or 2010 would have been a mistake. But there were causes for optimism then. What are those causes now? Make a case for Georgia being on the uptick that doesn’t include administration intervention (new practice facility), the potential of future recruits or what a good guy Richt is (and no one disputes that).
We are witnessing a complete systemic failure at the program level. And as much as I love Richt and have defended him, and though I can’t place all the blame on him…something has to change.
The season is not yet over. A Wikipedia recap may someday look like Georgia was “a win against Florida away from winning the division” this season. And we may always wonder what “might have been” if Georgia held onto the lead against Tennessee. But the reality is Georgia deserved to lose to Tennessee and Georgia didn’t even deserve to be on the same field as Florida and Alabama.
And of all the commonalities Georgia shares with those programs – great facilities, highly paid coaching staffs, strong recruiting classes, rich history and traditions – the only thing differentiating Georgia from Alabama, Tennessee and Florida is that the Bulldogs are a program in decline. The others are doing just fine.
That’s all I got/