The Case for Coach Richt

First of all, I would like to echo the thoughts expressed over at Burnt Orange Nation: I am sure you have noticed the ad strip at the top of this page, which now appears on all SportsBlogs Nation sites. While it will take some getting used to---for me, as well as for you---it is there because the servers that keep this growing family of interconnected weblogs on-line, and the first-rate technicians who keep those servers up and running, cost money, without which widely-disseminated insightful and impassioned sports commentary from the fans' perspective simply would not be possible. Your understanding is appreciated.

Secondly, some of you may not have noticed, but a particularly strong comment thread is going on here at Dawg Sports, highlighted by the recent back and forth between MaconDawg and me.

As always, MaconDawg makes a reasonable point in a civil manner, for which I am much obliged. (His argument about the number of additional postseason practices is a particularly good one.) Because he raises a crucial question, though, I thought it appropriate to direct my response to him here on the main page, where it is apt to attract the attention of a greater number of readers.

The reason I believe additional practices would not be helpful this season is that the persistent problems do not appear to be getting any better. Generally, a team uses the first few games to work out the kinks and improves as the year goes on, but no such progress has been seen this season. In fact, the Western Kentucky, South Carolina, and U.A.B. games were by far the Bulldogs' best performances of the season . . . and those were the first three games this fall.

As Paul Westerdawg points out, nagging injuries to our receiving corps are part of the problem. As Doug Gillett points out, the absence of a passionate assistant in the mold of Erk Russell or Brian VanGorder is a part of the problem.

These difficulties are correctable, but only time will heal the former and only staff changes will cure the latter. In a 12-game regular season with no open dates in the first 11 weeks, the former trouble will only be exacerbated and I would like to see the troops given time to get healthy. As for the arguable need to hire an offensive coordinator and the obvious need to fire the defensive coordinator, you can't change horses in mid-stream; these issues can only be addressed in the offseason.

I am sure MaconDawg would argue that the gap between the Georgia Tech game in late November and even an early bowl game in mid-December would give the players plenty of time to heal and changes to the staff would not be hampered by the addition of a game in Shreveport or Memphis.

He may well be right upon those points, which I am willing to concede for the sake of argument, in order to get to the more important question he raises. Asks MaconDawg:

[Y]ou are the official steward of the Mark Richt Victory Watch, during which you have championed Comrade Richt's ability to manage this program. Are you now saying that you doubt Coach Richt's ability to administer this team in a positive manner? I don't think that's your point but, somewhat selfishly, I want to know why not.

Fair enough.

I believe the Bulldogs' present problems will be difficult to solve during the season (which is why I do not wish to prolong it), but I trust Mark Richt to make the necessary adjustments after the season---to the coaching staff, to the training program, to the practice regimen, to the recruiting emphasis---to address these problems and prevent them from recurring because his past success has earned him the benefit of the doubt.

When W.A. Cunningham went 3-5-1 in 1914 and ended the season in an 0-5-1 skid, there was no reason for panic because Coach Cunningham, who had gone 25-6-3 in his first four seasons, had demonstrated that he knew what he was doing. Sure enough, 1914 proved to be his only losing season, as Georgia got back to its winning ways the following year.

As Paul Westerdawg already pointed out, there was no cause for alarm when Vince Dooley's 1969 and 1970 teams went a combined 10-10-1. Coach Dooley had guided the Bulldogs to a 38-13-3 ledger and two conference titles in his first five seasons, so he had proven his competence. Unsurprisingly, the 'Dawgs rebounded to go 11-1 in 1971.

By contrast, there was never cause for confidence in Ray Goff, who went 6-6 in his first season and 4-7 in his second. In his second-best season, in 1991, Georgia went 9-3 but was shut out by Alabama, lost to Vanderbilt, and was blown out by Florida by what was then the largest margin by which the Gators had ever defeated the 'Dawgs.

In his best season, in 1992, what probably was the most talented Georgia team in the first 100 years of Bulldog football lost two games it had no business losing. What evidence was there that Coach Goff knew how to right the ship when the Red and Black stumbled to ledgers of 5-6 in 1993, 6-4-1 in 1994, and 6-6 in 1995?

In short, I trust Mark Richt because past is prologue and evidence dictates conclusions.

Coach Richt already is the fourth-winningest coach in Georgia football history.

Coach Richt is one of only three Bulldog head coaches to have won multiple conference titles.

Coach Richt is one of only two Bulldog head coaches to have guided the 'Dawgs to four straight 10-win seasons.

Coach Richt is the only Georgia coach ever to have won in Tuscaloosa and (despite last Saturday's loss) he is the only Georgia coach ever to have started out his career by going 5-0 against Kentucky . . . in fact, he's the only Georgia coach ever to have started out his career by going 2-0 against Kentucky, so not losing to the Wildcats until his sixth series meeting with U.K. is more of an accomplishment than you think.

In short, I'm willing to trust a coach even after his team stumbles in a rebuilding year with a freshman quarterback, a patchwork offensive line, and an injury-plagued receiving corps when the downcycle (during which, by the way, the Red and Black still will be bowl-eligible, so it isn't as though the sky is falling) follows five seasons of unparalleled success.

For those who (inexplicably, in my view) are not sold on Mark Richt as a coach, by the way, "unparalleled success" is not hyperbole.

Coach Richt has been the Bulldogs' head coach for 75 games. During that span, he has led Georgia to a 58-17 record.

Only four of Coach Richt's 24 predecessors in the job even lasted as long as 75 games on the Georgia sideline. Of those four, Harry Mehre was 48-24-3, Wally Butts was 53-20-2, Vince Dooley was 48-23-4, and Ray Goff was 43-31-1 after 75 games. As bad as the 2006 season has been for the Bulldogs, the Red and Black still have enjoyed more success under Mark Richt than under any other head coach in school history.

Look at it this way: Pete Carroll went 54-10 in his first five years as the head coach at Southern California from 2001 to 2005. If the Trojans had collapsed and gone 4-8 this season, would Coach Carroll's overall record of success have insulated him from serious questions about his abilities?

I don't believe anyone doubts that Pete Carroll would remain not only secure, but beloved, despite the U.S.C. faithful's dissatisfaction with the team's sub-par season.

Now let's assume the worst about the Bulldogs this season. Let's assume that Georgia loses to Auburn, loses to Georgia Tech, and doesn't receive a bowl bid.

If that happens, Mark Richt's career record at Georgia will be 58-19. In the scenario I posited above, Pete Carroll's career record at Southern California would have been 58-18.

If Pete Carroll would be secure in Los Angeles even if the bottom fell out, why shouldn't Mark Richt be trusted in Athens after a .500 season that yielded virtually an identical career ledger?

Keep the faith, Bulldog Nation; you'll once again be seeing this with regularity soon:

Go 'Dawgs!

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