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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."


Anonymous said...

I think Richt is just honest, at times to a fault.

ChicagoDawg said...

David -- Great work as per usual. Unfortunately, his role is such that there is no way he will avoid criticism. The longer his tenure, the greater the opportunities to offend or draw critiques, fair, informed or otherwise. I think he nailed it in that sarcasm, tongue-in-cheek, etc., often get lost in print and this is especially the case when certain writers fail to convey the context or otherwise willfully seek to exploit and parse the words or write about quotes they themselves get from secondary sources (thus missing the context or spirit in which the quotes were made). I think he has learned this the hard way and will be much more guarded and perhaps boring.