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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.


2007 Florida Gators said...

"I assure you, there are chinks in the armor for these guys, too. We just haven't had a chance to see them yet."

Um, you actually kinda did.

Hold on...gotta go miss another tackle. Here, Knowshon, let me show you the way into the endzone.

Dog44 said...

You know, I think David has a good point here.

Richt doesn't say a lot to the press that gets us excited, but he has (in my opinion) shown an ability to adapt, change, surprise, etc. (just not with directional kick-offs)

A few examples: stepping down from play-calling (he didn't telegraph it ahead of time, he just did it.) 2007 motivational ploys (especially vs. Florida, "Evil Richt," etc.) This past off-season getting back to basics with increased toughness and emphasis on leadership. There have also been some subtle coaching changes if you look for them (i.e. WR coach - which is something the fans were clamoring about for several years).

So, yes, I can see how Richt can frustrate the fans based on how little he says sometimes. But there seems to be evidence that he's actually listening, thinking, and changing over time.

For me, the real litmus test will be some day when he needs to make a major coaching change (and no, I don't think that time has come with either Martinez or Bobo) will he surprise everyone and pull the trigger? My money says "yes." But I bet it happens in a very respectful, behind-the-scenes kind of way.

Anonymous said...

Don't usually comment, but you hit the nail so completely on the head that I have to. While I hate Urban and Saban, I wish our coach would act like losing upset him. He doesn't have to throw a tantrum or throw our players under the bus, but CMR is always putting an overly positive spin on bad play. It drives me crazy, even though I love the guy. ... And your point about the lack of evolution, I think his idea is that it has worked at FSU, and it worked at UGA in 2002, so we are not going to change what works. Well, guess what? Other teams study what works and learn how to stop it! ... Really needing a win on Saturday to get this taste out of mouth...

BulldogBry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BulldogBry said...

I'm kind of surprised.

We all laud him for being poised and not acting like a d-bag, yet because he doesn't throw a visor or say "losing sucks" (like Meyer did), suddenly he is uninterested? I doubt he embraces losing like everyone thinks. He's just classier about it than most. He HAS shown emotion at points in time (think after the '07 Vandy game). None of us is in the locker room or at practice every day. As Richt said after visiting the troops last year (regarding what we're doing over there and why), "You think you know, but you don't know".

Anonymous said...

I think what he has really been saying, without saying anything all along, is that he knows that he is up sh*t creek this year.

How can a UGA team, who has recruited in the top 5 for the last decade, who has 100+ years of tradition and history on its side, go out and lose to a po-dunk nothing program in the middle of nowhere?

It's because we do not have any talent, silly. How can this be? I do not know, but I think that CMR has realized it and knows this season may get ugly.

We have a dearth of players with explosion, and those are the guys who win football games.

I think Spurrier is licking his chops and that we may be looking at 0-3 and about 5,000 empty seats for Arizona St.

I do not know how all the recruiting services could be wrong, but it looks like they were.

We have got to figure out a way to put together a mistake-free, well played game Saturday. The kind of game that we have not played in some two years. We do not have the talent to make up for our coaching deficiencies right now.

HamDawg11 said...

I still have no doubt Richt is the man for the job. If he has one flaw that stands out (who doesn't?) it's being too loyal to his assistants. Yeah, I get that he doesn't want to micro-manage his subordinates, but sometimes the head coach has to step in when something's not working and fix the problem. He has the entire program's future in his hands, but I think maybe he takes it too personally when being critical of his coaches.

I should know, I have the same kind of management style and have the same issues when dealing with my workers. I just don't make $2.8 mil a year! LOL

ChicagoDawg said...

Thanks for the kind words re: my Bryant email David. The desire by many to see Richt show some emotion is an understandable desire. However, people are who they are (to use some wisdom from that great philosopher Popeye). When people attempt to be something other than who they are it is lacking in authenticity and robs them of the character/temperament they possess and has thus far made them successful. I will list a few personality types of coaches, just to show you that all styles can be successful or not in many cases.....

Emotional Train-wrecks/spastics:
- Ron Zook
- Rich Kotite
- Mike Ditka
- Barry Switzer
- Hank Stram

Emotionally in Control/Stoics:
- Tony Dungy
- Tom Landry
- Tom Osborne
- Bud Grant
- Bobby Dodd

They come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. I take it on faith the CMR cares, surely much more than any of us on Internet. If he is a great coach, he will get this team on track, if he is not, then they are likely to flounder. However, it won't be because he lacks passion or throws fits on the sidelines or grandstands at press conferences (i.e. Steve Spurrier calling his QB stupid).

ChicagoDawg said...

As a follow-up, if we look at basketball you get the greatest temperament/personality contrast of all time. John Wooden v. Bobby Knight. Both got results in completely different ways. However, if you asked who I would like to have as the coach of my team? I would take Wooden over Knight without even thinking for 1/2 a second. Not to mention, Wooden's National Championship results are without peer.

Silver Dawg said...

Best blog of the week, Sir David. Well played.

You have the insight of a journalist Cyclops---singluar and focused. The Dawg Nation appreciates it, Sir.

Anonymous said...

"I think Spurrier is licking his chops"

Oh, yeah. South Carolina looks really poised these days.

Calder said...

Great insight and post. Thanks David

kmo said...

Really great post, it sums up my feelings nicely. And it's not just with the head coach, either. Alas, we shall see on Saturday how fired up they really are behind the scenes this week.

Thanks for all you hard work and interesting posts!

UGA69Dawg said...

The really strange thing about CMR is that he would make a great Pro coach ala Tony Dungee. His even disposition and management style would do well with pro athletes that do not respond well to rah rah coaches (see Saban, USC's coach The problem is college kids need to be jump started Rah Rah. So if your HC is laid back your Coordinators need to breath fire and brimstone. No one on the O has that personality. CSS is just strange and nobody's sure what his style is. Anyway he is what he is and who in the world would be better that we could get. If someone say Will Muschamp one more time I'll scream, he's not leaving TX for UGA.

ChicagoDawg said...

UGA69Dawg -- Funny you mention Wil Muschamp, I almost brought him, but he was not a head coach. Nonetheless, he is the new poster boy for showing emotion on the sidelines. However, I ask what good that did him when UGA lit up his Auburn defenses for 37 points in '06 and 45 points in'07? I am pretty sure he was in full meltdown on the sidelines and in the locker room on both occasions, but I doubt that brought much comfort and satisfaction to the Auburn faithful.
I don't dismiss at all the requirement for playing or coaching with passion or the need to periodically grab a player by the facemask to get their attention, but emotion in and of itself is of limited value.

BulldawgJosh said...

Great post. Hit the nail on the head. I love Mark Richt, but just as you said, I want them to tell us something and be consistent with it. Their inconsistencies in explaining what happened last week isn't comforting.