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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Expect Less 'Whining' From Richt

As a general rule of thumb, people like Mark Richt, the person. Unlike some other coaches, he tends to have a pretty good appreciation of his own importance in the grand scheme of life, he's generally affable to everyone he talks to -- even obnoxious sports writers like me -- and he rarely offers much firepower for critics by sticking his foot in his mouth repeatedly (Lane Kiffin Syndrome, as it's now referred to in medical circles).

So it's safe to say the past few weeks -- and really, most of the past year -- have been a bit atypical for Richt. In recent stories, he criticized the media's focus on last year's stars as a reason for the team's failures. He seemed to sound a bit petty in discussing reasons he thought Florida had an advantage in the Cocktail Party game in Jacksonville. And he was less than thrilled with Damon Evans' insistence on having the Bulldogs play an arduous non-conference schedule each year.

The results: More than a few people (like here and here and here) calling him, to varying degrees, a whiner.

Lesson learned, Richt said. And sadly for us, that lesson is that he needs to stop being so forthcoming with the media.

"I'm going to give a lot less of my opinion," Richt said. "A lot of times, I will say things pretty tongue-in-cheek, but it doesn't read that way. So I've just got to guard my words. That's just the position I'm in, especially this time of year."

I'll vouch for Richt's tongue-in-cheek nature, but I've always thought that was what made covering him fun. With most coaches of his stature, if they do anything tongue-in-cheek, it's usually because they're making an obscene gesture at the competition.

Still, it's hard to argue with Richt's reaction to the criticism he has received. Just as he didn't want his players to be in the spotlight this offseason, he's hoping to avoid it himself, and that's tough to do when so many people are parsing your words ad nauseam with each new quote.

But it's more than just these past few weeks. After six seasons as the SEC's "nice guy," Richt has taken more than a few twists and turns in terms of public perception.

I'm not particularly interested in revisiting The Celebration from 2007, as I think it's been discussed enough. But throughout last season, Richt earned scorn -- often from his own fan base -- that he really hadn't experienced before.

The team lost three games -- all in pretty ugly fashion -- and fell well short of preseason expectations. The result was some unhappy campers in Bulldog Nation, but Richt doesn't necessarily think that was a bad thing.

"I think once you raise the expectation, then if you fall short of perfection, people get sad," Richt said. "They get their hopes up and get their ideas of what they think it should be, and if you don't win every game, people get bummed out. A lot of that has to do with where we are as a program now. We've gotten to the point where any given year could be the year, and I think we all believe that. So when it doesn't happen, there's a disappointment there."

Most of the disappointment (and at times, downright fury) was directed not at Richt, but at defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. So Richt decided to step in, and in doing so, managed to upset a pretty fair number of fans with what seemed to be an outright dismissal of their concerns.

It was a touchy subject for Richt, who is fiercely loyal to his staff. Clearly the defense was having problems, but he wanted to divert the attention and outrage away from Martinez. In the end, he essentially put both he and his defensive coordinator in the sights.

"We're all in this thing together," Richt said. "There's reasons why things happen, and some of the issues we had defensively were because of decisions I made. I just wanted to make sure that everybody understood that."

And that's what Richt says his priority is when discussing issues with the public -- making sure they understand.

"I think there's always criticism, but you've just got to know as a leader, when you make a decision you're not going to make everybody happy," Richt said. "There will be people who think the decision you made is probably not a good one, and if the buck stops with you, if your team doesn't perform to a certain level in any given game or any given season, the criticism is going to come. A lot of times, it's not so much criticism as questions. People want to know what happened. They're not being overly critical, they just want to know what happened, and you've just got to explain that. But sometimes you don't know."

4 comments:

IveyLeaguer said...

First, I don't consider anything Richt has said to be whining. He has a habit of being straightforward and honest with the media. I like that. That his comments get spun out of context when media are looking for stories is understandable, but still irresponsible. Now, he's going to have to cut back a little and be less spontaneous and free with his thoughts. All because of a few cheap stories.

Secondly, there's a huge block of Dawgs out there who understand perfectly that Martinez is a fine coach and there has never been anything wrong with our scheme or his coaching on the field. He doesn't adjust as well as BVG, but who does? We know how tough the League is and understand we're going to lose a few games more years than not.

What bothers us with the Defense the past several years and the team as a whole is a lack of discipline, not playing smart, a lack of toughness, and an overall lack of HEART. That's the primary issue in the embarrassing defensive collapses of the past several years.

~~~

Mike In Valdosta said...

Boy, this article left me with a heavy heart. I couldn't agree more with Ivey's comments. I did not see CWM miss a takle or have a personal foul called on him. I do, and always will, support the gainesville game being played in Jacksonville. I also like the upgraded schedule. It probably is a smart thing for CMR to keep the "business' side" of things out of the paper and communicate with Evans behind closed doors. With that said, I have always admired hoe CMR addresses fans; expectations head on and what is not to like about his loyalty to staff and player alike.

Part of me believes he got caught up in the expectations just like the rest of us and his competitive nature is not revealed as accurately in the printed word as it is in the spoken.

Anonymous said...

Its what he wouldn't say last year that many take issue with- that we had serious problems. He came off like Baghdad Bob. Some fans remain deeply cynical about last year's team and this year's prospects for success.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4:57-

I couldn't agree more.