Tuesday, September 28

Mama, take these red pants from me, I can't wear them anymore.

It occurred to me that Sunday's despairriffic post on the Mississippi State game, combined with comments made on Twitter and elsewhere, might be interpreted as me taking a harder line toward Mark Richt than I intended -- or, alternatively, talking out of both sides of my mouth. So let me clear things up a bit.

First: No, I don't think Mark Richt should be fired. Certainly not now -- midseason firings should be saved for coaches who have engaged in egregiously bad off-field conduct, not for coaches who dared to lose games, no matter how winnable they were; when a program unloads a coach midseason for the latter "offense," it's basically an empty, symbolic gesture to the fan base that OOOOOOOHHHH you guys we're just so mad at this guy!, and generally a sign that said fan base has entirely more influence over the athletic department than they deserve. Nor am I going to sit here right now, just four games into the season, and say he should be fired at year's end. There's still a chance for things to be turned around -- minuscule though it may seem at the moment -- and particularly if that does happen, Richt deserves at least one more year to demonstrate whether he can continue the progress from that turnaround, or if it was just a mirage.

However. If we were to assemble an Absolute Scale of Coaching Confidence (Or Lack of Same), where 1 is "Any aspersions cast on Richt's suitability for his job is ridiculous, and makes us look like assholes" and 5 is "Greg McGarity needs to hand Richt his walking papers before close of business "to-day," I was once a 1, but now I'd say I'm a 3, maybe a 3.5. If I had to sum up that attitude in a single sentence, I guess it'd be "I still want Mark Richt to turn this around but I'm running out of reasons to think he'll do so." After hitting a high point with the Sugar Bowl run in 2007, we've been on a downward trajectory ever since, and we're working on our third consecutive season of not living up to the talent we've supposedly put on the field, of ending up with a final record that's a considerable disappointment relative to our expectations. And even as a fervent Richt backer, my patience with that kind of backslide only has a finite life span.

As I said in my comment to the preceding post, I don't think McGarity unloads Richt after this season, and it's kind of silly to think blog posts or message-board rants are going to influence that decision one way or the other. But if he does keep Richt on, particularly after the kind of 6-6 or 5-7 finish it looks like we might be heading toward, that puts Richt on an undisputable, no-excuses hot seat in 2011 -- a "Glengarry Glen Ross" sales contest where there are no steak knives, the only options are "have a Cadillac season" or "you're fired."

And as of right now, what are our reasons to hope that things will get substantially better? We'll get most of our defense back, and they should improve with another year of Todd Grantham's training in the 3-4, but an already confounding situation with the offensive line will only get murkier once three of our starters (and both top fullbacks) graduate, and A.J. Green is all but assured of following Kris Durham out the door, leaving Aaron Murray with a dearth of proven options in the passing game. Obviously there are going to be tons of people who will call for another adrenaline shot in the form of a housecleaning of the offensive coaching staff, but that, too, is probably a short-term red-meat-to-the-fan-base thing at best -- the "Georgia's program is in total upheaval" stories the media would draw out of it, to say nothing of the doubt it would create in the minds of potential recruits, means Richt wouldn't be on any surer footing, job-wise. It'd end up being one of those situations like radiation therapy for cancer, where the patient's life is prolonged but their hair falls out, they're weakened, they feel like shit -- and end up dying anyway.

If it sounds like I'm already shoveling dirt on Richt's grave, I don't mean to be. Like I said, I won't entertain any talk of an immediate firing, and since I'd be willing to bet that he remains the coach for the 2011 season, it's pointless for anyone to start drawing up fanciful shortlists of people they'd like to hire to replace him. (Especially if those lists include Kirby Smart, Chris Peterson, or Mike Leach. Seriously, I'm at a point where I'm almost ready to do an entire post about how if you think any of those people should be our next coach, you should just kill yourself.) At the same time, though, I've also come to the conclusion that harping on Richt's 91 wins as a reason for retaining him in perpetuity just doesn't hold as much water as it used to, either. As much as we all love and respect Richt for what he accomplished in 2002, you just can't make the case that it has greater bearing on the program's future than what happened in 2008, 2009, and 2010.

