As we sit here on the fifth anniversary of the day Paul Johnson was introduced as the head coach at The Flats---leave it to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to hire the Navy Midshipmen’s skipper on Pearl Harbor Day---it is gratifying to know, even in the midst of our disappointment over the outcome of the SEC Championship Game, that events around us continue to underscore how fortunate the Georgia Bulldogs are to have Mark Richt as their head coach.
Just imagine where we might be if that were not the case. Look around you and see the carnage that has a good portion of the Southeastern Conference metaphorically---for now, at least---in flames. When the Auburn Tigers underwhelmed us by hiring Gus Malzahn, fans of the Plainsmen tried to make the best of it, but acknowledged that the choice lacked boldness and was “the exact opposite of what Alabama would do,” which is considered a compliment nowhere other than the so-called Loveliest Village. When the Arkansas Razorbacks snagged an SEC-bashing jackleg with an Iowa logo tattoo, partisans of the Hogs expressed 40 per cent cautious optimism and 20 per cent disappointment or depression.
Now, after having dodged a bullet by whiffing on the stupefyingly overrated Jon Gruden, even the most level-headed boosters of the Tennessee Volunteers are losing their enthusiasm at the prospect of moving forward under Butch Jones. That last one is most noteworthy, because, two years ago, when I appeared on the Rocky Top Talk Podcast, my friends among the Big Orange faithful told me that Mark Richt’s trajectory at that time reminded them of Phillip Fulmer’s near the end of his reign in Knoxville.
At the time, it certainly appeared that they had a point. Georgia was off to a 1-4 start, had lost ten of its last 20 games, and had dropped three of the four most recent series meetings to the Vols, who were coming to the Classic City with their third head coach in as many seasons. The result the following Saturday was a 41-14 Red and Black win, and, since then, the Bulldogs have won 26 out of 31 regular-season outings, captured two straight division crowns, and fallen five yards short of a BCS National Championship Game berth.
All is not perfect in Bulldog Nation, of course---consecutive bowl losses and back-to-back SEC Championship Game setbacks attest to the fact that there remains progress yet to be made---but it’s a darned sight better than having to hope for salvation in the form of some fellow your athletic director plucked from Cincinnati or Wisconsin or, for Heaven’s sake, Arkansas State. Our rivals are learning the hard way the lesson we ought to be grateful for having avoided: After your outraged shouts of, “Fire _______!” at long last have been heeded by the powers that be, there comes the question, “. . . And hire whom?” There is a reason why lawyers are taught never to ask questions to which they do not already know the answer; it is because the alternative is to run the considerable risk of getting a response you do not like and cannot change.