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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Burdens of Public Perception

I got a few comments/emails yesterday pertaining to Mark Richt that I thought warranted a more in-depth response, so here ya go...

First off, since the season began, I've probably been averaging about 10 times more page views than I was in, say, early June. So I want to preface all comments by noting that, if you weren't reading before, I spent a good portion of the offseason discussing how ridiculous the notion of firing Richt was. One 14-point loss on the road against a top-10 opponent hasn't swayed me one bit on that point.

Now, to your points. The first, a bit of perspective on the whole situation, courtesy of an email I got from a reader named Jeff.

"I thought I would try to examine the entire body of work that was amassed by the gold standard of CFB coaching – Paul “Bear” Bryant -- for a contrast to what could be reasonably expected from even the greatest of coaches.

"After having won 3 National Championships in '61, '64 and '65, Bryant went on to post back to back 8 win campaigns and then things got really ugly. In 1969 and '70 he went 6-5 and 6-5-1 respectively. Additionally, he endured a span in which he lost 8 straight bowl games from 1967-1974.

"However, after the 1970 season, he went on to record 10 wins or more every year except for 1 (1976 he went 9-3) in the decade of the 70s. The 10 wins or more run in the 70s is especially remarkable in a time in which there were only a maximum of 12 games per year. I bring this up only to suggest that, had Bryant been fired after 1970, which in today's climate would almost be certain, Alabama would have no doubt missed out on what is arguably one of the greatest runs in modern CFB history. A decade that brought 8 seasons of 10 wins or more, 8 SEC Championships and 3 National Titles (voted by AP or UPI -- some years were shared).

"I am not suggesting that CMR will replicate the same result, but I think it is worth gaining some perspective by looking at the greatest coach of all time and realizing that there are inevitable ebbs and flows in any career."

Two quick points:

1.) I edited Jeff's email a bit for space purposes. Hope you don't mind, Jeff.

2.) Jeff followed up with a quick note that from 1967-1974, Bryant didn't lose eight straight bowls. He tied in one.

(By the way, tying in a bowl game... think how much people get angry about the BCS now. Can you imagine if this happened today?)

Now, to the larger issue raised by Jeff's email...

Much was made this offseason about how Richt has inherited the title of longest-tenured coach in the SEC. At nine years, no other coach in the league has been with his team longer. That alone should tell you how stiff the competition is and how much is expected of the men who helm these teams.

I think, too, it's good to remember that Urban Meyer has only been at Florida for five years now, and he had Tim Tebow for four of them. Nick Saban has been at Alabama for just three seasons, and in his first, he lost to Louisiana-Bumblefudge A&M. I assure you, there are chinks in the armor for these guys, too. We just haven't had a chance to see them yet.

Richt, meanwhile, is an old dawg. We know him. We've seen him at his best and probably at his worst. There's just not a whole lot of excitement surrounding him these days, and a lot of that is by his own doing. He likes it that way.

But I think it's a lot like the old seven-year itch theory. You start getting bored, finding faults, wondering what else is out there. The grass is always greener, yada, yada, yada.

A year ago, two very talented coaches -- Tommy Tuberville and Phil Fulmer -- got canned from jobs they'd held for a long, long time in places where they'd won an awful lot of games. The landscape has changed, no doubt. The pressure is higher, the salaries are richer, the spotlight is brighter. Truth be told, I wonder how successful Bear Bryant could have been in today's game. It's different -- not in terms of Xs and Os, but in terms of what it means to be a college football coach.

The question then is, how different do you want things to be at Georgia? Because there were a lot of otherwise reasonable people who believed with all their hearts that Fulmer and Tuberville needed to go. I wonder, if they were honest with themselves, how happy they'd be with those decisions if they knew Lane Kiffin and Gene Chizik would be their replacements.

As Jeff's email alludes to, sometimes it's a case of being careful what you wish for. You never know what you might be giving up.

Of course, there was a coda to Jeff's email that also rings pretty true.

"The great ones learn to adapt, evolve and re-invent in order to achieve sustainable success over the long run. CMR should be so lucky if the ebb in his career turns out to be a “disappointing” 10-win ‘08 campaign followed up by an opening season loss in '09 and a season with less than 10 wins (still TBD)."

Another good point from Jeff. But if this does turn out to be the beginning of the end for Richt (and I'm absolutely not saying it should be) I think his inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to "adapt, evolve and re-invent" will be the ultimate cause. But that's a story for another day.

Now, a couple of comments I got from readers that express another view of Richt's problems...

sUGArdaddy writes: I don't think we're looking for philosophical changes, it's that the coaches care. Dawg Nation would go nuts if Richt would say, "You know what, I'm sick and tired of giving up big kickoff returns and it's on my shoulders. I'm taking it over and we're going to have the best KO team in America." The scariest part is the 'seemingly' lack of accountability. Richt doesn't have to tell the media and fans everything, but he hasn't figured out that the media can be your friend when it comes to building momentum w/ your fans.

