"We're not that far away."
I must have heard it a dozen times on the postgame radio show with Jeff Dantzler and David Greene. It's the ambiguous, naïve, oft-declared mantra that programs and their supporters turn to in low times. It's a way of reassuring ourselves that we aren't that bad. You know - a couple of bounces go our way, a few bad flags get picked up, a few good flags get thrown, and this season wouldn't have been so endlessly dour. It reeks of self-pity and foolish optimism. Now, I'm hearing it in regard to my beloved Georgia Bulldogs.
We're not that far away.
I suppose that's true. Those highly valued recruiting rankings suggest we don't lack talent. We send a bevy of top quality players to the NFL - often in the first round of the draft - every year. At no point this season were we shellacked in the manner some of our previous, more highly regarded teams have been. So all signs would point to us being "not that far away." As such, the question arises: If we're not that far away, what the hell is keeping us from getting there?
The old states of the Confederacy have become the mecca of college football, darlings of primetime television and mainstream media. The best players want to come to the South because that's where the best programs and the most exposure reside; such is the era of satellite television and signing bonuses for NFL draftees. Teams with sterling national perceptions such as Alabama, Florida, Auburn, and LSU will always be stocked with talent, while overflow will occasionally stock the cupboards of a Mississippi State, a South Carolina, or an Arkansas. This means that Georgia, with its own perpetually full cupboard, will never have an easy path to success.
But the tools are there, or so we're told. After all, we're not that far away. If the issue isn't the tools, it is the craftsman. In his later years, my grandfather, a carpenter, would look at his jig saw in disgust, wondering why it didn't give him a clean line. He didn't realize it was the Parkinson's until he could no longer drive straight on the road.
Look, I'm not advocating the firing of Mark Richt. Over the time he's been with the program, I've become a young man and grown to love the Bulldogs more than any team in any sport; that's due largely to the brilliant success he had with the team for seven years. But the past three years have been woeful, a precipitous fall from lofty heights blindsiding all of Bulldog Nation. And with the way this conference is, it only takes one year to go from "not that far away" to "Damn, that's a long way off".
That's the hard truth of the situation. Almost every team in the SEC is "not that far way". It's going to take Mark Richt finding something within himself that he has lost, getting rid of something that he has added (Mike Bobo), or Greg McGarity starting from scratch. And that has to happen soon because whatever it is that isn't far away is not a static thing; it is moving and we are being left behind.