Don’t Go Wobbly
George … Georgia
On August 26, 1990, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took a telephone call from U.S. President George H.W. Bush.
The president sought advice from his counterpart and ally regarding sanctions against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the dictator’s invasion of Kuwait. In a phrase capturing her personality and pluck, Thatcher encouraged her friend that it was “no time to go wobbly.”
Some twenty years later, Georgia fans should heed the wisdom of the “Iron Lady.”
It’s tough right now … but no time to go wobbly on head coach Mark Richt.
Our coaches and teams, much like our children, sometimes need our support when they deserve it least.
In the midst of a four game losing streak and at the low ebb (one hopes) of his coaching career, chronicling reasons to support Richt are difficult, familiar, and valid.
1. Past Performance
Like the stock market, this is no indicator of future earnings … but remember that entering this season Richt had averaged exactly ten wins a season (90 in nine seasons). If winning ten games a year gets a person fired, our expectations are so skewed we have gone past being fans and turned into fanatics.
2. We are Georgia
Unlike some conference brethren (here’s a hint – how’d that Lane Kiffin thing go?), Georgia fans traditionally tend toward loyalty rather than acting excessively rabid and irrational. The school’s most successful coach – Vince Dooley – won a national title in his 17th season at the school, captured only one SEC championship outright during his first decade in Athens (in a much less competitive SEC at the time), and took the Dogs to just two major bowls between 1964 and 1973 (his first ten seasons).
In comparision, Richt’s teams earned three Sugar Bowl bids in his first seven seasons, and won two conference championships. Had Terrence Edwards not dropped a touchdown pass against Florida in 2002, Georgia very well might have won a national title that year (and did finish as high as #2 in the AP poll in 2007).
The Bulldogs have been and will be best served not by making reactive decisions during a tough stretch, but by taking a steady, long-term view of the program. The team lost five last season, will lose more than that this year (in all likelihood), and has without question fallen from the ranks of the conference elite. Still – in my opinion – Athletic Director Greg McGarity will not (and should not) make the call to fire Richt no matter how far south this season goes (and 3-9 is possible).
Georgia should be different … and better … and I do not mean just winning more games.
3. New Faces
Those calling for the head coach’s head will probably not be placated, but there are a lot of new faces on this team. Expecting a team to jell and excel with three new defensive coaches (including a coordinator), a new defensive scheme with personnel recruited for a different style of play, and (probably most importantly) a new, freshman quarterback is foolish. The team should not be 1-4, but anybody that thought Georgia would make a seamless transition this year knows little about football.
Now, what should Georgia address to get the train rolling (an allusion Richt likes to use … I think a better one would be to say how do you turn around a big ship in a short time)?
1. Off Field Discipline
The nonsense must stop. Like all Georgia fans … I’m sick of scooters, stolen goods, suspended licenses, alcohol related problems, and on and on. Common sense tells us this lack of discipline off the field carries over onto the field. Coach Richt has been too soft in addressing these issues. Period. Running bleachers at 6:00 AM does not cut it. Either recruit better people or discard those who refuse to act like young men instead of aspiring thugs. Every other team does not face these issues, and I don’t care if they do. Stop the nonsense or quit the job and the school will hire someone who can.
2. Coaching Staff
Former defensive coordinator Willie Martinez had never been a coordinator before being promoted following the departure of Brian Van Gorder. He was fired at the end of last season after his defenses had become a shell of the junkyard Dogs of old. Mike Bobo had never coordinated an offense before Richt promoted him; he may be jettisoned this season. Georgia (or any SEC school) should not be a place for on-the-job training.
Bryan McClendon was a former wide receiver with virtually no coaching experience when hired at Georgia to coach running backs. Wonder why our backs struggle in pass protection and ball security? Rodney Garner often gets kudos for his recruiting prowess (questionable kudos), and has parlayed job flirtations into large pay raises in the past. Other staff members have gotten healthy raises after good seasons too. Will Garner or the others take a cut this year? Not likely. The loss of any coach should not be a program-breaker. If Garner or anybody else tries to leverage pay increases via other job offers … thank them and hold the door. Nobody on this coaching staff is good enough to fight to keep.
3. Strength and Conditioning
When Alabama’s Kirby Smart was courted as the new defensive coordinator last year (a position he declined), he probably would not have taken the job regardless (and why would he … he had a national title, was already a coordinator, and might stand a better job of landing the Georgia head coaching job from a sideline in Tuscaloosa than one in Athens). Still, a deal breaker might have been the S&C philosophy at Georgia, something Mark Richt is apparently unwilling to alter.
The Bulldog man in charge is Dave Van Halanger, who is called a nice guy more often than Mark Richt (so that tells you what a great guy he must be).
Georgia too often comes across as not physical enough. Some of that might be on-field coaching, but the importance of strength and conditioning is more important in big-time football than it’s ever been. Overseer of the program’s famous “mat” drills, Van Halanger is considered not only a fitness leader but the squad’s emotional and inspirational leader. He bristled last year when commentator Randy Cross used the “W” (weak) word and Coach Van excused the performance by mentioning the youth of the offensive line. That group is a year older, but on-field results are no better.
While Van Halanger is an expert in the field, one aspect of his leadership is bothersome to the layman. At the risk of being overly blunt, the man has trouble moving around. A person does not have to look a certain way to do a job (thank goodness), but having someone head up a vital strength program at a big-time football program who does not seem fit himself (due to injury and health issues not lack of activity) is bothersome.
Can Mark Richt address the problems in his program and return Georgia to the top of the SEC?
No one knows, but he has excelled in the past, he’s at an institution that values loyalty and stability, and he is breaking in a new staff and quarterback in the nation’s most difficult league.
Hopefully he will succeed. Maybe he will not.
Either way, we should not go wobbly on him now.