Georgia Football: Timing of Richt Separation Was Right
This is not an article about the legitimacy of Richt’s resignation or the factors that got us here. I’ve written about that already. Rather, this is a discussion about the timing of all this. And if we work on the assumption that Richt had peaked as a football coach and that this was a football decision—humor me here, even if you don’t agree—then the timing of this was right.
I touched on this yesterday, but in some regards I think we are off-base to compare the current state of Georgia football with its low of a 6-7 campaign in 2010. 2010 was an anomaly for the Richt Era. If it wasn’t, Mark Richt would not have lasted 15 years in Athens. And with that in mind, I think we’re foolish to say, “Look how much better Georgia is now!”
I think looking at the best year in recent Richt history (2012) is the measuring stick by which we should compare the program. After all, 2012 was the most recent year in which Bulldog Nation was mostly aligned in its optimism. Sure complaints existed (some with merit) regarding a blowout loss to South Carolina and clock/game management late in the SEC Championship Game, but how could you not be optimistic after that season? Aaron Murray was coming back. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were coming back. There were reasons to be positive. We were five yards short from competing for a national championship.
But a handful of unfortunate circumstances derailed that trajectory. The most obvious item that many will point to is injuries. And to be sure, each year since that time period has featured a number of meaningful injury-related losses of personnel. But in 2013 Georgia lost to a good (but not necessarily great) Clemson team in the season-opener while healthy, a less-talented (even after injuries) Missouri team at home and a Vanderbilt program that should never beat the Bulldogs. Injuries weren’t a factor in last year’s loss to a mediocre South Carolina team and the losses to Florida and Georgia Tech last year are hard to explain even without Todd Gurley. And Georgia failed to compete with Alabama with Nick Chubb on the field, so it’s hard to imagine him impacting a 24-point loss to Florida either.
There were dozens of unfortunate circumstances surrounding the last three years—even beyond the injuries. A few samples:
- It was unfortunate that the closer of the two games with Clemson happened to come on the road where a hostile crowd was a factor in a 3-point loss.
- The tipped pass at Jordan-Hare Stadium was beyond unfortunate in 2013.
- It was unfortunate that the South Carolina game in 2014 was poorly officiated and altered greatly by storm delays.
- It was unfortunate that Tennessee picked Georgia to be the opponent it woke up against this season.
But the outcome of these circumstances—losses to Clemson, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Nebraska, South Carolina, Florida (twice), Georgia Tech, Alabama and Tennessee; a failure to win a the division for three straight years; blowout losses to good teams—rendered a regression for this program.
And to be clear, some of that regression (and possibly the majority) falls on Mark Richt. You can’t praise his recruiting ability and his offensive mind without also putting some of the blame on him for Georgia’s inability to answer the quarterback question this season. You can’t applaud his commitment to winning without also questioning the lack of commitment to special teams play. You can’t recognize his most recent recruiting classes (2014 and 2015 were very strong) without wondering what the hell happened in 2013. You can’t credit him for the hire of Jeremy Pruitt without also wondering why on earth he hired Brian Schottenheimer. Those may sound like bad deals to throw on a man who’s already out, but if Georgia’s 2013 class was strong and featured a viable option at quarterback and if special teams play was better and a real offensive coordinator was roaming the sideline…none of these conversations are happening. And I’m not sure who, other than Richt, should shoulder that blame.
Things weren’t getting better at Georgia—at least not in the form of on-field results. And they weren’t and aren’t going to get better in 2016 by that measure either. Let’s remove Richt from the equation and consider the factors surrounding this program:
- At best Georgia’s quarterback next season is a true freshman. At worst, it’s Brice Ramsey.
- Hopefully Nick Chubb is back at running back, but that’s not a guarantee and there’s no telling just how productive he will be.
- Georgia is losing the most experience components of what has been a very disappointing offensive line.
- Georgia is losing its only wide receiver with more than 30 receiving yards per game this season and that same player (Malcolm Mitchell) happens to be the only wideout on the team with more than one touchdown reception.
- Leonard Floyd is leaving. That’s being sold as a move related to Richt, but it’s not. It’s a move related to him turning 24 by the start of the next NFL season and being a consensus first-round talent.
- Jordan Jenkins, Sterling Bailey, James DeLoach, Jake Ganus and Chris Mayes are also leaving the front-seven.
- Those players (Floyd, Jenkins, Bailey, DeLoach, Ganus and Mayes) have accounted for 330 tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks.
I would argue that next year’s team has even more question marks than this year’s team. Again, who plays QB? Will Chubb be healthy? Are the young guys ready to plug in on the defensive front? Who’s anchoring the offensive line? Who’s stepping up at receiver? It’s alarming how familiar some of those questions are.
And then consider the team’s schedule:
- Georgia opens at the Georgia Dome against North Carolina (currently ranked 8th in the country).
- Georgia gets Missouri (traditionally a tough out for the Dawgs) on the road.
- Georgia plays at Ole Miss (currently ranked 16th nationally) on the road.
- Tennessee comes to Athens but should be much-improved.
- Georgia goes to South Carolina to play a Gamecocks team that may be much-improved by mid-season.
- Florida is on the rise and never a comfortable win.
- Auburn will be better than it was this season and Georgia struggled with the Tigers this year.
- Georgia Tech will be better than it was this season and that game was ugly.
I have a hard time believing this team would be better than 8-4 in the regular season with Mark Richt. And to be clear, I have a hard time believing this team will be better than 8-4 without him. But that’s why the current timing makes sense. If support of Richt had dwindled enough to move him out now, can you imagine how it would be after a fourth-consecutive non-East-winning season? If nine wins isn’t enough, how is eight going to be viewed?
And from a superficial view, how will the outlook for 2017 be any better? The quarterback position will presumably be improving and the offensive line and defensive front will have taken shape—we hope. But if Pruitt’s defense is in the top 10 in every category again next year and Georgia is still an 8-win program, you better believe he’s moving on. And 2017 has Notre Dame on the schedule and Mississippi State comes to town.
I think this thing would have gotten uglier before it got prettier. And understand this sentiment doesn’t equate to a new coach immediately making things pretty. But for a coach who has been here for 15 years, it’s not the worst thing in the world that some folks still want him around. That’s a sign that he did a really good job. But I think the number of those people would have decreased in 2016 and again in 2017. For that reason, I think the timing makes sense.
That’s all I got/