Seth Emerson starts out this must-read piece with a little story that neatly summarizes where the mindset of much of the fan base is today, I suspect.
Four years ago, it was an insult. Scott Lakatos, then the newly hired Georgia secondary coach, taunted his players by yelling out the previous season’s record:
Four seasons later, the Georgia football program has finished its season … wait for it … eight and five.
Back at square one, in other words.
Now it’s true there are two trips to the SECCG in that four-year period. And while you can’t guarantee too much, I don’t think anyone would argue with the premise that a fully healthy 2013 Georgia team would have won more than eight games. But it’s hard not to look at things like the passive philosophy behind the return units on special teams, the continuing failure to cobble together an offensive line that can perform consistently, let alone dominantly, and what at times seems close to an utter lack of improvement in the secondary without worrying that the program may be sliding to a point where the areas that are above-average to excellent – and they are there – can no longer carry things as far as we and Mark Richt would like.
Now that being said, I’m not in the same dark hole I was in during the 2009 season, when I simply lost faith in Richt’s ability to get Georgia football back on track. He proved me wrong on that. Whatever criticism you want to throw his way, and there is clearly some that is deserved, what you have to admit if you’re honest is that this year’s team never quit. There were no blow outs. Quite the contrary, almost all the losses were close and there were several dramatic comebacks along the way. I don’t think a football team plays hard without believing in what the coaches are doing. So in some important ways, Georgia football is in a better place than it was when Lakatos showed up. And I’m still willing to give Mark Richt the benefit of the doubt today because he’s earned it.
But… Seth neatly sums up the sword’s edge that Richt’s balanced on now:
One man’s complacency is another man’s stability.
One man’s continuity is another man’s belief that stubbornness is winning out, that a leader is refusing to see that changes need to be made.
One man’s belief that no firings should happen is another man believing — or making, in Richt’s case — more subtle changes behind the scenes and not producing a scalp just to satisfy an angry Twitter and message board mob.
Is there an air of complacency? It’s hard to say. On some level, you can understand the fans who are incredulous that nothing would happen after an 8-5 season.
But you can also see Richt’s point of view: Rather than change coaches and schemes and terminology on a young defense, he’ll believe for one more year in that staff, a staff that can at least point to 2011 as evidence it can coach them up.
Shoot me if you like, but I see both sides to the argument. I can see some areas where change would be welcome, but only if there’s a greater vision behind it than “we got to do something”. Does Richt have that vision? Beats me.
Even if he doesn’t, there’s still a place where he needs to start fixing things. A commenter here mentioned “quality control” and I think that’s an apt description of where attention needs to be devoted. Read these quotes that Weiszer collected, and you’ll realize a lot of folks associated with the program see the same problem:
“This team, we just had a lot of things go wrong and a lot of things go wrong at the worse time imaginable,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “If we could just fix the little things, it’s not all big things, it’s just the minor things that determines how you’re season will be. If everyone’s on the same page, those things like a muffed punt doesn’t happen or a mismatched coverage doesn’t happen. I feel like we have to work on our fundamentals this offseason and work on doing every little thing right.”
“Learn from your mistakes and know that the details matter,” Grantham said. “You’re not freshmen anymore and try to pay attention to the little things.”
“The difference is like this every year,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said holding his thumb and forefinger inches apart. “It’s hard to win any game, much less the championship. You’ve just got to keep knocking on the door.”
“I just told all the seniors that their watch begins now,” Richt said after the Gator Bowl loss. “Told the future seniors of 2014 that their job begins right this minute, starts with thinking of ways to get better, starts with doing everything on an individual basis to get better and find ways to get your teammates to get better, as well.”
I don’t sense that’s happy talk. I think it’s recognition that this year’s team didn’t grow in the way it needed to. Well and good, to an extent, but recognizing a problem exists isn’t the same thing as fixing it. And while everyone should be held accountable, repair has to start with the coaching staff, if for no other reason than that some of the players haven’t learned from their mistakes. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily hopeless cases. It just means that whatever the coaches tried this past season didn’t click with some of them. A different path for some may be in order and there’s no reason to think that change can’t be effective, presuming it’s thoughtful. If there are grounds for optimism, it’s that the coaches haven’t lost the trust of the players the way it seemed the staff did in ’09.
If there are grounds for pessimism, though, they lie with a staff that feels that things were close enough in 2013 that a little better health and a little more experience will be all it takes to break through in 2014. The mystery we’ll have to wait to see solved is where Mark Richt stands on that spectrum.