Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Georgia's Mark Richt deserves praise for turnaround

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ATLANTA — Mark Richt took the cautious approach, which is understandable considering the daunting task on the immediate horizon.

A sticker honoring former announcer Larry Munson was worn on Georgia's helmets on Saturday.   JOSH D. WEISS/US PRESSWIRE
JOSH D. WEISS/US PRESSWIRE
A sticker honoring former announcer Larry Munson was worn on Georgia's helmets on Saturday.

“We’re still on the journey,” said the Georgia coach. “I’m not really reflective right now.”

Fair enough, but the occasion of Saturday’s 31-17 victory over Georgia Tech requires a little more pause for admiration before the summit assault. It’s not every year that a 10-win season rises out of the ashes of an 0-2 start and turns eviction notices into contract extensions.

“Going 6-7 (last year), that was the worst feeling I’ve ever been through here at Georgia,” senior center Ben Jones said. “Then turning around and losing our first two (this year), it felt like the world was against you and everybody was standing on our chests. That’s when (coach Richt) said we’ve got a great team and we can go 10-0. We turned around and went 10-0.”

Quibble all you want about the relative strength of Georgia’s schedule, but you can’t look beyond Louisiana State University and Houston and find another team in the nation on a 10-game winning streak. Georgia earned its place in the Southeastern Con­ference championship game against the supposedly invincible LSU. Whether it can hang with the heavily favored Tigers next Saturday in Atlanta will be the subject of much debate over the next six days.

This Saturday in Atlanta, however, deserves more than just a look ahead to the next thing. Richt’s 10th victory in 11 tries against a hated rival was cause for a little celebration (though he declined on the grounds that his ribs still hurt from his poorly executed belly flop after last week’s division-clinching win), but he kept his emotions bottled up for at least another week.

“Winning 10 in a row is nice,” Richt said. “When we were 0-2, people in the Butts-Mehre building were wanting to say, ‘Hey, we can go 10 in a row.’ You can’t go 10 in a row unless you get one in a row. That kind of became our war cry. Let’s win one in a row, once a week.”

Relentless optimism doesn’t win football games. And with little recent history to show the Bulldogs were capable of such a thing, even a few of the players couldn’t help but be skeptics after high-profile losses to Boise State and South Carolina dug a huge hole.

“He told us we were going to be good, but after those first two losses we weren’t sure we should trust him,” tight end Orson Charles said of Richt. “There’s was a lot of noise out there, but we kind of just shut the door and kept everybody together.”

Maybe the luster of beating teams like Tennessee and Florida and Auburn isn’t as much to brag about this year, but the Bulldogs kept winning all those games anyway. Then they did what they had to do to beat Kentucky last week and win the SEC East for the first time since 2005.

Saturday against Georgia Tech was a chance to put an exclamation point on the turnaround. Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets pose a threat to any opponent. The Bulldogs led only 14-10 with just more than a minute left in the first half and a real fight for the Governor’s Cup was brewing.

Instead of being content with a slim lead and going into halftime, Richt put his foot on the gas. He encouraged offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to keep the pressure on with a passing attack the Yellow Jackets seemed incapable of stopping.

Georgia cruised down the field for a late field goal then capitalized on a big Brandon Boykin kickoff return to start the second half to take a quick 24-10 lead. That forced Georgia Tech out of its comfort zone and into a couple of interceptions, and the game was all but over.

“I think that definitely broke their will,” said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who added four more passing touchdowns to four different receivers to his record-smashing season total (32).

Next thing you know, Georgia had its seventh 10-win season in 11 years under Richt and he got a bucket of water dumped across his shoulders. None of the others (2002, ’03 ’04, ’05, ’07 and ’08) required as much heart and resolve as this one.

“He loves every team he coaches and you can’t compare one team to another,” said Murray, “but we’re definitely happy as a team that all that negativity is hopefully gone now and the pressure is off him and he can enjoy just coaching us.”

Bobo has been on Richt’s staff since the beginning and has been in the cross-hairs of disgruntled fans himself, and he considers the accomplishments of this team to be as “impressive” as any before it.

“A lot of people are going to say we haven’t played anybody, but the bottom line is winning,” said Bobo. “We were 0-2 and facing a bunch of criticism as this team did and the negativity surrounding the whole program, to come together as a group and play hard for each other is impressive.”

Bobo remembers walking around the locker room after the South Carolina loss in September trying to boost the spirits of players when two players ended up boosting his.

“Coach, we’re going to be great,” they told him.

Sure enough, they have been. Regardless of what happens next week in the Georgia Dome, where this whole unreal season started on the wrong foot, these Bulldogs did themselves and their coaches proud.

Comments (14) Add comment
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Craig Spinks
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Craig Spinks 11/27/11 - 03:49 am
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Mark Richt is a good coach

Mark Richt is a good coach but he is an even better man.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 11/27/11 - 09:08 am
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Wonder where all those who

Wonder where all those who were on this forum bashing UGA and Coach Richt have gone?

etlinks
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etlinks 11/27/11 - 09:38 am
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JTF- I was wondering the same

JTF- I was wondering the same thing, coach Richt is a blessing that the GA. fan base should be thankfull for. The way the dawgs turned their season around is why I would like to see the SC/GA game at a later date in the year and I am a happy Gamecock fan but that game means so much to be plyed so early in the year.

etlinks
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etlinks 11/27/11 - 09:41 am
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should read played so early

should read played so early in the year. sorry still excited about last nights game.

Vito45
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Vito45 11/27/11 - 12:24 pm
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Ok, JTF, I'll bite. Richt's

Ok, JTF, I'll bite. Richt's past propensity to stay with the wrong horse too long was legitimate criticism. The team's undisciplined play for three seasons running earned him some fans' ire.

As far as presence and attitude, I love the man. When you contrast him to the hotheads that stomp and fume, bless players out, etc., he stands head and shoulders above the Spurriers, et al.

MariettaDawg
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MariettaDawg 11/27/11 - 12:36 pm
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Absolutely!!!!Coach Richt is

Absolutely!!!!Coach Richt is a great asset to the University of Georgia, and to the state. He is a man of integrity and the Dawg Nation should be proud?

I was not one of those who were deserting him and our team after the 0-2 start, and the ones who did I hope you now have another team to support, because the University or the fan base and most importantly the players - don't need you or want you!

Richt and his players deserve what they have accomplished and should be proud, but most importantly they deserve more from the fans when things aren't going right... Loyalty is a character trait worth having and Richt and his Team have that, how about you?

Go Dawgs!!!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/27/11 - 12:47 pm
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This criticism of Richt was

This criticism of Richt was coming from somewhere...big. That knowledgeable show on Fox Sports that analyzes the SEC was saying he would be gone saying they had been told by confidential sources.

There is some type of guarding at UGA against a coach becoming untouchable....again. I'm not sure what it's about, but Jim Marshall was run off pretty fast. Mark Richt may just about be untouchable after this year...win or lose.

Vito45
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Vito45 11/27/11 - 01:13 pm
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RM, you mean Jim Donnan. It

RM, you mean Jim Donnan. It is simple, he didn't show appropriate deference to a couple of the Ga Gods.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 11/27/11 - 01:41 pm
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Donnan, Donnan, Donnan.

Donnan, Donnan, Donnan. Ha...He came from Marshall University. Thanks, Vito. Of course he was probably trying to sell Amway on the side or some such pyramid scheme of his.

kiwiinamerica
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kiwiinamerica 11/27/11 - 02:59 pm
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I guess that's one way to win
Unpublished

I guess that's one way to win plaudits. Play terrible for the first couple of weeks, then improve and everyone says "what a great coach.....look how they've improved!" The Boise State and Gamecock debacles belong to Richt too, don't they? They were arguably the two toughest teams which UGA faced and the team was clearly not ready. There's no such thing as "too early in the year". The season starts when it starts.

This weekend they face some REAL opposition. It will be interesting.

scoopdedoop64
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scoopdedoop64 11/27/11 - 04:01 pm
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Ditto to all the posts above.

Ditto to all the posts above. Very happy that things have turned around for the team and Richt. Always a dog fan when things are good or bad!

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 11/27/11 - 04:02 pm
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kiwi, look, if you're going

kiwi, look, if you're going to bring up the Carolina game, at least use full-disclosure. It is so easy to have the game be done with a couple of months ago, and all people remember is the won-loss decision. First off, the game was not a "debacle". Georgia lost by 3 points, and that can EASILY be attributed to the turnovers and missed FGs. Georgia should have won that game, had it not been for those. BUT..give credit where credit is due...Carolina overcame and took full advantage of our mistakes, and that is exactly what they are supposed to do. But Carolina did not dominate the game, as most Gamecock fans would lead you to believe! Besides, Georgia had all summer to prepare (poorly, I might add) for the Boise State game and did not have the luxury of playing a patsy first team like Carolina did (not dissing, just pointing out a fact!). So, in reality, Carolina had all summer to prepare for Georgia, because they sure weren't preparing for their patsy game. Now, you Carolina and Georgia fans who KNOW college football...am I right or wrong? Now, as far as next weekend's game against LSU, I don't think it'll be as interesting as you seem to think it will be! If Georgia wins, I think it'll be because LSU finally played a completely FLAT game and Georgia played a completely balanced and well-executed game...in other words, LSU will play down and Georgia will play up! But, if LSU wins, I don't think there is any shame in losing to a team who will be playing for the national championship!

Vito45
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Vito45 11/27/11 - 04:35 pm
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Yep, JMO; Georgia won that

Yep, JMO; Georgia won that game everywhere but where it counts. That is what made it such a disappointing loss.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 11/27/11 - 10:18 pm
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Ah Kiwi, you prognosticating

Ah Kiwi, you prognosticating ability is on record for anyone who wants to look it up. You trashed UGA for two weeks and then went totally AWOL for the last ten weeks. Now, you show up trying to set up the LSU game. I'm guessing that a UGA loss will bring you quickly to the forum. But, guess what, losing to LSU, should that happen, will not diminish the season at all. Richt's 7th 10 win season in 11 tries. The Cocks were super excited about their 2nd 10 win season in over 100 yrs. 10 wins in 11 tries against Tech. Great coach.

sand gnat
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sand gnat 11/28/11 - 12:59 am
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A soft schedule is the only

A soft schedule is the only reason Richt is not working at the the local Ford dealership. No doubt, Spurrier beat every team in the east. Unfortunately, while he was facing Ark., Richt was facing the powerhouse at Ol' Miss. Would have been real embarrasing if Richt had faced Ga. Southern this year instead of Coastal Carolina.

Iwannakno
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Iwannakno 11/29/11 - 05:27 pm
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Richt is a good man but not
Unpublished

Richt is a good man but not tough enough for the SEC he will keep his job because of a weak year in the SEC. I still think he needs to go and UGA will never win a national championship with him at the helm. I haven't waivered on my feelings of Richt and I never will. Nice guys finish last...dead last in the a national championship race. Not a Spurrier fan but if he had the talent that has come through UGA in the last 5 years he would have a national championship.

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