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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Real Impact of Richt's New Role

The least surprising thing that's happened today has been the reaction of fans to Mark Richt's announcement that he's spending more time in the offensive meetings this year than he had in years past.

On one hand, you have the folks, like Senator Blutarsky, who see this as sort of a tacit endorsement of the work Todd Grantham is doing. Richt says one of the jobs he's no longer doing is sitting in on defensive meetings, so perhaps he's simply a bit more comfortable with what Grantham is doing than he had been in years past.

"The head coach has decided he can afford to spend less time being involved with the defense that’s being coached by three newcomers, including a new coordinator who’s installing a scheme that’s a fairly radical departure from what he’s had in place since coming to Athens than he did with a bunch that for the most part had been with him from the inception running a scheme that had been in place since 2001. Hmmm. Why do you think that’s the case?"

On the other hand, I've gotten a handful of comments like this one, from JRL:

"Maybe I'm reading too much into this but I see a subtle message directed at Bobo. Get better or...

I think as painful as it was to fire Willie Richt likes the results so far.

Part of the growing process of becoming a better head coach. The next firing will be much easier and won't take 2 or 3 years of hand wringing."

Sitting in the media workroom after talking with Richt yesterday, a few of us discussed what the fallout would be from these quotes. The two obvious answers were that fans would look at it as an endorsement of Grantham and/or a warning shot to Mike Bobo. Not surprisingly, that's been the response.

But how much truth is there to either of these sentiments?

On the defensive front, I think it's probably a bit overstated. I do think that Richt hired Grantham for a reason -- because he believes in Grantham and trusts his ability to handle his job without a ton of oversight. And when you figure that Georgia is paying Grantham $750k a year, you'd hope that's the case.

So it makes some sense that Richt would be taking a more hands-off approach. Richt has to know that Grantham understands the defense much better than he does, so why waste his time second-guessing the new guy? Richt is still meeting with defensive coaches after practices and scrimmages, but sitting in the meetings where Richt would likely be as lost -- or moreso -- than any of the players is probably not an effective use of his time.

On the offensive side, I can completely understand why this is seen as an indictment of Bobo. In fact, Richt has to know that, too. And part of me believes that he wouldn't have made this information public without being aware of some of the ramifications it would have for the perception of Bobo by fans.

But I'm also inclined to take what Richt says on the subject at face value: "I told Mike, I’m not in there to make him crazy at all, but I’m in there because I do miss it, number 1, but I want to be able to add as much value as I can as we go,” he said.

Richt said he has not missed a single offensive team meeting or individual quarterback meeting this spring, and that will continue into the season. From what he says, he's not running the meetings, but he's getting a firsthand feel for how the meetings are run and how the players respond. He's closer to the action now, and it really sounded to me more like that's what it was about for Richt. He missed being there.

If anything, I tend to like what this one anonymous commenter offered as an explanation:

"I think this move is a pre-emptive effort to help Bobo so he doesn't have to fire him like he did Willie."

That's a good point, because while Willie Martinez was a peer for Richt, Bobo is more of a protoge who learned his craft from Richt. That's a different type of relationship, and while Bobo has had his moments of exceptional play calling, he also might not be done learning.

So as a whole, while the comments regarding Bobo and Grantham may have some merit, I'm not sure they're the most important things to take from this story.

I think the most intriguing part of all this was how Richt -- without provocation from us in the media -- tied so much of it back to his days at Florida State.

I've said several times over the past few years that you could watch Richt at practice or around his players and almost envision a young Bobby Bowden. In many ways, that's a very good thing.

Of course, I covered Florida State a bit earlier in my career, and Bowden wasn't just playing the role of CEO of the team. He really was detached -- and to this day I'm convinced that was part of the problem the Noles have had over the past few years.

For Richt, that detachment was a good thing during his days at FSU. It allowed him to grow as a play caller and coach. But not everyone learns and thrives that way. And while Bowden had plenty of success during the 1990s, the best coaches today aren't the ones who let their assistants handle the day-to-day. They're the ones who are forced to take a medical leave because they're so stressed about football. They're the ones who value the process above all else.

On a personal level, I hope Richt never goes quite that far. But I do think this announcement from Richt says something important. It says that Richt has made a decision about what kind of coach he wants to be, and that doesn't mean simply following in the footsteps of his mentor.

This last offseason was the first time Richt had to step outside of his comfort zone in terms of dictating his legacy as a coach. It was painful for him, I have no doubt.

But I think he's learned a lot from the experience, and this is another step toward creating a different identity than the one he'd been working on for the first nine years of his career at Georgia.

Whether it has any real impact, I don't know. But for a coach accused so many times of being too stubborn in his approach, fans should take a big sigh of relief to see Richt so interested in a new approach.


Stephen said...

Back when Coach Richt first came to UGA, he was the playcaller, and folks wanted him to take a step back and be more of a CEO. When he did that, then they wanted him back more hands on. make up your minds people.

On the other hand, Coach Richt is so loyal to his coaches, that if there is any criticism of the offense such as in past years, he also knows that he can absorb most of it and take the blame himself rather than have the message boards make a scapegoat of his Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach.

It's a win-win for Coach Richt. He is doing what the fans want, and while being more hands on, taking the pressure off of Coach Bobo by letting him still do his job but by being involved himself

jferg said...

I like the move. Bobo could definitely still learn a thing or two---I'm not sure whether CMR is the guy who can teach him anything new--but that does not diminish the fact that two like-minded heads are better than one. CMR was a fish out of water on the D side of the ball. He's an asset to the O side. I see that as a very positive thing for both Bobo and our Dawgs.
On a more practical side of boss always likes to 'sit it on meetings' with me, no matter how successful i've become and how little i actually need him--if at all. It's just a mgmt thing...strokes their ego to feel needed and involved.

JasonC said...

One thing to consider with the situation at FSU is who were the coordinators and assistant coaches. I am pretty sure that most people would consider Mickey Andrews a step up from Martinez, even though Andrews did have some down years toward the end. And how many head coaches came out of Bowden's staff? At least 3-4. So maybe Bowden could step back because he had better or more experienced coaches at that point in time. Stepping back is a great thing if you have guys under you who can fill in the gaps, but it is a bad idea if they aren't ready for more responsibility.

When Bowden lost some of his top guys or core guys, his withdrawal became a liability instead of a plus.

William Neilson Jr. said...

I think it shows that Richt understands the need to win and win NOW

His seat is not hot but another sub-par season of 8 wins or so and may get a little warm