I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Mark Richt is on the hot seat. More specifically, he is, according to Lost Lettermen, on the hot seat alongside the Mississippi Rebels’ Houston Nutt (who has a 22-16 record at the school), the UAB Blazers’ Neil Callaway (15-33), the Rice Owls’ David Bailiff (19-30), the Tulane Green Wave’s Bob Toledo (13-35), the Clemson Tigers’ Dabo Swinney (19-15), the UCLA Bruins’ Rick Neuheisel (15-22), the Washington St. Cougars’ Paul Wulff (5-32), the New Mexico Lobos’ Mike Locksley (2-22), and the Oregon Ducks’ Chip Kelly (22-4 but embroiled in scandal). Coach Richt, for the record, is 96-34, and the Georgia Bulldogs’ offseason has been blissfully free of controversy. Do with that knowledge what you will.
What the Bulldog Club of Metro Atlanta did with that knowledge was to extend him a warm welcome at its kickoff meeting on Monday night, though not for the reason Coach Richt claims. Senator Blutarsky is absolutely right that Coach Richt’s new attitude belies his insistence that he has no concerns about what his future holds, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The changes in the Georgia skipper are evident to everyone, and those changes explain why Bulldog Nation is not more anxious than it is coming off of a 6-7 season.
Good coaches reinvent themselves periodically. Bear Bryant’s switch to the wishbone in the early 1970s completely reinvigorated an Alabama Crimson Tide program that was beginning to list. Vince Dooley shifted from the veer to the power-I. With the Florida Gators, Urban Meyer continued to tweak the offensive scheme that had served him so well with the Utah Utes. Coaching means adjusting, down to down, quarter to quarter, game to game, season to season, decade to decade.
By far the fairest criticism of Coach Richt has been a slowness to shift when necessary. Changes to the coaching staff, the strength and conditioning program, and the kickoff strategy (to cite the three most glaring examples) simply took longer than they ought to have taken, and reasonable fans are able to argue with a straight face that two of those three agenda items have yet to be addressed entirely satisfactorily.
Nevertheless, there is no denying that the tenor of the times is different. I would take issue with Greg McGarity’s statement that "[w]e’ve had good news on top of good news on top of good news," but, for the first time in a great while, it is possible to believe that the good outweighs the bad, and our athletic director certainly is correct that the offseason moves "sent the message that it was not just business as usual" and produced "a renewed sense of passion."
Accordingly, fans who are fond of Gary Patterson because he yells should take heed of Coach Richt’s statement last evening that "I plan on having a hell of a year." It’s not the first time Coach Richt has dropped an H-bomb at a Bulldog Club meeting, and, speaking as the guy who didn’t want any defensive coordinator who didn’t use the word "ass" in his job interview, I take heart from hearing Righteously Indignant Richt curse occasionally.
Edna St. Vincent Millay expressed it best when she wrote that life wasn’t one damn thing after another, it was the same damn thing over and over. (See? Even we use profanity from time to time!) Bulldog Nation’s frustration is tied to the fact that we’ve seen three straight years of the same damn thing over and over; we don’t require perfection, but we do insist upon progress.
Of course, not all change is progress, just as not all movement is forward, but we enter this autumn with a reasonable expectation of something different that, ultimately, will lead to something better. Perhaps, along the way, as Mark Richt closes in on the milestone 100th career victory that will enable him to join an elite fraternity of Georgia coaches that currently includes only Wally Butts (140 victories in 22 seasons) and Vince Dooley (201 victories in 25 seasons), we’ll see enough of an upswing to make folks appreciate the fact that a guy who wins three-quarters of his games without appreciable scandal while pointing the program back in the right direction for the second time in his Classic City career might not be a fellow you’d want to lump in with guys hovering around or below .500 or with coaches whose schools are waiting for the NCAA to lower the boom. Just a thought.