Mark Richt: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

If I go there will be trouble. And if I stay it will be double. So come on and let me know.... - Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Reading T Kyle King's great post about the peaks and valley's of the last thirteen years, I remembered an article I initially wrote for Yahoo Voices looking at the pros and cons of the Mark Richt era. Since I retain the rights to the piece, I thought I would republish it here, before letting the 2013 season slip away into the night.

2013 was a disappointing season in Athens. I think all Georgia fans are in agreement about that. There were some exciting wins, but also some very dispiriting losses. After a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl, the Bulldogs finished 8-5; a far cry from preseason talk of competing for conference and national championships.

To be fair, the national title talk was a bit of a reach from the very beginning. The Georgia defense lost twelve players who started games in 2012, including NFL draft picks Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo, John Jenkins, Shawn Williams, Sanders Commings, and Kwame Geathers. This mass exodus forced Georgia to go young on defense, and the inexperience showed. Georgia’s once imposing defense gave up 38 points to Clemson, 41 to LSU, 41 to Missouri, and 43 to Auburn. Only one of these games (LSU) was a win for the Bulldogs.

Even though the defense started a number of freshman, it is apparent that Todd Grantham simply isn’t getting the job done. Despite a roster packed with NFL caliber talent, Grantham’s defense underachieved in 2012; particularly in the SEC championship game, when Alabama gouged Georgia to the tune of 350 rushing yards.

If the defense was suspect in 2012, it was downright awful in 2013. Georgia allowed 29 points per game in 2013, but it was really worse than that, as games against Appalachian State and Kentucky brought the average down somewhat. But numbers aside, I know I’m not the only one who has noticed all of the missed tackles, blown assignments, and lack of communication. Even at the end of the season, the defense still had issues, as Nebraska’s 99 yard touchdown pass in the Gator Bowl attests.

The offense is something of a different story. Despite the fact that Mike Bobo is good for at least two or three "what the hell was he thinking?" play calls per game, the Dawgs are averaged 36.5 points per game this season. This production came in spite of an epic series on injuries in which Georgia lost running back Keith Marshall and wide receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell for the season and running back Todd Gurley, wide recevers Michael Bennett and Chris Conley, and tight end Jay Rome for several games each. Even quarterback Aaron Murray went down, missing the final two games with an ACL injury.

In four of the team’s five losses, the offense put up 35, 26, 27, and 38 points. Hard to blame the losses on them.

The other facet of the game, special teams, has no coach. The debate about whether or not Georgia’s method of splitting the duties among all of the coaches has been raging for years, and given all of the breakdowns in the kicking game in 2013, it seems there may be some merit to this argument. But we won’t spend much time talking about special teams coaches, because that isn’t the reason we’re here. The purpose of this piece isn’t to ask whether coach Richt should make changes to his staff, but whether the time has come for Richt himself to depart.

I heard many opinions on the matter during this disappointment of a season. Some came from people whom I consider to be knowledgeable football fans. Others, not so much. But the common thread seems to be that something needs to change. Could it be that Richt’s time has come?

On the surface, running Richt out of town seems like a ridiculous idea. After all, the man has a cumulative record of 126-45 in his thirteen seasons at UGA. What are we Georgia fans, a bunch of ungrateful loud mouths with unrealistic expectations? Does anyone remember the state the program was in when Richt got here? For those who don’t, consider the following:

-In the twelve seasons prior to Richt’s hiring, former head coaches Ray Goff and Jim Donnan posted a combined record of 86-53-1.

-During these twelve seasons, the Dawgs not only failed to win an SEC Championship, but to even make an appearance in the championship game.

-Goff and Donnan managed only two seasons of ten or more wins, while suffering five seasons of a .500 record or worse.

-Perhaps most damning of all, Goff and Donnan managed a record of only 15-30 against Georgia’s "big four" rivals (Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia Tech).

By contrast, in his first twelve seasons, Richt amassed a record of 118-40, won five Eastern division titles and two SEC Championships, posted eight 10 win seasons aganst only one losing record, and went 31-17 verses the big four. What more could reasonable fans ask of the man? Richt is a good head coach, an even better person, and a great ambassador for UGA.

But then again…

During Richt’s time as UGA’s head coach, SEC schools have won eight national championships (three for Alabama, two each for LSU and Florida, and one for Auburn). Watching your rivals win year after year is a difficult proposition for a fan to handle. Especially when you consider that Georgia ranks with Florida, California, and Texas every year as one of the top talent-producing states in the country.

Richt has come close, but failed to get Georiga in position to play for a national championship. In 2002, a loss to an average Florida team kept the Bulldogs out of the championship game (though Ohio State and Miami may have held on at #1 and #2 either way). In 2007, bad losses to South Carolina and Tennessee allowed LSU to slip into the game. In 2012, a furious last minute comeback against Alabama in the SEC Championship game fell five yards short. The Tide went on to win it all.

But beyond the near-misses, Georgia has seemed unprepared at times during Richt’s tenure. Too often the Bulldogs have found themselves having to dig themselves out of an early hole. And sometimes the adjustments necessary to make a comeback have been slow to come. Some examples:

-In a 2004 game against South Carolina, Georgia fell behind 16-0 before clawing back for a 20-16 win.

-In the 2006 Sugar Bowl, the Bulldogs, despite being a heavy favorite, fell behind 28-0 to West Virginia. This time the deficit was too big and Georiga lost 38-35.

-In 2008, Alabama raced to a 31-0 lead against Georgia. The Tide went on to win 41-30.

There is also the question of talent evaluation. For this matter we need look no further than two Auburn quarterbacks: Cam Newton and Nick Marshall. Newton, who won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship with the Tigers, is a Georgia native. Why didn’t Richt and his staff recruit Newton, you ask? They did. As a tight end.

Marshall, who nearly led the Tigers to another championship this past season, acutally signed with Georgia initially. He spent his freshman year as a reserve for the Bulldogs before being dismissed for a violation of team rules. No surprise there right? Richt has every right to get rid of a player who doesn’t follow the rules. It isn’t Marshall’s dismissal that begs an answer. It is the fact that, with Georgia, Marshall was playing cornerback, not quarterback.

These kinds of mistakes are hard to overcome, as is the general lack of discipline and execution we have seen at times in Athens. Could it be that Richt is too much of a "nice guy" to really motivate players? Some fans I’ve spoken with think that this is precisely the case.

So where does that leave the Bulldogs? For now it seems that UGA will stand pat. Richt is nowhere near the hot seat, and his entire staff, with the exception of secondary coach Scott Lakatos, who resigned for "personal reasons," is set to return for 2014, when Georgia should begin the season ranked in the top fifteen in most preseason polls.

What do I think? I like Mark Richt; always have. He resuscitated a program that had been unable to move out of the middle of the pack in the SEC and made Georgia a perennial contender. But I also believe that changes need to be made. The defensive staff needs an overhaul, and I think that a special teams coordinator would be very beneficial to the team.

In short, I think Richt should stay, for now. But without significant improvement in the next year or two, I may be forced to rethink my position.

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