Georgia’s Pieces Finally Coming Back Together Under Mark Richt in 2015


Mark Richt has been head football coach at Georgia for 15 years now, and although things might not have turned out perfectly every season, it looks like now all the pieces are coming together.

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When you take over at a major program like Georgia, in a spotlighted conference like the SEC, the pressure is on from day one. You eat, sleep, walk, talk, shoot, sh…well you get where I’m going. It’s all about the job, the pressure, the endless days and sleepless nights. And at the end of that rainbow, you get to consider yourself lucky if you leave your post on your own terms.

Mark Richt came to Georgia in 2001, relieving Jim Donnan of his duties as Head Dawg in Charge, and brought with him a renewed energy and some interesting ideas on offense from his days as Florida State’s offensive coordinator.

Things got off to a quick start (as they usually do when there’s a coaching change) and within two seasons of his arrival, the Bulldogs were SEC champions for the first time since 1982 and the departure of Herschel Walker. Then three years later, the Bulldogs did it again.

Two SEC titles in five years?

Mark Richt was a genius and the savior of football in Georgia.

But there was something ugly lurking underneath it all, and it wasn’t according to Richt’s plan.

Not all attention is good attention

When a program gets on a roll and begins to win with regularity, it attracts attention, and a lot of that attention comes from some kids who aren’t exactly the most desirable recruits in terms of their character or intentions. As more and more top recruits started adding Georgia to their lists and committing to play for Mark Richt, there was an onset of off-field shenanigans that began to give the program an unfair reputation.

I said in a column on Chuck Oliver’s former site that Mark Richt needed to start looking at character over talent, and focusing hard recruiting efforts on kids who would actually make the cut after arriving in Athens.

The difficulty is, you can’t just turn some of these kids away (well, in truth yes you can, but it’s not the prudent thing to do), so sometimes you just have to roll the dice and hope for the best. There’s also very little in the way of any accurate predictor for how 17-18 year old kids will behave once released from the apron strings of home.

But names like Montez Robinson, Demetre Baker, Zach Mettenberger, Nick Marshall and others continued to find unwanted headlines for Georgia. As incidents grew more sinister and serious in nature, Richt’s fuse grew shorter in terms of the amount of leeway and tolerance given.

Unlike some programs and some coaches, Richt has no qualms about removing a player from the team regardless of the so-called “cost” to the season. No one player is bigger than program, and time and time again Richt has shown justice tempered with mercy to those who can’t follow the rules.

Loyalty is great, but at the expense of winning?

You want to put the knock on coach Richt for anything, then you should probably look at his loyalty towards assistant coaches and coordinators.

How many years too late was defensive coordinator Willie Martinez let go, and how did the Todd Grantham era of defense ever continue for more than two seasons (especially considering his boorish behavior and sideline antics). They all got to that point because Mark Richt stands by his friends, and everyone who is a part of that program is a friend of Mark Richt.

While Michael Adams was president of the University of Georgia, a lot of decisions filtered down to one thing…money. Adams was never for making Georgia a school revered for athletics. He didn’t care if the football or basketball teams ever won championships and he wasn’t about to pour a lot of money into stadiums, facilities and coaches salaries.

Perhaps some of Richt’s loyalties were driven by the fact that he knew Georgia wouldn’t

be able to afford

spend the money on the coaches he really wanted.

Aug 31, 2013; Clemson, SC, USA; Georgia Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham talks with a player during the fourth quarter against the Clemson Tigers at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Clemson defeated Georgia 38-35. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The myriad of talent brought in by Richt in his recruiting efforts was wasted by a great deal of poor coaching from his staff. Some of these players were wrecking machines individually, but had no ability to function as a unit against the top-tier teams. How could a defense not be among the top in the nation with guys like Jordan Jenkins, Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo on the same team?

But the retirement of Michael Adams and entrance of Jere Morehead in 2013 may have meant more to Mark Richt and the football program than many believe. In 2014 Todd Grantham left and opened the door for Richt to go out and get another coach from his former stomping grounds in Tallahassee, Jeremy Pruitt.

Pruitt’s brand of defense showed immediate results, and he was rewarded with a raise and a contract extension after his first season, along with several other new hires and raises for Richt’s staff (as well as the head coach himself). The money is flowing in, and the announcement of the long-awaited new indoor practice facility as one more indicator that things were taking a new path.

Time for Mark Richt and the Dawgs to put it all together

That brings us to 2015. Georgia has a typically great crop of recruits coming in, a defense that will undoubtedly begin to dominate opponents (something they had a taste of in 2014), a coaching staff that may be one of the best in the conference, and returning players on both sides of the ball who are seasoned and grizzled veterans of SEC play.

Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall, Sony Michel, and the rest of the Georgia running backs are looking to flat out pound and punish opposing defenses, and they’ve got the offensive line in front of them to do it.

The feeling around the Georgia practices and by those who are observing Mark Richt right now is one of expectancy and confidence. Not the bloated “ring team” confidence that the Bulldog fans witnessed a few seasons ago, but a quiet type of conviction that this team can do special things without waving flags.

The last time we saw this type of attitude coming from Athens?

In 2002, Mark Richt’s first SEC championship season and one that could have easily led to a national championship save a single loss to the Florida Gators in their first year under new head coach, Ron Zook. That was the season that many doubted Georgia, coming up against a ranked Alabama team in the fifth game of the season and an up-and-coming Tennessee team in week six.

Oh by the way, Georgia plays a ranked Alabama team in the fifth game of the season and an up-and-coming Tennessee team in week six this year.

And the Gators have a new head coach.

The difference this time is that a one-loss season will be more than good enough to get Georgia into the playoffs, rather than being unfairly shut out by the BCS as they were in 2002.

But let’s not think about losses…especially to the Gators.

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