SilverDawg writes: I watched CMR's media session as objectively as I could. The most bothersome issue for me (all the on field issues have already been discussed at length, with many significant insights, I may add) was an absolute lack of a sense of urgency in Richt's voice and delivery. It may have been an over-compensation. I hold CMR in high esteem overall, but the situation is of GREAT concern to the very knowledgeable Dawg fan base; and I came away feeling flat. I hope that the team feels otherwise. I hope the coaching staff feels otherwise. I hope the ship is not headed for a jagged shoal this Saturday night.

Those are just two of at least a dozen similar emails I got following my post with Mark Richt's news conference quotes yesterday, which got me to thinking.

Last week, I got some flack from readers for a throw-away line I wrote in a post in which I essentially said that Richt had not been honest with the media when discussing the team's preparation for Oklahoma State. For weeks, he told us that Georgia hadn't changed its routine from other openers. Then, a few days before the game, he said that they started much earlier in their preparations. (Again, a story for another day.)

My line was simply, "I expect to be lied to, I simply ask that it's the same lie each time."

Some readers didn't like that I called Richt a liar, and I'll admit, it was probably a harsh characterization. But I find it funny that so many people accused me of feeling "entitled" to good, honest, clear quotes from Richt and the coaches and now they want those same coaches to be more forthcoming and open.

I don't say that to seem like I'm gloating. I'm not. I just hope some of those people have a better understanding of my frustration in being misled. It's not about my entitlement. It's about what you, as paying, devoted fans, are entitled to.

Here's the thing: I have absolutely no doubt that there is passion in these coaches. I am certain that some yelling and screaming has been done. I am positive that they want to get better.

And yet, when you read those quotes, that's not what you hear.

In fact, it's hard to say for sure what you're hearing, since the messages are so mixed.

After meeting with Richt, players and coaches Tuesday, a few of the reporters sat in the media room and tried to make sense of what we'd been told.

-- Richt said the coaches decided not to play the freshmen receivers because they weren't ready. Marlon Brown and Michael Moore said the coaches told them it was because they lost track of who had played.

-- Richt said Caleb King looked ready to return. Mike Bobo said he didn't.

-- Richt said the offensive problems were all about execution. Bobo said he didn't do a good enough job of calling the plays.

Throughout the past few weeks, there are at least another half-dozen examples of conflicting stories just like this, and it's hard to make heads or tails of what's true and what the people involved simply think is "the right answer."

Listen, I'm not asking for the secrets of the game plan. I'm not looking to publish the latest rumors and gossip. But I also don't think the coaches realize what they're doing when they look at the media as the bad guy.

I do understand why Richt is so guarded, so measured in what he says. When he admitted he doesn't think the UGA-Florida series is fair because of the location, he was crucified for it. When he had his players run into the end zone against the Gators in '07, he never heard the end of it. He shies away from controversy because it never seems to work out for him. Quite frankly, it's just not his personality.

But at the end of the day, the media is the lens through which the fans view the program. What you know about what happens behind closed doors comes through us, and while Richt and company don't owe me anything, they'd probably benefit from giving the fans a straight answer when things go wrong.

Richt is coaching in a conference that has Nick Saban screaming on the sideline, Steve Spurrier calling out his players in print, and Tim Tebow making post-game speeches that are memorialized in bronze.

No one is saying he should be a clone of those men, but I've heard from far too many Bulldogs fans who want desperately to support him that they'd simply settle for any type of reasonable exchange. They want to know that their coaches and players are as upset about a bad game as they are. They want to know that the coaching staff demands answers, not excuses. They want to know what is being done to ensure the next game is better than the last one.

Knowing Richt and his coaches as well as I do, I have little doubt that they are angry, that they want answers and that they're working on solutions. But they never seem to say that out loud -- at least not emphatically enough to satisfy a major contingent of their supporters.

It doesn't have to be yelling and screaming. It just has to be an occasionally honest assessment of the situation rather than a talking point designed to gloss over the real issues.

Richt doesn't owe that to me or any other reporter. But the thing is, both what you say and what you don't say sends a message to the people who care about your program, and right now, fans don't seem real happy with the message Richt and his team are sending.


Anonymous said...

So well said (written). You summed up the way most of us feel perfectly. Now that is a blog I wish the coaches would read. Thanks!

NYCDawg said...

or in so many words: "We miss Evil Richt."

Anonymous said...

you are a great writer but here there is one difference between all the coaches you mentioned and mark richt. they won national championships he has not. since he has been there he had no lower than a top 10 recruiting class each year.We were preseason number one last year. he is the offensive coordinator and we got smoked by alabama nd florida last year. Last Saturday was a disaster but crackers wont do anything until we start losing games in the sec.

Anonymous said...

For all you kids out there, using Bear Byrant for comparative purposes may not be entirely appropriate. It was more of a supply and demand thing.

