The story was originally written on June 22nd.
In it, I said the two hottest seats in the SEC — if their teams had bad years — would belong to two of the winningest coaches in the conference: Mark Richt and Les Miles.
Immediately, I was questioned by the Georgia media and bombarded with emails from Georgia fans. (LSU fans didn’t hammer me, because frankly, they knew that if Miles lost ground to Nick Saban again this year they WOULD put him on the hot seat.)
Here’s what I wrote about Richt back in June:
“Richt is now the dean of the SEC’s coaches. Ask Fulmer and Tuberville how heavy that crown lies. Richt has been called a “whiner” by fans and Georgia media folks this spring for his comments about UGA’s schedule. You wouldn’t have heard that talk two or three years ago. Dawg fans bought into the national title buzz last year (even though Georgia was picked second in the East by the SEC media) and they weren’t happy about the three-loss season that followed. So while he might be the best ambassador in the SEC, if Richt has a really bad year this year, look out.”
The response was swift. Georgia fans said I was being ridiculous. They love Richt. He wouldn’t be on any hot seat. Folks wouldn’t call for his head. And I was out of my mind.
Even Bill King of The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Junkyard Blawg took up the issue. He referred to my post as a “remarkable proposition.”
He provided a G-rated commentary on my commentary (unlike a lot of the emails I received) and concluded it as such: “We’re disappointed, but we’re not deluded. Georgia fans know we have a good thing going with Mark Richt and that it’s only a matter of time before he brings the Bulldog Nation another national championship. … Richt on the hot seat? Only in some strange alternative universe SEC.”
Check your GPS units, folks, we’ve apparently shifted dimensions.
After Tennessee’s 45-19 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday, there most certainly are fans clamoring for change and writers questioning the state of the program. Literally.
After Saturday’s game, Richt was asked by a reporter “Are you worried about the state of the program?”
Mark Bradley of The AJC wrote of the Dawgs’ 3-3 start: “This is not a program getting better, or even holding its ground. This is a program in decline.”
He then compares Richt to Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech. “Georgia fans aren’t oblivious. They see the difference being made by one forceful man at the North Avenue Trade School. What they need now is to see their coach again make that sort of difference. That’s assuming their coach still can.”
Jeff Schultz, also of the AJC, wrote on Saturday that the problem at Georgia is “direction,” and that that traces back to Richt.
In his latest offering, he writes that Richt “is facing more doubt about the direction of the Georgia football program than he has since arriving in Athens in 2001.”
And it’s not just the big city writers who are taking Richt to task. David Ching of The Athens Banner-Herald wrote: “… it’s clear the Bulldogs are trending downwards and there is no sign things will improve in the near future.”
Disappointed? Deluded? Or is Richt really on the hot seat?
Uh-huh. Told you so.
At the end of the season — if things don’t turn around — he will no doubt be forced to jettison defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. Then Richt himself will face an important 2010 season with a brand new quarterback.
But here’s the funny thing. Richt’s team finished #2 in the nation just a couple of years ago. They were a preseason #1 last year, but no one in the SEC outside of Georgia picked them to finish ahead of Florida in their own division. They still won 10 games and won the SEC’s second-best bowl.
And this year’s team might be just a tad better had Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno not up and left the program as juniors, mightn’t it? By my count, the Bulldogs have played 14 freshmen and redshirt freshmen this year. This is a pretty young football team.
Georgia fans and media are simply overreacting to a .500 start to a season. The Georgia program, from a distance, is not in decline. If not for a defensive coordinator failing to make adjustments Saturday and a ridiculous celebration penalty last week, the Bulldogs would be 5-1 and Dawg fans would be howling for different reasons.
Instead, their team is 3-3 and they’re mad at their coach. Everyone from Sports Illustrated to ESPN has referenced the current level of anger towards Richt.
So here’s my offer. I’d like for Mr. King of The AJC to tell me about the mood of the fanbase right now. Does he now admit that Richt’s seat can get (and is already) warm?
I like Mr. King’s writings. Link to ‘em often. So I hope he’ll take up this topic. I want to see if he thinks Georgia fans have become delusional. Or was I right to write what I did?
I know a couple of radio hosts in Georgia who say Dawg fans are really upset. So I hope I don’t get the “this is only a few loudmouths” spin. We know folks are ticked. I want to know how ticked. And what led to it, if not the things posted here in June.
We’ll see what the response is.
In the meantime, UGA fans need to take a step back and look at the big picture. Richt has done more for the Georgia program than anyone in 50 years not named Dooley or Walker. His team lost a pair of stars to the NFL early and that’s hurt his offense. It’s not time to put Richt on the hot seat.
Even though they already have.
The story was originally written on June 22nd.