Georgia fans getting impatient with Richt

ATHENS, Ga. - Bulldog Nation and Mark Richt have lost that lovin' feeling.

The mood of the fan base has shifted from concerned to embarrassed to hostile now that Georgia has fallen to 0-3 in the Southeastern Conference. There is nobody happy about the Bulldog state of affairs after Saturday night's loss at Mississippi State.

"This week we will be soul-searching," Richt said.

That's not the kind of searching many of Georgia's increasingly disgruntled fans are calling for. The refrain for regime change is getting louder with every downward step the program takes.

Even though I disagree with the reactionary bloodlust, the "fire Mark Richt" crowd has plenty of ammunition.

The Bulldogs are 0-3 for the first time in the SEC since the middle of the wretched Ray Goff era of 1993.

They are 2-7 in their past nine SEC games, including losses to LSU, Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State.

They are 20-15 in the conference since winning the SEC championship in 2005.

They can't seem to go a week without some player getting arrested for some stupid thing.

For those of us less prone to let emotion interfere with rational analysis, it's getting tougher to defend Richt's 10-year tenure on merit.

Even the players aren't defending themselves these days.

"We're embarrassed at the way we're playing," said Kris Durham, one of the bright spots of a dismal season thus far. "Our season could turn into a catastrophe if we don't stay together."

No doubt, some rabid Georgia fans are hoping that will happen to force new athletic director Greg McGarity's hand. It would be a costly move with Richt's $2 million buyout for each of the next three seasons. McGarity has said this is not a make-or-break season.

Fans on the Internet, however, are buzzing with contempt for a coach everyone once adored. Not that the Internet is filled with rational debate.

Even the guy protecting the Web address FireMarkRicht.com from becoming a petri dish of Bulldog anger is waffling on his support after getting more than 300 e-mails since Saturday encouraging him to join the witch hunt.

"I am a UGA fan that appreciates everything Richt has done for us," said William Neilson Jr., Georgia Class of '05. "With that said, it is hard watching us play so poorly. Maybe we do need to make changes, but I prefer keeping those thoughts in-house amongst other UGA fans rather than making it a national event on this Web site."

Other Web sites have no such reservations. FireMarkRicht.net provides a forum for fan venting. Facebook has 184 members of The Fire Mark Richt Club, which has had wall posts pouring in since Saturday's first loss in Starkville, Miss., since 1951.

"Mark Richt is the Norv Turner of college football!" posted Ljdawg Kevin. "I hate to say it but he has to go! I haven't seen a UGA team this flat since the Ray Goff years!"

The discontent has clearly reached multiple-exclamation-point level.

None of this, of course, is news to Richt.

"They're not (happy)?" he said. "Neither am I. Neither is my mom, I can tell you that."

Richt can't afford to sit back and hope things turn around midseason despite all the evidence that it won't. He needs to be proactive in more ways than just kicking off any players who run afoul of the law.

The biggest thing he can do right now is take over the play-calling from Mike Bobo, who has taken over the hot seat left vacant when defensive coordinator Willie Martinez was fired after last season. Georgia's best results in the Richt era came when he was calling the shots himself. For his own good, he needs to get more involved again.

"I need time to watch and reflect," Richt said after Saturday's loss. "Every week we look at our program in all areas. This week we will talk about the things we do well and what we can do better and about things in general that will help us turn this around."

In reviewing the game film, Richt surely noticed how uninspiring the offensive play-calling has been. With A.J. Green coming back from suspension to face Colorado this weekend, taking over the play-calling and getting No. 8 involved in a big way would go a long way to creating a positive vibe before the resumption of SEC play.

Richt will likely not -- and should not -- be fired this season. Collecting 90 wins in nine seasons doesn't just happen by accident. He's earned the right to fix this mess himself, and that might require more staffing changes.

But with things trending the wrong direction, the luxury of long-term security doesn't exist in an arena as competitive as the SEC. Justly or not, Georgia fans are intolerant of mediocrity, and they are forcing Richt out of his comfort zone.

"It's certainly not a good place to be, but we are where we are," Richt said. "We've got to stay together, and I've seen no signs of change in my mindset that we're a close-knit family. But we've also got to look within, starting with me, as to the things that have kept us from having the success that we want."

If he can't find those answers from within, Georgia is going to start looking outside.

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