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Putnam: No matter who wins, Georgia loses

One victory won't change Bulldogs' future under Richt

POSTED: October 24, 2012 11:47 a.m.
 

If the Georgia football team had lost to Kentucky on Saturday, would Aaron Murray’s house have looked like a Charmin factory exploded beside it?

Murray was spared the answer to that question, as the No. 10-ranked Bulldogs did just enough in Lexington to become a player again — for one week, anyway — in the SEC East race, hours after South Carolina was reminded that being really good against Georgia these days is not the same thing as being really good.

Now, here we are in a familiar spot, where Georgia fans are being teased by an opportunity that the Bulldogs haven’t earned so much as stumbled their way into.

And I think, even though most of my friends who plaster a big "G" across their chests each Saturday in the fall will disagree, it might be better if Georgia does not upset No. 2-ranked Florida on Saturday in Jacksonville.

A Georgia victory will only delay athletic director Greg McGarity from reaching the same sad conclusion that more and more people are coming to: the Bulldogs need to move on from Mark Richt.

As someone with no allegiances to Georgia, Georgia Tech or any college football program in the South, I feel like I look at the Bulldogs through non-partisan eyes.

What I see is a program that hasn’t beaten a quality opponent in years.

Years.

That’s not acceptable for a head coach who benefits from one of the top recruiting classes in the nation each year.

Yes, it’s true that Georgia (barely) won the (pillowy soft) SEC East last year.

And, yes, Georgia is 6-1 this season, though only courtesy of another forgiving slate of games that a few members of the Pac-12 might be willing to trade theirs for.

Say what you want about Oregon, but I think the Ducks could beat Tennessee and Kentucky by more than a combined 12 points and score more than a garbage touchdown against South Carolina.

The SEC certainly boasts the cream of the crop in college football, but Georgia has neither been one of those teams nor looked capable of beating one of those teams in quite some time.

The results haven’t been any better against the "toughest" opponents it’s faced outside the conference, as losses against Boise State, Michigan State and Central Florida have shown in recent years.

The Bulldogs may be ranked 10th right now, but where would they be if LSU or Alabama had been on their schedule?

Yet, in spite of the narrative of failure that Mark Richt has been authoring, much could change with a Georgia victory against Florida.

It’s entirely possible Georgia could win the game. You never really know what you’re going to get out of a group of 21-year-old men on any given week.

And that’s what worries me for Georgia. I can’t help feeling like a win would do more harm than good in the long run. It will buy the Bulldogs what? A thrashing by Alabama in the SEC championship game?

More than anything, it’s certain to buy Richt more time.

A win over the Gators would finally give Richt a diamond in what has otherwise been a cluster of Cubic Zirconia victories that he has collected the past few seasons. It would at least temporarily quiet the drums beating for his removal.

What it won’t do is give him back whatever mojo he seems to have lost years ago.

There was a specific moment when I realized that Richt probably wasn’t capable of ever returning Georgia’s football program to anything resembling true greatness.

It came in 2010, the year in which 11 of the team’s players were arrested during a seven-month period, easily outpacing every other college athletics program in the nation and probably a few organized crime rings.

Things weren’t any better on the field, where the Bulldogs had suffered losses in four consecutive trap games after coming off the high of trouncing Louisiana-Lafayette in the season opener.

But it wasn’t the culmination of those losses or arrests which led me to that conclusion, it was a conversation in which Richt revealed a lot about his shortcomings as a leader.

Richt was at such a loss for how to fix things that he resorted to fielding game preparation advice during his weekly radio show.

A female caller, "Jill in Hoschton", advised Richt that it might set a better tone if he led the team onto the field during games, like some other head coaches do.

"You make a good point," Richt said. "What I’m going to do here, Jill, is I’m going to lead the pack coming out of the tunnel, OK? I hope I don’t pull a hamstring and I hope they don’t run me over."

That exchange said it all about what Mark Richt’s coaching career has come to: moments of clarity courtesy of Jill in Hoschton.

I’m not entirely sure what happened to Richt.

Maybe the game passed him by. Maybe he’s not driven the way so many coaches seem to be, where winning borders on being an unhealthy obsession.

Maybe he had a mid-life crisis. Seriously.

People like to point to his 2-16 record against teams that finish the season ranked since 2008, but I think his problems started in 2007.

He seemed to make a concerted effort to change his personality during that season, when the infamous Gator Stomp took place.

From that year on, things were different in Athens. Richt, a man long criticized for appearing too emotionless, too stoic, suddenly morphed into Fun Dad Mark with his players.

Uniform choices and trips to the pool became important. Penalties, whether received on the field or off of it in the criminal justice system, weren’t as big of a deal.

He developed a misplaced swagger that sometimes left him looking foolish, like when he wore all black to a practice prior to the Bulldogs’ game against Alabama in 2008 and told reporters that he was preparing for a funeral. It turned out to be a funeral for the title hopes of a Georgia team that came into the season ranked No. 1.

Richt is by all accounts a good man. A really good man.

It’s understandable why Georgia fans have been holding out hope that he would take the program to a level worthy of the talent it fields.

When we take stock of the Bobby Petrinos out there, we’re reminded that Richt is a high-character individual that you can feel good about rooting for.

But, slowly, more and more of his defenders seem to be realizing it’s unlikely that will ever happen, and being a good man isn’t by itself enough to let someone keep their job in most professions, let alone the dog-eat-dog world of college football.

Who knows? A win on Saturday might turn the page on a new chapter of Georgia football. But it’s more likely to only delay Richt’s inevitable removal in Athens.

Because if Richt, with an experienced quarterback, an athletic defense and a cupcake schedule, can’t lead Georgia to anything more than some nice-at-a-glance record, what will it take?

I’m not sure even Jill in Hoschton can offer the coach an answer for that.

 

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