Junkyard Mail Special: Dawgs fans sound off on state of UGA football

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uga super g logoI expected this to be the Festivus edition of Junkyard Mail: the airing of grievances.

After the Tech loss, I asked Junkyard Blawg readers to weigh in on the state of UGA football, whether frustrated, ready for a change, or apt to agree with Mark Richt that the program is “on track” to do better. I heard from many of you (several screenloads of emails in my in-box), and a lot of you sent extremely lengthy treatises, pro and con.

But while the comments on the Blawg have been overwhelmingly negative (which is sort of the nature of blogs), a good bit of the mail on this subject fell into the positive or mixed category – folks who aren’t necessarily happy with the way things have been going, but still believe Richt and his staff can take the program to greater heights.

Below is a representative sampling of excerpts. First up, some of the folks who don’t like what they see at all when they look at the current state of UGA football …

Britt Carter writes: I have always been supportive of Coach Richt and have long used the [Phil] Fulmer situation at Tennessee to convince myself to be patient and appreciative of our program as it is. … Most coaches are not as good as Richt regarding x’s and o’s and almost none are as good a man. That said, time has taken its course. … We are just not getting it done. UGA has outstanding facilities, a top-tier recruiting base, plenty of funds and everything you need to be better than we are. It isn’t even about national titles. It is strictly about playing up to our potential. … It is time for a change.

Bob Williams writes: Love the Dogs, since 1956, but hate, hate, hate the attitude that 9-3 or 10-2 is great. It isn’t. Never has been, never will be. Either strive 110 percent for 12-0 or go away.

Ed Morgan writes: I’ve continued to go to all away and home games since graduating so I’ve seen a lot of coaching decisions, and I’m no expert, but I haven’t seen any improvement in Richt’s game day coaching since his first year as far as special teams, clock management-time outs, and getting the team fired up to play. He also doesn’t put enough emphasis on getting top-notch offensive and defensive linemen. He has been a credit to UGA as far as his running of the program, and the way he conducts himself. I just wish he would do some extra work on his weaknesses and show some improvement.

Philip Lee Williams writes: Let’s erase any notion that any team with a 9-3 record had a great year when at least four or five of those games are can’t-lose laughers.

Matt Cafaro writes: Mark Richt is a good coach. Richt is not a great coach, and over the course of 14 years, Richt has proven he doesn’t have what it takes to lead us to the elite status UGA should be occupying in college football.

Having the coolest college football mascot doesn't guarantee you anything. (Getty Images)

Having the coolest college football mascot doesn’t guarantee you anything. (Getty Images)

Chris Morgan writes: Nobody is going to just give this team the East, the SEC, and a berth in the College Football Playoff because we have UGA IX, a hip college scene, and those great uniforms. Coach Richt likes to mention doing things the “Georgia Way,” but I don’t see a business-like attitude from this program that you need to run a three-month gauntlet that is the college football season. Until that shows itself on a consistent basis, UGA will see more of the same respectable but not championship-level play.

Jason Annitto writes: The Richt tenure has proven frustrating. He is a good coach with a successful record of consistently winning. That said, after 14 years, is being mainly known for having a .700 record with only two SEC titles really good enough? Today’s college football landscape is much different from the previous decades when stability and conservatism were the predominant factors. Today, expectations are different and I would submit more teams are looking to compete for higher aspirations. Given what we have seen, Richt has underachieved and it’s doubtful he can do better for myriad reasons. … I believe it’s time for change, it’s time to try another philosophy, time for another fresh face.

Scott Prouse writes: [Greg] McGarity is yapping about a 10-win season. I’d be good with an 8-win season, if the four losses we had were good games lost to better teams. But losing over and over to arguably much less talented teams is what drives UGA fans nuts. When does that end? And my opinion is that it won’t until you have a new head coach in Athens. Sure, you could have a Tennessee experience by letting Richt go, but personally, I’d rather take that chance than continue on with this infinite mediocrity.

John writes: You were right when you said other programs would relish the chance to have a 3-loss season. But UGA isn’t other programs. While I don’t believe UGA football should be winning the national championship yearly, I am dumbfounded when I look at the talent that has come through the program and the lack of “hardware” there is to show for it.