From what I recall, Bear's Alabama team got waxed by USC and Sam the Bam Cunningham sometime in the late '60's or early '70's. I can't really remember so much about the timing of that game because I heard the score well after because i was not smart enough to avoid the good times partying in vietnam.

Not so coincidentally, the increase in integrating the Alabama football team started immediately thereafter, which also increased the integration of other football teams in what had previously been the segregated Deep South.

Many think that's why Bear's record dramatically improved over that stretch of time: not so much because of his coaching abilities, Cocola or Golden Flakes but because he demanded that his team be integrated a hell of a lot faster than it previously was because he was tired of seeing his team get its ass whipped by teams with more black players than he had.

hinesacl said...

What Bear also had was a virtual monopoly on recruiting in the south. He had no limitations and everyone has heard stories about how a bunch of the football players were on swimming, horse riding...whatever scholarships.

He'd take kids that he was never going to even play just to keep them away from playing elsewhere.

He also didn't have practice enforcement, kids having to be able to read to get in the program, kids leaving early for the NFL. He could also never leave the region and still win the MNC. Yes, he played USC so he could integrate faster, but he went to the Sugar Bowl every year and never HAD to play OK, or USC or other teams tied into other bowls in "The Big Game".

The original point is that even the greatest of the greats have ebbs in their careers. Hell, Donald Trump has gone bankrupt 10 times. I don't agree with everything the admin does, but at least they don't listen to some banker who will have no money in 6 months when the make decisions about a mulit-million dollar enterprise. That's what hayseeds do.

Great blog as always Dave. I agree that maybe they should just be a little more forthcoming, but I think they are just flooding the internet with info and nobody will know wtf is going on....I think they like it better that way.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear Richt say: "I've challenged all my coaches and the players they coach to raise the level of detail in preparation and production on the field this Saturday. This is a bottom line business and we didn't do a good enough job to win last week".

CharlestonDawg said...

While I agree that Richt is nowhere near done at UGA, you can not compare his career to Bryant's. Bryant had won three MNCs before he fell apart. And, yes, in today's market, he would have been gone.

Hunker Down said...

What matters most is not what the coaches say to reporters and fans, it is what they say to the team to get them to execute better and play at a higher level. If they are saying and doing the right things this week in that regard, it will show on the field Saturday night and this conversation will be put on hold for now. If they are saying and doing the things necessary for this team to improve and win 10 or more games, it won't matter if everything said to the press and fans is nonsensical non sequiturs.

Hopefully, we can keep this conversation on ice for most of the season... though we aren't going 11-1, so this will rear its ugly head yet again.

Gen. Stoopnagle said...

Thanks, Dave for nailing it with this post. I don't need "Evil Richt" to re-appear, but what I do want is for Richt to take control of the situation. I'm not claiming to know anything special, what I mean is you do a bit of digging and here we are with assistant coaches disagreeing (publicly) with the head coach. We have coaches who don't know if players have gotten into the game. We have Bobo saying this, Fabris saying that, and it doesn't jive with what Richt says.

Easy solution (which you will hate Dave) is to shut Bobo and Fabris down where the media is concerned (they don't seem to be able to handle it) and have the staff speak with one voice (accurate or not): the head coach's voice.

Then those co-ordinators and position coaches can focus on what they do well which is coach. And Richt can do what a HC is supposed to do: organize, handle the external relations, etc.

You know, I had calmed down, but the more I think about how this week has been handled by Butts/Mehre, I'm just... flabbergasted.

And then JC says he doesn't care what we think... Yeah, well... Damn. Just damn. It can't go this south this fast can it?

Kevin said...

I like that Richt shows poise after a loss. I don't want some hothead coach that loses his cool or wears his emotions on his sleeve. I think someone who has the same demeanor will be able to calm the players down in crisis times. You think he made it this far without knowing how to get the crew fired up (behind closed doors)? Doubt it. In front of the media, I think he does a great job with never being the coach on youtube spouting his mouth off, looking like an idiot.

Anonymous said...

"Let David Hale therefore brace himself to his blogging duties, and we bear ourselves that if David Hale's blogging shall last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'the week after the Oklahoma State loss was his finest hour.'"

--Dawgston Churchill

MikeyB said...

I am so sick of the entitlement attitude of our fans. You treat Vince Dooley like a god. Take Hershel away from the program and nobody breathing air would have seen a NC at UGA. CMR is on pace to obliterate Dooley's win total. I grew up watching 6-5 and 7-4 seasons and blow out losses to Tennessee and Florida. The worst CMR has had is 8-4 and it has only happened once in 8 years. I am as disappointed as anyone about what went down at OSU. I also KNOW that CMR will get the team turned around. Remember 2007? We all thought that the season was toast after the Tennessee game and CMR had UGA one defensive stop by UK from playing for the SEC and possibly the NC. I have never heard UGA discussed as much nationally as they are now. Support the man and stop acting like the entitled, lunatic Bama fans.