So all this is basically a long way of saying: No, I don't think Richt should be fired straight away, and I'm not going to make any definite declarations to that effect until we see how the rest of this season plays out at the very earliest. It has become much easier, however, to envision scenarios under which we're looking for a new head coach sometime in the next 18 months. Once, I wouldn't have dared put Richt under that kind of scrutiny, but now it seems entirely fair. And if I seem strangely matter-of-fact about it for a guy who very recently was defending Richt to the death, then maybe that's the saddest comment of all -- whereas Richt was once the very embodiment of what it meant to be a Georgia Bulldog, the value he and his coaching staff have added to the program and to Bulldog Nation in general seems to have dwindled, at least outwardly, to the point where it can be thought of as dispensable. I still feel kind of like a heel for uttering that out loud, but I also know the responsibility for turning the situation around doesn't rest with me.


NonOverlappingMagicCereal said...

I guess one thing I would keep in mind is that this is the worst that things have ever been under Richt. If things are going to turn around, that's where it happens, at the bottom.

In nine seasons, Richt's teams have finished in the top 10 six times. Unfortunately, the bad seasons tend to cluster together because, after all, they are not independent events (almost all of the coaches, and 75% of the players, carry over each year). But as far as Richt's competency, I do think it is perfectly sensible to look at his body of work. You mention 2002. Are we to believe that Richt is a less competent coach with ten years of experience than he was with only one?

Universal Remonster said...

I completely agree with the sentiments you express. Good post.

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

Rick, I don't think Mark Richt is a worse coach now than he was in 2001 or 2002. But when you get right down to it, coaching competency isn't measured on a static scale.

As an example, I'll use the quote Richt made last week when he said the team was still doing "the same stuff" it'd been doing in 2002 and 2005. I know he meant it to be reassuring, but could it be that that's part of the problem? College football evolves -- certainly at a faster pace than the glacial NFL -- and circumstances change. So what Richt did that was effective against, say, the Lou Holtzes and Phil Fulmers of the world in 2002 isn't automatically going to work against the Urban Meyers and Nick Sabans in 2010. Hell, lately it hasn't even been all that effective against the Rich Brookses or Lane Kiffins.

I have to be careful not to end up writing a whole new post here, but I think that's the most frustrating thing for me to watch as a Georgia fan -- how slow our coaching staff has been to adapt in recent seasons. Yes, Richt finally unloaded Willie Martinez in favor of some new blood and a new scheme, but I think most people agree that happened about a year behind schedule. We're extremely vanilla on offense, and while that was really good vanilla in '02, these days it's just bland, and we're not doing it particularly well. That was kind of the point of the post I wrote directly following the Tennessee debacle last year -- Phil Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville saw their legacies crumble because they had some early success and then seemed to take the attitude that's how they should do it forever, regardless of whether it still worked or not. I like Richt too much to want him to suffer their fate, but it's up to him a lot more than it is to me.

NonOverlappingMagicCereal said...

The problem with that line of thinking is that you are allowing yourself so many degrees of freedom in fitting an explanation to the results, and my suspicion is that it's borne of here is melancholy and frustration rather than objective analysis.

It doesn't matter the coach, team, time or even sport, if you want to find reasons for poor performance a vague explanation like "slow to adapt" will always be there, and will always satisfying because they always *seem* to make sense. Can you think of an example of any coach having a rough patch where the explanation "slow to adapt" doesn't seem like a plausible explanation? I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm saying I just don't know. What I do know is that if things turn around then this period will look just like the same sort of down cycle you can find in almost any coach's tenure.

Perhaps your assertion that Richt can't keep up with Saban is correct, but before you devote yourself to that belief, remember that Richt's SEC record is almost identical to Saban's, and their head to head record is close to even.

Tuberville's SEC record is not comparable to Richt's, and Fulmer endured two losing seasons in his last four before he got the boot. Richt deserves at least they patience they got. To see the dawgosphere as a whole begin speculating that Richt is headed that way, before he's even come close to a losing season before, is disappointing. And not for nothing, but it's probably not great for recruiting either.

Will said...

But did Tuberville really get treated with patience?
He was fired after losing to Bama for the 1st time in 7 games against them, after a 5-7. He'd gone 42-9 in the 4 years before his last year.

Ollllddude said...

Relatively sane discussion. I hate even thinking about firing Richt because the angst involved with a coach search is enormous, and unless Nick Saban will take the job, there aren't many people that I would be confident were an actual step forward. Lots of possibilities, but very few sure things.

Still, something may need to be done - how many toasters can one afford in one season?