Boy, in the wake of the debacles at Baylor and Mississippi State. you could see this take coming a mile away.
During a wide-ranging interview Thursday morning in his office at the University of Miami, it only seemed natural to steer new coach Mark Richt toward the topic of player discipline in light of what happened in the past week at Baylor.
Richt, after all, was central to one of the great Internet memes in the history of the SEC when a raft of key football players at Georgia were suspended for the 2012 opener. Suddenly, “Mark Richt has lost control” became a thing both within the Georgia fan base and outside of it, where it evolved into a shorthand for pretty much any deficiency in the program.
But the irony of “Mark Richt has lost control” as a concept is that Georgia’s annual list of player dismissals and suspensions meant he actually had quite a bit of control. And regardless of whether it was a star player or an expendable backup, Georgia players were going to face discipline for offseason infractions — usually to a greater degree than their counterparts at other SEC schools.
There were even occasions players dismissed from Georgia resurfaced at other SEC schools and, in the case of former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, had a direct hand in putting Richt a little closer to the hot seat.
Yet so warped is the mindset of the college football fan that Richt’s greatest virtue — his willingness to do the right thing for the program, even if it was against his self-interest as a coach trying to keep his job — became something people beat him over the head with time and time again.
“People” includes his old fan base. Which is perhaps noteworthy in that those Georgia fans aren’t exactly being let off the hook in this piece.
But here’s the rub: Richt never won a national title at Georgia. And though it’s impossible to pinpoint one thing that could have gotten him over the hump, Georgia fans will forever be torn over their devotion to the so-called “Georgia Way” and their burning desire to be a little more like Alabama.
If the roaring, full house at Georgia’s spring game was any indication, the pendulum in Athens has swung to the latter. Kirby Smart isn’t going to get everything he wants — Georgia’s stricter-than-industry-standard drug policy is staying intact for now, anyway — but little by little the Sabanization of the Bulldogs is taking hold.
We’ll soon find out whether that means more Saban-style discipline and willingness to give players as many chances as they need if they’re good enough to deliver titles, but the hunch here is it will. And Georgia fans will cheer just as loudly for that as they did puffing out their chests about how Richt did it the “right way.”
Eh, I think Wolken’s ignored one group – the folks who will insist that Georgia is getting the best of both Richt’s ethics and Saban’s management. They’re the ones who decided to make the change at head coach, after all. Other than that, it’s likely to turn out to be a fair cop.