Monday, October 18, 2010

Hair of the Dawg: Mark Richt, Making The Case For Both Sides

There is no shortage of dissenting opinions surrounding the status of the UGA football program and in particular that of Mark Richt. If you've read any internet message board affiliated with Georgia football lately, there are two crowds that share no common ground on this matter. The "Fire Richt" crowd spews off every thought that enters their head about why he is a square peg for the program, while the "Saint Richt" choir rants about how many church services he attends and the example he provides by being a Christian.

I won't pretend to be an objective third party here because I have an opinion on this issue. Most people do. What most people don't do is examine the facts and come to a sensible conclusion because, let's face it, if anything in the world is irrational and emotional, it's a sports fan. Considering that, I want to take a look at each side's argument and rough it up a little bit. Really that's the only way to find out if either hold water.

First up, the "Saint Richt" argument.

Mark Richt has never made any bones about his faith or relationship with his Creator. He's a man that often shares his testimony and is confident that God is the ultimate judge of everyone, and he lives his life this way. I honestly feel this was a large part of why Richt was hired. His influence and example are the right way to lead a bunch of young men. Jim Donnan had a problem with leadership and Vince Dooley was none to thrilled about the off-the-field issues that the team had, most of which were behind the scenes. I feel Richt's hiring was to fill this void. Has it?

Donnan also never got the fans to actually like him. I think a good way to put it was that he was very standoffish. Richt steps in as a charismatic, well-spoken, supremely high-character guy who believes it best to lead by example. He was pretty much the anti-Jim Donnan in terms of personality and leadership ability, though I like Donnan MUCH more now than when he was coaching.

This approach not only helps out with PR, it also helps to build your program by recruiting. What parent doesn't want their child heading to play for a guy like Mark Richt? A coach who has the chops to better themselves both on and off the field- it's a no brainer. Richt also prides himself on selecting kids that generally display a modicum of decency and good citizenry. He tries to establish a level of respect both for the coaching staff and for the player to have of himself. If you couple this approach with a winning atmosphere, it's hard to lose.

The problem is, when there isn't a winning atmosphere or the expectation of competing for a national title every year, you are missing a vital ingredient of the process. You have to start getting guys who you wouldn't have recruited before because you miss out on the high-profile ones. The winning tradition you establish fades and the players don't expect to win, and they don't think as much of themselves as they did before. Because there is no precedented level of respect or leadership among them, the student-athletes think they can get away with murder. It's primarily because they got away with it before they came to college.

And then you're where we are now, 11 more arrests, 3-4 record this season, and a 22-15 record in our last 5 years in the SEC. If you take away the aforementioned points the "Saint Richt" crowd proclaim about CMR, would he still be the coach at UGA? If he were Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, or Steve Spurrier would he still have a job here? This is not a shot at Richt, by the way. The way he coaches and runs our program have certainly made a positive impact on an innumerable amount of people. You have to greatly admire that he would use his platform to do such a thing when his main business is winning football games.

My point is, people always exaggerate the magnitude of doing the right thing. In business, we're supposed to do the right things AND be successful. Stakeholders wouldn't hold on to anything if they knew the CEO embezzled $50 million dollars but was growing the company by 12% every year. If one thing is missing from the equation neither matter. Being a human being (and not a creep) is expected. Most of this crowd is completely unaware of that. Richt is a great person, but should that really be the reason he is the head coach at UGA? I think he would say winning football games AND doing the right thing is what will keep him here.

"Fire Richt" crowd:

This crowd looks for every possible reason to fire Mark Richt. Player gets arrested, fire the coach because he can't control them. Lose a road game to Colorado, fire the coach because he's making dumb calls. There's a lack of depth at a key position, fire the coach because he can't recruit. You name it and this crowd will attribute it to the head man. The only thing that matters to this crowd is wins and losses. If you don't win, it's obviously the coach who's at fault.

The "Fire Richt" folks won over at Florida and Alabama. If you know anything about Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, they're not nice guys. If you think they've gone out of their way to make a positive impact on the personal lives of the players they've coached you're sorely mistaken. It's all about wins and losses, but when they don't get the wins they become pretty transparent. If you need further proof of this listen to Paul Finebaum's radio show today. When these coaches can't win, there is no redeeming quality and they quickly get canned. Once again, like business, it's about being successful AND doing the right thing. Eventually, you're gonna get exposed one way or another because you didn't dot your i's.

Florida makes a perfect example with the likes of Chris Rainey, Terron Sanders, etc. Meyer has a problem with incidents like this and now it's catching up with him. Unlike the case of Richt's players' legal issues, the Gators are winning A LOT while this is going on. Maybe you can get away with it and get the right players to be GREAT for a few years, but you're gonna get caught eventually. When you do, it's curtains.

I understand that people want to win. In 50 years, no one will care who the coach was or how he led the team if there is a national championship banner flying in the wind. I get that. When you talk like this, you're meandering back on the subject of Jim Donnan. He skirted the rules to get his son on the staff, despite the university's anti-nepotism rules, no one really liked him, he couldn't control the players, and BAM!!! fired. He wasn't even in the Meyer/Spurrier/Saban echelon of creepiness either. The point is, even though you're winning, there is bad taste in your mouth and the first sight of trouble sends you running for the hills. It's the proverbial house built on sand.

The Verdict:

When it comes down to it, you have to consider both sides. We're not winning lately (Yeah, I know we beat two very bad teams recently), the program looks to be out of control, and it doesn't look like we're completely out of the woods yet. Richt does the right things, but like I said earlier, this is often vastly over qualified. In my opinion, you have to throw that card out the window. Now all we're down to is winning and losing. Richt is 41-18 in his last 5 years and 12-10 against ranked opponents. In the last two plus years, he is 4-8 against ranked foes. Ouch, it's understandable people are upset.

Earlier this season Dawgola and I thought that the Arkansas game was the most important of CMR's career. Considering the recent events and shakeups in the East, the Dawgs still have an outside chance of getting to Atlanta. It will take a monumental job of coaching and, frankly, if it gets done I won't question Richt ever again. If it happens, I'll have no doubt that he's the right man for the job. If it doesn't, well I guess I'll settle back into my current position.

-For your information, I believe there are some other fundamental issues on this team that are the root of the problem. They have nothing to do with anything I've covered here. I'll discuss those a little later this week.

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