There's been a good bit of generally ill-informed talk in the papers and blogosphere indicating that Mark Richt is "on the hot seat" in 2010. Of course no one with any sense of what is going on in the Georgia football program truly believes that Mark Richt will not be back on the sideline in 2011. Short of going 5-7 and being found, as former Louisiana Governor and current guest of the federal penal system Edwin Edwards said, "with either a live boy or a dead woman", Mark Richt has an awfully large reservoir of good will from which to draw. With a new quarterback and a new defensive staff implementing a new scheme, the expectations for 2010 should lean toward the reasonable and attainable.
Of course, this Georgia squad could go 5-7, theoretically. It's the SEC. Every team is a few key injuries and a couple of poorly timed turnovers away from 5-7. And Mark Richt could be unemployed by January 2011. But then, other than Nick Saban, that could probably be said of every coach in the league under the right circumstances. Every coach in the SEC is coaching for his job every week. Heck, Urban Meyer has demonstrated that even if he's 12-1 and headed to the Sugar Bowl he's a threat to sack himself. No one really knows what will happen in this conference. It's a fun place that way, as long as you don't have too much of a stake in the way the roulette wheel turns.
And because anything could happen, the question that should be asked, but really hasn't been so far as I've read, is this: what of Mark Richt's stock if Georgia overachieves this season? What if the Bulldogs, with a first year starter at quarterback and a new defensive scheme, finish 10-2 and play in the SEC Championship Game? With the inexperienced and unproven anchoring key positions all over the SEC East, a two-loss team could very well make its way to Atlanta. Georgia has, by its own recent standards and those of its coevals in 2010, a schedule that could easily be labeled "manageable". Even with new personnel and a new scheme, it's hard to believe the defense will get demonstrably worse. With 10 starters back on offense, including every offensive lineman (and several seasoned backups to boot) young Aaron Murray probably won't be asked to do much more than not screw it up. Occasionally a first year starter can do OK in the SEC by just not screwing it up and handing the ball to the right tailbacks over and over again
One takeaway from such a season would be the argument that Mark Richt has proven that he can weather the storms and continue to excel as a head coach in the SEC. That he is truly a lifer. That the Mark Richt Victory Watch might continue on well into the future. If the Classic City footballers do indeed win 10 games in 2010, it should put to bed once and for all the notion that Mark Richt cannot (or will not) adapt. It's silly that such a trope is still viable, given that he fired an offensive coordinator with whom he's still very close, had another offensive coordinator leave for a head coaching gig, and has lost spades of other assistants in Athens over the years.
If, contrary to this blogger's opinion, 2010 is in fact a make or break season for Coach Richt, a "make" would render any future ouster that much more difficult to justify. And it would be par for the course. There's something of a precedent here. His first 8 win season in Athens was also followed by a Sugar Bowl victory and a top 3 final ranking. His Bulldogs followed an 8 win regular season in 2006 with a come-from-behind bowl victory and then another Sugar Bowl win. This isn't the man's first rodeo, so far as bounceback seasons go.
Mark Richt probably cannot lose his job based upon onfield performance in 2010. However, with the right type of season, he could go a long way to cementing his status as a longterm coach in the Classic City. 2010 provides the opportunity to establish a young core of future contributors on defense, and could even be the first year of Aaron Murray's successful four year run as the starting quarterback of the University of Georgia football team. If those things happen, an admittedly big if as we swelter in the July heat, the talk of Mark Richt's pants warming will seem even sillier than it already does. Not something I'm necessarily predicting, just something to think about. Until later,