Despite being asked a question by center Ben Jones, Mark Richt didn’t say much that mattered at SEC Media Days today, but how he said it mattered a great deal.
In less tumultuous times, Coach Richt’s even-keeled demeanor was seen as a strength; his preternatural calm, on display at critical moments of many crucial victories, beginning with the 2001 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, made it appear as though he had the resting heart rate of a jewel thief, a marathon runner, or Hannibal Lecter.
During these difficult days, many well-meaning members of the Bulldog faithful make the mistake of confusing meekness for weakness, questioning whether Coach Richt is able to maintain such calm because he cares so little. While there are a variety of valid criticisms one might offer against Mark Richt, a lack of concern is not among them, and, fortunately, this avenue of attack has been abandoned by all but his most singleminded detractors since his active involvement helped land a stellar signing class in 2011 and is helping to put together similar recruiting hauls for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Dropping an occasional H-bomb at a Bulldog Club meeting doesn’t hurt, either.
In a sense, though, Coach Richt’s harshest critics are correct, and they were proven right---though not in the way they would like to believe---by the way the dean of SEC coaches spoke optimistically of the future to reporters who were there to ask him whether, and to what extent, he is on the hot seat. Mark Richt has the peace at the center that his faith provides, and, while those Georgia fans who hope this will be his final season on the Sanford Stadium sideline speak the truth when they point out that being a good Christian and being a good coach aren’t the same thing, it is important to remember that we have been well served for a decade by Mark Richt’s attitude and outlook.
Without Mark Richt and his quiet confidence, the Georgia Bulldogs still would be winless in Tuscaloosa over the course of their history, and would be without half of their all-time wins in Neyland Stadium. Without Mark Richt and his inner peace, the Georgia Bulldogs would not have won 90 per cent of their games against their in-state rivals over the last ten years, nor would they have won 80 per cent of their games against their oldest rivals over the last five. Without Mark Richt and his upbeat faith, the Georgia Bulldogs would be entering their 28th straight season without a conference crown to their credit.
No, all is not perfect in Bulldog Nation; much, in fact, is far from well, and it may get worse before its gets better . . . but, today, at SEC Media Days, Mark Richt did not have to answer questions about player arrests, or being true to his school, or how many second chances he plans to give to his starting quarterback, or whether his method of managing his roster is morally defensible, or whether his school paid a recruiting go-between for useless video, or whether his school paid for its star player, or whether the NCAA was right to put his school on probation for four years.
I understand and respect the views of all those Georgia fans who believe Mark Richt has overstayed his welcome in Athens, and who hope that, this time next year, we will be preparing for the Gary Patterson or Kirby Smart era to get underway. I recognize the reasonableness and accuracy of much that is said in derogation of our head coach, but, right now, this season, today, Mark Richt is our head coach, and his belief bolsters my belief. He has won here before, and done so in a manner that allowed me to take my son to Sanford Stadium and watch what unfolded there with unbridled pride rather than secret shame, and that provides a basis for believing he can do so again, and soon, and (I hope) soon enough.
None of us knows what the 2011 season will bring, and we will know soon enough how it all unfolds. On this particular Thursday, though, Mark Richt stood before reporters as the longest-tenured head coach in the Southeastern Conference and expressed his faith in the future in what is perhaps his darkest professional hour, and that has given this unabashed admirer of our head coach a measure of hope, which is the first building block of the belief that, where there has been desolation, glory again will arise.