An Unclouded Day

Oh, they tell me of a home far beyond the skies,
and they tell me of a home far away;
Oh, they tell me of a home where no storm clouds rise,
oh they tell me of an unclouded day.

Unclouded Day
(as performed by Iris DeMent)

The University of Georgia and head football coach Mark Richt agreed on a four-year contract extension today.

Finally.

After nearly six months of delay. After several weeks of “last minute” crossing of ts and i-dotting. Even after today’s scheduled official announcement got pushed back because of a glitch, the original 2:30 teleconference shuffled to 5:30.

Now the top Dawg is inked through 2016 and the skies over the beautiful campus town of Athens should be uncloudy for Bulldog faithful.

But … are they?

A few dark clouds loom just beyond the horizon. Like the chance of late afternoon thunderstorms, these are probably not much of a threat, but have the potential to turn ominous.

Let’s examine a few of them:

First – Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Florida … those schools won the past six college football national championships. All from the SEC. Throw in LSU from 2003 and that makes seven national championships in nine years for Bulldog brethren within the conference. Yes, Georgia fans like Mark Richt … but they’d like to win a national title more.

Next – Greg McGarity and Jeremy Foley. McGarity, Athens born and bred, grew up a Bulldog but as an administrator he’s a Gator. Mr. Mac acted as the right hand for Florida AD Foley for two decades. Both came up through the ranks, Foley starting as an intern in the Gator ticket office and McGarity as a tennis ball boy for Georgia institution Dan Magill. Both expect excellence. Foley made bold moves to hire Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp as head football coaches, and all Gator teams are expected to compete nationally – every year.

McGarity shows early signs of similar standards. He allowed gymnastics coach Jay Clark to walk after only three seasons, and hired Cal’s Danna Durante, her base salary approximately 33% higher than Clark’s. She will be expected to win NCAA titles for the nation’s preeminent program. The same apparently goes for all Bulldog coaches. McGarity seemed to temper excitement over Georgia’s run to the SEC East crown last year, which included a ten-game win streak, by (rightfully) noting the Bulldogs hadn’t beaten anybody very good. A storm cloud?

Finally – The New Contract. Outwardly both sides assure that no sticking points or animosity arose during negotiations, but still. While full terms are yet to be released, Richt apparently gets no raise in his base salary over the life of the contract. His performance clauses reportedly double, again emphasizing the McGarity edict – win, win now, and win big. Of interest will be the buyout clause in the new contract. If it is of moderate cost to the institution, that would be a large looming cloud.

While those are potential storms for Georgia, by most reasonable assessments the skies are uncloudy … actually, Richt and Georgia fans could seem to be on a proverbial cloud nine.

Here’s why.

The Bulldogs return most of the standouts from a rugged defense that has the potential for national prominence in 2012. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones led the SEC in sacks last year with 13.5 and might be a top five NFL draft pick. Coordinator Todd Grantham just signed his own multi-year contract extension, and his 3-4 alignment is now fully installed. The defensive front boasts size and experience, and the secondary returns a bevy of talent which will be boosted by the shift of sophomore speedster Malcolm Mitchell from receiver. The Dawg D could be on its way to the level of the Bamas and LSUs of the league.

Offensively, junior quarterback Aaron Murray returns as a third-year starter after tossing 35 touchdowns in 2011. At running back and receiver, the Dogs need a “go-to” person to step up at each position, but there’s talent aplenty at both spots. The line is a concern, but should get a boost when top-rated high school tackle John Theus arrives for fall camp. Georgia already has commitments from top-flight offensive talent in next year’s recruiting class.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly from an immediate perspective – the Bulldogs get a huge schedule break for a second consecutive season. From the mighty West, Georgia plays Ole Miss in Athens and travels to Auburn. By comparison, South Carolina travels to LSU and hosts Arkansas; Florida travels to Texas A&M and hosts LSU; Tennessee is at Miss State and gets Bama at home; Mizzou gets Bama at home and A&M on the road … you get the picture. Simply put, Georgia has far and away the easiest conference schedule in the SEC.

So, with their coaching situation stable, a stout defense returning, a seasoned quarterback at the helm, the most favorable 2012 schedule among SEC contenders, and another blockbuster recruiting class taking shape, today should be an unclouded day in Athens.

Is it?

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