You all saw what happened just as clearly as I did, I'm sure, so I'm going to keep this (relatively) short and sweet, except to say this: I kind of feel like Chazz Palminteri at the end of "The Usual Suspects."
I'm sitting there, thinking I've got the case wrapped up -- not entirely to my satisfaction -- but I think I've at least got a handle on it, know what's going to happen next. Then I sit back in my chair, coffee in hand, and I look up at my bulletin board. The collapse of the run defense in 2008, followed by the collapse of the pass defense in 2009. The inexplicable implosions against teams who are supposedly at a marked talent disadvantage -- Tennessee 2007, Tennessee again two years later, Kentucky last November. Joe Cox, a fifth-year senior, making the kinds of mistakes a freshman wouldn't make. And the off-the-field stuff -- the DUIs (which we racked up another one of last night), A.J. Green punting his jersey, Washaun Ealey driving after being specifically instructed not to. The never-ending stream of injuries that seem to ensure we never quite have a full, healthy complement of players to put on the field. All these things which, taken just one at a time, could be shrugged off as isolated incidents, mere frustrations, but all together they make you drop your coffee cup on the floor and stare slack-jawed at the inescapable conclusion: Mark Richt is Keyser Söze. Only in this case, Keyser Söze is Ray Goff.
What I see when I look at Georgia football now is a program that is losing control. You can blame that on the players, and sure, the ultimate responsibility for their actions lies with them, but when you view the people above you as weak and indecisive, what's your natural inclination? And could our coaches possibly be doing a better job of looking weak and indecisive right now? We've just put the last dab of whipped cream on top of our first three-game SEC skid in nearly two decades, and in the midst of a bunch of meaningless word salad about "looking within" and "[making] sure that everything we do is the right thing to do," Mark Richt gives us this bit of insight into the coaching staff:
“We just, at times, called a couple running plays just blindly and just said, ‘Hey we’re going to run this no matter what,’ ” he said. “There times when we had success and some times we got hit in the mouth because of the pressures they brought. And again, until you look at the film, it’s going to be hard to say exactly. They did a nice job defensively.”
Let's say you're an 18- or 19-year-old kid who's actually witnessing this thought process play out on the field, hours before Richt makes specific mentions of it. What do you think after something like that? If you've just watched your coaches heave a 160-pound tailback up the middle right into the teeth of a hulking MSU defensive line for an entire half with exactly zero success, what conclusions do you then draw about your coaches' true determination to see you and all your teammates leave that stadium with a desperately needed win? If, at my current position at MegaConglomCo p.l.c., my editor tells me that my top "action item" for this week is to beat my head repeatedly against a wall, and I say "I don't see how that's going to help me complete my projects on deadline" and she says "No, trust me, this is how I want you to do it," how hard am I going to work for that editor, or anyone else in my department, going forward?
And yet I may not be in any kind of position to cast stones here, because if you accused me of phoning it in with this post, you wouldn't be completely incorrect. I've written it several times already -- banged out the first iteration after Vanderbilt '06, wrote another one after Tennessee in '07, composed the revised and expanded! Georgia Tech '08 edition while sitting in a boarding lounge at LAX. Each time I wrote it with some degree confidence that things would turn around, that Richt and Co. would learn their lessons from it and improve going forward, confidence for which I was chided more and more as the years wore on. So in some ways I'm just as guilty of the whole "Do the same thing over and over expecting a different result" strategy as anyone else associated with the program.
No longer, though. I still hope things will get better, but I no longer have confidence that they will. Let's be real here: The team in white that played and was coached last night in Starkville might be a 4-8 team if they get some lucky breaks. The "miracle ending" to 2010, at this point, is if we manage a Marine crawl back to 7-5, the same record that got last year universally described as "the worst season under Mark Richt's tenure" but with nothing tangible to point to as an indication that things will get any better in 2011.
Is that enough to earn Richt a pink slip? After this season? I honestly can't say. If we end up 4-8 or 5-7 this season and Greg McGarity determines that Richt has earned one more year to try and end the slide, then I'll be OK with that. I mean, really, at this point, what difference does one more year make in the cosmic scheme of things? On the other hand, though, if McGarity decides it's time to pull the plug on the Richt Era and make his mark on the program by bringing in a new guy, I'll be . . . relieved. I will be sad, and tremendously disappointed that a man as fundamentally good and upstanding as Mark Richt never got to achieve the legendary status that so many of us have wanted for him ever since he pulled off P-44-Haynes almost exactly nine years ago, but I'll be relieved that someone finally decided to throw the switch on an embarrassing slide and do something different. There was a time, as recently as a few days ago, when I couldn't even conceive of saying something like that, but there you have it. Think of it as me being willing to make a major change in my worldview; I can only hope that it's not way too late for Georgia's coaches to do the same.