A week ago today, my wife and daughter and I were standing in line outside 221B Baker Street on a cool, rainy London morning, waiting for the Sherlock Holmes Museum to open, when the couple standing in front of us turned around.
Apparently noticing the G on my baseball cap and my daughter’s red sweatshirt, the woman asked, “Where are y’all from?”
“Atlanta,” I replied, and she smiled. “We’re from Augusta. Go Dogs!”
Turned out they were also parents of a UGA grad and were over early for the British Open.
I don’t know what the odds are of us queuing up right behind another set of UGA parents on the other side of the Atlantic, but it was one of my favorite moments among many highlights during our two week visit to the U.K. for sightseeing and a big family gathering.
I guess Bulldog Nation really does know no borders.
Anyway, we got back just in time to follow the proceedings at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., where UGA’s Mark Richt showed an unusually confident side in reacting to his team being picked by the attending media members to finish second behind South Carolina in the SEC East.
Asked if that sounded right, Richt didn’t hesitate: “No,” he said. “I’d have us first.”
He went on, in sessions with Georgia beat writers and in his press conference with the general media, to say it’s “our expectation” that Georgia will win the East.
Meet the latest incarnation of Georgia’s veteran head coach: Brash Richt.
Interestingly, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s response to his team being picked No. 2 in its division was a bit more circumspect.
“That’s how hard it is to repeat in our league,” Malzahn told the SEC media. “There’s so many great teams. That is a goal of ours. But we do understand how hard it will be. … It’s a huge challenge. We understand that. So we’re definitely aware.”
Richt, meanwhile, pronounced himself “extremely excited” about the 2014 Bulldogs. He did grant that, “We’ll see how good we are once get going. We’ve got a lot of things to put together between now and then. But I think we’ve created a very good culture this summer. I think, just listening to our guys on the plane ride here, just asking how’s it going, they’re very optimistic, they’re very proud of their teammates and the work that’s been put in this summer. … They really like what they’re seeing in their teammates.”
Of course, happy talk is a hallmark feature of this point in the preseason. And the SEC media corps has a dismal record of predicting the winner of the conference. As South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier noted: “Nobody picked Missouri and Auburn to win the divisions last year. That’s why we play the game. We don’t know who’s going to win ’em.”
Richt agreed. What’s important, he said, “is what happens at the end of the year.”
But considering that Georgia’s coach knows better than anyone the obstacles his team faces — replacing a record-setting quarterback, reshuffling its offensive line, building a secondary out of personnel chaos and trying to turn around a pretty awful special teams record — it’s certainly notable that he wasn’t backing away at all from his confident stance.
Maybe this overtly positive outlook is based mainly on returning most of his high-powered offense, including Heisman hopeful Todd Gurley. Or perhaps he feels that the offseason swap of Todd Grantham for Jeremy Pruitt running things on the defensive side is the missing piece Georgia needs to finally break through. Certainly, there was an implied knock on Grantham’s infamously difficult schemes and his players’ obvious confusion last season when Richt noted of Pruitt: “I don’t think he’s going to call anything those guys can’t execute.”
Still, head coaches generally don’t go out of their way to build false hope in their fan base if they’re not pretty sure of what they have. It’s more common to see them poormouthing and playing down their team’s chances, as Vince Dooley was famous for doing.
So I’m impressed that Richt didn’t dance around at all in expressing his thoughts on the upcoming season: “I think in the end it’s going to be Georgia.”
I think I like this Brash Richt guy.
And it’s good to be back!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg