The debate about who will lead Georgia into the future is getting downright ugly. You have the Mark Richt supporters, who will take up for him until the day he leaves (or is pushed). Then you have the Richt critics, who just believe it’s time for a change.
The supporters feel they have plenty of ammunition. But saying “he’s a nice guy” and “he’s got a lot of integrity” is not carrying much weight as the losses mount. They will, however, maintain that what Richt did in his first five years as head coach should matter now that the program is struggling.
Richt came to Athens and breathed new life into a program that had hit a wall under Jim Donnan. The Bulldogs were stuck in mediocrity with Donnan, and the 8-4 record he had in his last season was probably about as good as it was going to get.
Richt arrived and went 8-4 in his first season, but in year two Georgia went 13-1 and won a SEC title. They won the East again the next season, and despite losing to LSU in the championship game the fans were still thrilled they had done more under Richt in three years than had been done in five seasons under Donnan.
They went 10-2 in 2004 and won the Outback Bowl, and then in 2005 they won the SEC title again – the second in five years.
Those first five years were great. Richt led Georgia to a 52-13 record (.800 winning percentage) from 2001 through 2005. The Bulldogs were 30-10 (.750) against the SEC and were 19-6 (.760) against teams in the SEC East.
But that’s when the critics start to shout a bit. They point out how things changed in 2006. In the last five years, along with the first two games this season, Georgia is 44-23 (.657). They are 23-18 (.561) in the SEC and 13-13 (.500) in the division.
That’s a big drop off from what happened in Richt’s first five seasons, and many will point out that early success was with many of Donnan’s recruits. Now Richt obviously coached them up, as Donnan could not do, but many of Richt’s players were recruited by someone else.
Also, isn’t it fair to say that as Georgia’s record has gotten worse in the last five years, the quality of the division has gone down? The East is no longer the strongest side in the SEC. Tennessee has gone from a national title contender to a team that has changed coaches twice in the last few years. Vanderbilt and Kentucky are still Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Yet Richt is 9-6 against those three programs since 2006.
South Carolina has gotten stronger, with Steve Spurrier as head coach. They are now the defending division champs and are hope to repeat this season. But they really didn’t get great until last year, and Richt is 3-3 against Spurrier and the Gamecocks since 2006.
Florida won a national title in 2006 and in 2008, but they are now not as strong as they once were. Georgia (and Richt) failed to take advantage of Spurrier leaving more than a decade ago, and they couldn’t do much when Ron Zook was in charge. Urban Meyer had his way with Georgia with the exception of one season.
So as Georgia struggled more in the division, the division itself was getting weaker. It’s not like in the late-1990s, when Donnan struggled as Philip Fulmer led Tennessee to a national title (1998) and Spurrier led Florida to a championship (1996).
It’s obvious the entire conference has been strong since 2006, as a SEC team has won the national title every year since. But as Georgia fans have seen Florida win two titles, LSU win in 2007, Alabama win in 2009 and Auburn win last season, they’ve got to cringe.
Isn’t it a logical question for Georgia fans to ask, “If those teams can win a national title, why can’t we?”
Well, considering the immense high school talent in the state of Georgia, along with the tremendous resources available at the University of Georgia, it is a logical question.
Remember, this program was rated as having the second most profit in college football after Texas. So with that money comes expectations.
And then you take into account the number of tremendous recruiting classes pulled in by Richt in the last five years. Here is how Scout.com ranked Georgia’s recruiting classes since 2006:
Those are four recruiting classes in the top six in the country in the last six years, but yet the results have not matched up.
Has UGA been correct in the evaluation on high school talent, but yet the players simply have not been coached up? Or has the evaluation itself of the talent been off? Remember, those are not how UGA graded itself against the rest of the schools in the country, but instead how Scout.com ranked UGA.
I started having doubts about Richt when they lost to Alabama in the black out game in 2008. It was an embarrassing performance, and as Georgia trailed 17-0 I saw Richt just pacing the sidelines. Where was the anger? Where was the team meeting to stop the bleeding? Instead, it got worse, as Alabama went on to lead 31-0 at halftime and beat the Bulldogs badly in Athens.
By the way, since that game, Georgia is 20-17.
And now Georgia is 0-2. They were better last week against South Carolina, but they still lost. And being better than they were against Boise State is not saying much, since they were horrible against the Broncos.
I got an interesting tweet Monday from a UGA fan: Bill, as a season ticket holder, I do not pay over $5000 a year for someone to say.. “Well we lost, but we played better” Lame.
That tells you that many do not want to hear Richt say that even though Georgia lost to South Carolina, they still played better. People want to win, and as they see Richt now at .500 against teams in his own division since 2006, the patience is running out.
Georgia is now at mediocrity. That 13-13 record against division opponents since 2006 is unacceptable. If you can’t beat teams in your own division, you need to go.
And now, UGA can’t beat ranked teams. They are 2-10 in the last 12 games against ranked opponents. Not good.
Fans like Richt. Who doesn’t? He’s a great guy. He’s done a lot of great things. But that is getting more irrelevant every single day. It is all about winning football games, and since 2006, as other teams in the SEC have been winning championships, Richt is making this program insignificant.
Raiders owner Al Davis gave us one thing in his life that we can all appreciate – the slogan “Just Win Baby.” That’s what it needs to be all about at Georgia. It’s not about being a nice guy or helping people in Honduras. It’s about all about winning, and with Richt not doing it enough, someone else will get the chance in 2012.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. You can listen weekdays from 3-6 pm ET on www.foxsports1670.com. Shanks is also a columnist for the Macon Telegraph. You can read his columns Wednesdays and Sundays at www.macon.com.