— Radi Nabulsi ESPN (@RadiNabulsi) February 20, 2013
When it comes to Mark Richt, some things never change. He’s always losing control of something, even if it’s former players in other states. He’s always on the hot seat, even after receiving a raise and a contract extension following a twelve-win season. He’s also content to eschew adopting any of Nick Saban’s recruiting tactics . . . yet, son of a gun, look what he’s done this month.
After cobbling together an outstanding 2012 season that fell just short of being an historically grand campaign with a complement of recruited scholarship athletes small enough to count as a voluntary NCAA probation or a self-imposed demotion to the Division I-AA ranks, the Georgia Bulldogs inked a whopping 32-man class on National Signing Day, then capped off the Red and Black’s 2013 recruiting push by snagging junior college defensive lineman Toby Johnson two weeks later.
While the fax machines were humming in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall and the hat ceremonies were airing on ESPNU, the focus (not unreasonably) was on the ones who got away, from Montravius Adams to Reuben Foster, from Alvin Kamara to Laremy Tunsil, but Johnson’s eleventh-hour addition casts a new, and more favorable, light on the class by shoring up the area of greatest weakness at a time when many of Johnson’s future teammates already are on campus, preparing for their first year as Bulldogs.
Polite, soft-spoken Mark Richt cultivates an air of unflappable calm, causing many who have failed to observe his often heated sideline demeanor to question his dedication and creating the impression that he is a nice guy who finishes last. How he has managed to do this while capturing back-to-back division titles and winning 21 of his last 22 regular-season games is beyond me, but, shhhh, let’s not wake the drowsing dullards who take The Narrative as gospel. Don’t worry; Coach Richt is the overmatched hidebound product of soft scheduling. Just you go back to sleep, now, child.
Coach Richt, like the state whose flagship university he serves, is slow to change, and, in that respect, he embodies many of the best (stability) and worst (stagnation) aspects of the moderation impressed upon the people of the Peach State by the banner encircling the right pillar upholding the Arch on the state seal. Coach Richt’s unwillingness to go to extremes, coupled with his insistence upon strictly disciplining his players in fealty to the justice emblazoned across the standard draped over the front of the middle pillar, produces much grousing directed at the man who is on track to become the winningest head football coach in our history.
Somehow, though, this man last fall fielded a team with depth issues across the board due to a persistent practice of chronically undersigning and a consistent determination to hold his players accountable for their actions, and from this hampered squad he wrung a dozen victories, coming fifteen feet from hoisting the crystal football . . . and, since that 2012 season ended, he has quietly cobbled together a solid 2013 signing class of potential contributors who fill immediate needs, bringing in both quality and quantity while taking advantage of early enrollments in order to add 33 players to his program---nearly a 50 per cent increase over the number of recruited scholarship athletes with whom the Bulldogs began last season---without the need for unscrupulous practices papered over with the dainty euphemism “roster management.”
Say, did anyone happen to notice the six letters appearing on the pennant wrapped around the leftmost upright of the Arch appearing on the Georgia state seal? Yeah, I did, too. I told you Mark Richt embodied the ethos of the people whose ancient institution of higher learning he serves. Like an aircraft carrier, he is, and we are, hard to put into motion from a resting state, but, also like an aircraft carrier, we Georgians are tough to stop once we finally get it in gear. Toby Johnson represents another mile marker on the road down which we are moving in the right direction.