Is it enough for UGA football to be good, not great?

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Some fans complain Mark Richt is not bad enough to fire and not good enough to win championships. (John Kelley / UGA)
Some fans complain Mark Richt is not bad enough to fire and not good enough to win championships. (John Kelley / UGA)

Some fans complain Mark Richt is not bad enough to fire and not good enough to win championships. (John Kelley / UGA)

I’ve been accused of being a Mark Richt loyalist.

No, I’m not. I’m a UGA loyalist. And Richt is Georgia’s head coach, so I generally support him.

That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he does or the way he does it.

It definitely doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with the results he’s gotten over the past nine years since the Dogs’ last conference championship. And I was appalled by what we saw Saturday in Jacksonville.

But, am I ready to agree the program needs to get rid of Richt or would be better off with someone else in charge?

That’s where it gets complicated.

A lifelong Bulldogs fan observed to me after Georgia’s mind-boggling loss to Florida Saturday that the end result probably will be that Florida still will get rid of Will Muschamp. Whether his replacement will be an improvement is always a crap-shoot, as Gators fans well know. But the school generally has good luck with every other coaching hire, so Boom may well be replaced by another world-beater along the lines of Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer.

Meanwhile, the UGA fan lamented, Georgia will wind up with another loss or two and yet another trip to a middling bowl like the Outback. Over and over again.

In other words, stuck in a rut of being good — certainly better than some other comparable programs — but not good enough to win it all, or at least consistently be in the national championship conversation.

That’s where my view of what’s best for Georgia’s football program gets complicated.

On the one hand, I can understand the frustration of fans who see Auburn and other rival programs winning SEC and even national titles and remaining relevant on a national level while Georgia continues to be viewed as a more-than-worthy program but a definite underperformer, considering its resources and facilities.

On the other hand, Richt runs a program that graduates 75 percent of its athletes, disciplines them according to a stricter set of rules than many programs observe, and maintains a reputation for integrity that doesn’t seem quite as important at some other schools that have had more success on the field recently. Richt’s program also still wins more games than it loses most years.

My brother Jon thinks the Richt way is preferable. College football players should be students first, he says, and athletes second. Under Richt, he says, Georgia will win most of the time — including some games it’s not supposed to — and also will lose some that it’s not supposed to lose, but overall it will be a program in which the university and its alumni and supporters can take pride.

Is that enough?

The UGA alum who was decrying Georgia being in the rut of a second-tier bowl team pointed out that fans aren’t paying handsomely for tickets (at a rate that will increase over the next couple of years, plus contributions required to buy season tickets) in order to see a team with a high graduation rate.

“If Georgia is going to be a program that graduates kids first, keeps them disciplined, etc. and worries about titles second, that’s fine and good,” he said. “But while I don’t want a program that lacks integrity, I understand that fans are not totally unjustified in their annual disappointment and the kind of hopelessness of where we are these days.”

He added that Georgia’s athletic officials might be satisfied with New Year’s Day bowls in Florida, but after a string of such trips they shouldn’t be surprised if fans don’t continue to follow the team to such bowls or throw money at the program in general.

“Georgia can’t have it both ways.”

Can a football program located in one of the richest talent hotbeds in the nation, and which makes millions of dollars in profits, really be satisfied with being good, but not quite good enough to win championships?

That’s the question that the fan/alumni base and, more importantly, UGA’s athletic and school leaders eventually are going to have to address.

It’s a tough one.

I know, because I’m conflicted myself on which is the right answer.

A few other thoughts and observations from the Florida game. …

Florida's backs, including Matt Jones, had repeated success against Georgia's defense Saturday. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Florida’s backs, including Matt Jones, had repeated success against Georgia’s defense Saturday. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

How unexpected was it by even Florida fans that the Gators would win this year’s game? Plenty, judging by the number of empty seats at the game in the UF sections, my daughter reports. …

I don’t know whether it’s coincidence or not that the Dogs’ two worst performances of the season have come after bye weeks, but perhaps Richt should think about taking a hard look at how his team prepares with all that extra time. …

Some things never seem to change. Fourteen years on, Richt still can’t manage the clock during a game, as we saw late in the first half when he let the better part of a minute elapse before finally deciding to call a timeout. “It’s strictly on me,” he admitted Sunday. …

Quite obviously the coaches can’t get out on the field and execute the plays the way they’re supposed to be done, and the frequent missed tackles by Georgia defenders Saturday are all on the players.

But I’m still baffled how Jeremy Pruitt could stand on that sideline and watch the Gators break run after run on the outside and not do something to improve his squad’s containment.

Florida wasn’t fooling anyone about what it intended to do offensively, and still the Dogs couldn’t stop it. That certainly doesn’t bode well for facing the likes of Auburn and Georgia Tech, who are likely to be somewhat trickier with their ground games. …

Hutson Mason appears still to be having "trust" issues in the passing game. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Hutson Mason appears still to be having “trust” issues in the passing game. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

I realize the gusting wind was probably a factor, but to be this far into his one-and-only season as a starter and have Hutson Mason still hesitating to pull the trigger on open throws over the middle is exasperating. Apparently even Georgia’s QB doesn’t trust his arm. …

After showing much improvement earlier in the season, the Dogs’ special teams regressed to the mean, which for Georgia means terrible. A missed field goal, a touchdown given up on a fake field goal, averaging 33 yards on punts (while the Gators, playing in the same wind, averaged 46 yards), allowing a 38-yard punt return and having a negligible return game despite the presence of Isaiah McKenzie added up to vintage Richtball, unfortunately. …

And while Florida fans no doubt will consider this sour grapes, it is worth noting that the officiating Saturday frequently was questionable. Even if the officials figured the collision with Georgia’s punter on that nearly blocked punt was more in Collin Barber’s mind than real, there were numerous instances of blatant holding by the Gators that went uncalled (including on the fake field goal score), and a couple of very close calls in the end zone that didn’t go Georgia’s way, despite looking on replay like they should have. Alas, that wasn’t the main reason Georgia lost the game, though.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg


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