Fans should trust Richt to make the right moves

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ATHENS, Ga. --- The tone has changed in Bulldog Nation. It's angry and frustrated and venomous. It's calling for blood. Much of it is irrational. Some of it is legitimate.

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Head coach Mark Richt's Bulldogs are ranked last in penalties this year with 74 for 610 yards. They were ranked last in 2008 with 112 for 938 yards.  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
Head coach Mark Richt's Bulldogs are ranked last in penalties this year with 74 for 610 yards. They were ranked last in 2008 with 112 for 938 yards.

Mark Richt hears it. As much as he and his Georgia coaching staff and players might try to steer clear of the editorials and on-line chats bemoaning the Bulldogs' 4-4 record, you can't escape what former embattled Florida coach Ron Zook famously called "the noise in the system."

Richt got an earful of the noise on his weekly radio call-in show. In passionate volume that broadcast host Scott Howard said he's never heard before (and he's hosted some call-in programs for some pretty miserable Georgia basketball teams), Richt heard it all. The first caller set the tone without ever asking a question, just rattling off a list of grievances.

The coach politely took it and soldiered on, call after disgruntled call.

"I don't think one fan has brought up something we haven't thought of," Richt said. "We're trying to make the best decisions that we can make."

For Georgia fans dissatisfied with mediocrity and yet another humiliation at the hands of rival Florida, "doing our best" is not a battle cry they want to hear. They see Florida and Louisiana State University and Alabama vying for national titles and scream "why not us!"

Most of all they want changes. They want somebody fired, whether it's defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo or both. Some are even starting to question whether Richt is the right man for the job, as if having the highest winning percentage of any Georgia head coach and winning the only Southeastern Conference titles in the post-Herschel Walker era isn't accomplishment enough.

Like I said, not all of it is rational. But some of it is.

For Richt, this is virgin territory. Never as an assistant or head coach has he been in this kind of position -- which clearly speaks to the merits of his coaching abilities. But now that he is, how he deals with it will define his and Georgia's future. Coaches always preach "how are we going to handle adversity?" Now is his chance to practice it.

"We are still educators with these young men," Richt said. "So we are trying to model how to handle adversity and we are trying to help them handle adversity. Not only do we want to handle it, we want to turn it around. It's one thing to kind of hold everything together, but another thing to turn it around. First you start with keeping everyone together, keeping everyone on the same page and keeping everyone focused on the important things. That's very crucial, but then you also got to be strong enough to turn the thing around. That's really our main focus right now."

Again, impatient Georgia fans don't want to hear that. They don't like stomaching seasons like this. But they aren't the ones stepping between the lines on Saturday and the one after that and the one after that and the one after that. They have the luxury of writing a season off and turning a mental page to next year. Richt and his staff don't have that luxury. They still have to deal with the here and now.

"I can't do that," Richt said of turning his focus to the future by benching senior quarterback Joe Cox and throwing an unpolished QB into the fire or making staff and system changes midstream. "I can't do that to our seniors. We tell our guys to finish the drill. We tell our guys to never quit. If we made that move with a young (quarterback), I'd have the confidence that I could say in all honesty that he gives us the best chance to win right now. Because we couldn't come to that conclusion, we went with the guy that gives us the best chance to win right now. If we made a move and say we are playing for next year, in my mind, we've given up on the season. We've quit. We don't quit at Georgia, and we don't teach our guys to quit."

There is only so much that can be done to salvage a season in its 10th week. For better or worse, they are in this thing right now. The running game isn't going to spontaneously erupt from the SEC basement. The defense isn't going to reincarnate the dominance of its not-too-distant past. Cox is not going to become David Greene.

But that doesn't stop a coaching staff -- even the doomed members of it -- from trying to fix it the only way they know how to this deep into a campaign.

"You can try to do some things as it's happening, but I think it's got to be more of a tweak rather than a wholesale change," Richt said. "You want to continue to believe that success is not that far away, and we're not too far off. We've just got to keep knocking at it until it breaks free and the good things happen."

Richt's only comparable career point of reference is 2006, when Georgia lost four of five in a midseason stretch behind an inexperienced quarterback yet righted the ship with three closing wins over ranked programs.

"We didn't start throwing guys in and throwing guys out and changing your scheme and all those kind of things," he said. "We just stayed the course, and we finished very strong. We finished very honorable. It did build momentum for the next season, so my feeling is to build the most momentum towards the future for Georgia is to get it back on track and begin to win. That's where my thinking is right now."

The time for reevaluation is coming soon enough. As irrational as some of the fan criticism may be, there are some very legitimate long-range concerns. The defense can't keep going in this direction. The offensive line can't continue to annually disappoint. The strength and conditioning must be upgraded. Fixing these issues will require a major shake-up of staff, not just one coordinator or two.

Richt knows that.

"Every off-season you must reevaluate," he said. "You must."

Some have openly wondered if Richt is "too nice" to make the hard choices necessary and replace loyal friends on his staff. He's heard those claims ever since his old boss, Bobby Bowden, questioned nine years ago whether Richt was "tough enough" to make the transition to head coach.

People underestimate Richt's leadership mettle. He's as frustrated as the fans seeing Florida, LSU, Alabama and Tennessee push into the place Georgia seemed so comfortable being just a few years ago.

"Let's face it," he said. "We've had the best winning percentage in the history of Georgia football. We've done pretty well. This year we have not. We are averaging 10 wins a year, we won the SEC twice and we hadn't won one in 20 years. It's not like we've just been floundering around. This year we have been, let's face it, and I don't like it. People that know me well or the team or the coaches, they know that I've got another edge to me that I don't show publicly all the time. Maybe that's what the public wants to see."

The public wants to see Georgia restore its good football name. It wants to see Richt clean his dog house and make things right again.

For its part, the public would be best served by quieting some of the noise in the system and trusting their coach to do the right things at the right time. Even in the midst of a bad season, Richt has certainly earned a little faith from the faithful.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

GEORGIA WAS RANKED SECOND IN TOTAL OFFENSE AND SIXTH IN TOTAL DEFENSE IN 2008.

TOTAL OFFENSE

Rush Pass Yards Avg/P TD Avg/G
1. Florida 2018 1555 3573 6.6 31 446.6
2. Arkansas 1138 2366 3504 6.8 33 438.0
3. Auburn 2018 1830 3848 5.9 31 427.6
4. Alabama 1741 1539 3280 6.0 26 410.0
5. Ole Miss 1391 1748 3139 5.8 26 392.4
6. Mississippi St. 1973 1489 3462 5.6 23 384.7
7. Tennessee 1375 1661 3036 5.6 28 379.5
8. South Carolina 1163 2133 3296 5.4 21 366.2
9. Kentucky 1493 1176 2669 5.0 23 333.6
10. Vanderbilt 1616 1365 2981 4.8 16 331.2
11. Georgia 877 1752 2629 5.5 21 328.6
12. LSU 1132 1469 2601 5.3 23 325.1

TOTAL DEFENSE

Rush Pass Yards Avg/P TD Avg/G
1. Florida 783 1110 1893 4.0 6 236.6
2. Alabama 517 1408 1925 3.8 8 240.6
3. Tennessee 862 1391 2253 4.4 8 281.6
4. LSU 915 1429 2344 4.4 10 293.0
5. South Carolina 1380 1272 2652 4.7 17 294.7
6. Ole Miss 1107 1394 2501 4.7 11 312.6
7. Vanderbilt 1717 1440 3157 4.9 23 350.8
8. Mississippi St. 1327 1840 3167 5.3 23 351.9
9. Georgia 1101 1832 2933 5.4 24 366.6
10. Kentucky 1567 1392 2959 5.5 22 369.9
11. Auburn 1611 1732 3343 5.2 28 371.4
12. Arkansas 1172 2113 3285 6.0 26 410.6
Comments (10) Add comment
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augustadog
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augustadog 11/04/09 - 07:56 am
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Willie Martinez MUST go.

Willie Martinez MUST go.

laro247
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laro247 11/04/09 - 08:12 am
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I don't think firing any

I don't think firing any coach would make a difference in th long run. This group of players, as a unit just don't make a very good football team. I remember several Dooly teams that looked just like this one. I don't like a bad season anymore than the next guy but it happens. Even to us dogs every now and then. Lose the venom and get over it. These are still kids you know.

buster
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buster 11/04/09 - 09:48 am
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"Fans should trust

"Fans should trust Richt"----I trusted Coach Richt and his staff to take what has been reported as some of the best recruiting classes in the country and put a good football team on the field.
They broke that trust miserably and as with all instances of a breach of trust, once it's broken, it takes some drastic measures to get it back. Staying the course is not an effort to fix anything, it's an excuse. And a poor one at that.

georgiadawg1
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georgiadawg1 11/04/09 - 03:21 pm
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buster, couldn't agree more

buster, couldn't agree more with your point. if uga had not been recruiting top 5 classes every year, if we didn't have the $$ that our athletic department has (top 3 in the nation), if we didn't have the monster facilities, the huge fan base in a major state, and weren't paying our head coach $2 million plus a year, then excuses would be fine, but there are no excuses that will suffice for what is happening to our program. Too many UGA fans just look at the immediate and what is happening now and they say "we're just in a rut and things will turn around". They don't see the scary trend that UGA is slipping in to. We are 7-6 in our last 13 games and have given up 37+ points in 9 of our last 17 games. That is pathetic and reflects that we have an inept defensive coordinator at the helm, and it shows that UGA is not progressing as a program but declining. We also, once again, are worst in the country in penalties. That is a direct reflection of coaching, or lack of. Richt said before the '08 season that it was a serious concern and he was going to direct his full attention to changing it. Yet here we sit in '09 worst in the country. That is a refelction of coaching.

georgiadawg1
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georgiadawg1 11/04/09 - 03:48 pm
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I'm not calling for Richt to

I'm not calling for Richt to go by any means, but I'm worried that he doesn't have the stomach to make tough choices when they need to be made. Coaching changes need to occur on defense and offense. The true sign that you have bad assistant coaches is when other schools are not pursuing them for head coaching, or other coaching positions with there schools. Just look at Charlie Strong at Florida, everyone wants him, because he is great at his job. We couldn't get another program to take Willie off our hands if we tried. Bottom line, we are not measuring up to our potential as a program, period. He have had some great success, but even with all the great success under Richt there have been two other SEC programs (LSU and UF) that have won 2 National Championships a piece in the same time(with another probably coming from either Meyer and UF again or Saban and Alabama). Don't get me wrong, we have a good coach, but I question if he is the man that can lead us to a National Championship. UGA fans are expecting that in the not so distant future based upon all these great recruits that we are suppossedly getting every year. I want us to start living up the expectations for once

Laguria
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Laguria 11/04/09 - 05:50 pm
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Irrational Scott? When you

Irrational Scott?
When you take four and five star recruits and end up with a below average team, you have killed their future. It's not only the fan's who lose, but those poor recruits will never be given a chance in the NFL. Wonder what his recruiting class will look like next year? They all must go! Lag

Don KING
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Don KING 11/04/09 - 05:53 pm
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excessive penalties=lack of

excessive penalties=lack of player discipline, lack of discipline=poor coaching, poor coaching=time for change......players are running the team and not the coaching staff!

Laguria
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Laguria 11/04/09 - 06:07 pm
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I know Richt is a "good

I know Richt is a "good christain," "nice guy," "good looking," etc. etc..
And yes, those black helmets and jumping on the Fla goal line was impressive in 2007. Those poor recruit's should have gone to Fla, Bama, Tenn or LSU if they wanted to advance their career. Scott, you obviously don't get it. When you recruit player's of that caliber who have a future, you must coach to their level. Richt has failed miserably. Lag

Just My Opinion
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Just My Opinion 11/04/09 - 09:23 pm
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georgiadawg1...I agree with a

georgiadawg1...I agree with a great majority of what you've said, but one comment about Charlie Strong. I've heard alot of people TALK about how much Strong should be a head coaching candidate, but I haven't seen anything about him being actively pursued for a job anywhere! From what I've been told, the man has issues that come across when he's interviewed. No, it doesn't have anything to do with his white wife..although that might be an issue in some circles that aren't admitted to. He doesn't communicate well to the press, so I don't know if that's his stumbling block?? I mean, look at Ed Orgeron when he was at Ole Miss...he wasn't exactly the great commicator! Personally, I think Strong will leave for somewhere after this season. And that's because he knew their defense would be lights-out this season with all the returning players, and he knew that'd increase his stock! Next year won't be the same....I hope! As far as Georgia, there's a rumor out there that Brian Van Gorder may be interested, IF there's enough money involved.

TrueVoice
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TrueVoice 11/05/09 - 11:37 am
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I'll say it. Richt should

I'll say it. Richt should go. You think he has failed miserably the last few years wait to the next few. Good recruits want to play on winning teams. Not only will you see the caliber of his recruits drop but I expect a few transfers. If any other business produced this way the board of directors would clean house.

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