Stan McElroy writes: Some might ask why we’re complaining when we’re winning 8-10 games per year, beating our rivals with decent frequency, and going to bowl games. Well, it’s a matter of perspective. For many programs, being where Georgia currently is would be great. Schools like Kentucky, Wake Forest and Kansas would love to have our level of football success. But the bar is set very low at those schools. Given our history, our resources, our recruiting base, our facilities, and our fanbase, there is no reason Georgia can’t become an elite level program that wins SEC championships and frequently competes for the national title. But that’s not where we are right now. And it really pains me to say that under Mark Richt, I don’t think we’ll ever reach that level.

Matthew Doyal writes: If going to the Outback Bowl, Capital One Bowl, with the occasional Chik-fil-A Bowl every year is your idea of where UGA football needs to be, then Richt is your guy. After 14 seasons though, I look at it as: Been there, done that. How many SEC teams have won national championships since the Dawgs won theirs in 1980? Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, some multiple times. Richt only came close to going one of his 14 seasons. … I want more for the program.

Aubrey Williams writes: It seems fairly evident that as long as money keeps flowing into the Hartman Fund, 92,743 season tickets are purchased, and the Dawgs go to a nice bowl, the powers-that-be see no problems. … At this point Georgia fans need to numb themselves to 2 to 4 losses per year while watching all our rivals get the crystal trophy.

Bear writes: I’m an old Navy guy that flew in fighters in the Vietnam war and we had an adage that said, “There are no points for second place” and the Navy Seals will tell you that, “Second place is first loser.” … I think most organizations, including a college football team, take on the personality of their leader, which in this case is just too laid back. With Mark Richt as our coach, we will always be in second place and therefore, the first loser!

Richt definitely has his defenders, though, and I heard from quite a few folks who agree with him that the UGA program is headed in the right direction …

Mark Richt should go, some fans say, while many others remain supportive of him. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Mark Richt should go, some fans say, while many others remain supportive of him. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Cohen Moore writes: I get so frustrated with Mark Richt at times because it seems like every season we have games where we appear unbeatable (i.e. Auburn this year), and at other times there are games where we don’t seem motivated. UGA consistently has so much talent and has come super close to a shot at a national title a couple of times. However, maybe I’m crazy, but I firmly believe Richt can and will eventually deliver our program a national title. Many times a loss has come from coaching, but so many times the ball just doesn’t bounce our way. We have a top 5 recruiting class this year and so many stars coming back the next couple of seasons. I just think that, eventually, that has to lead to a national title! … Regardless, I just don’t want to see us become the next program that fires a winning coach and then sinks back to the pits.

Beach Dawg writes: My brother and I have had the ongoing discussion for several years as to whether Richt is the right guy. He says no, but I remind him of the calls a few years ago to dump Richt and bring in either [Kirby] Smart or [Will] Muschamp — what if? … We need to keep Richt and just keep hoping.

Randy of the Class of 1974 writes: There are definitely much worse coaches out there than Mark Richt, but not many a whole lot better.

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt gives a lot of fans hope for the future. (John Kelley / UGA)

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt gives a lot of fans hope for the future. (John Kelley / UGA)

Rick writes: I think this year was marked by so many ups and downs (the Gurley situation had more effect emotionally than most want to admit) it has jaded some fans into believing we are never going to be able to break through. I don’t believe that. I think we have a chance the next two years to win the SEC and get into the Final Four. I say give Coach these next two years with [Jeremy] Pruitt and see what happens. This is essentially a new staff that will, I think, improve the program overall. If 9 or 10 wins and Top 10 finishes are our basement, then breaking through to win SEC titles consistently and the big one will happen.

Jim Gaylor writes: How do we measure success? Winning national championships? If that be the case, then would anyone in the Bulldawg Nation honestly change places with Auburn? Hey, they won one and played for another … yet, does anyone wish to trade the integrity linked with our program for any other noted for chicanery?

Jason from Milton writes: I think the team is fine and the recruiting skills of Pruitt are starting to show. Let him get some talent that fits his schemes and see where we are. Remember, we had a lot of starters kicked off the team prior to the season and the D held Auburn to their lowest points in two years! Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are freshmen and we have Keith Marshall with an off season to strengthen the knee for next year. I am very excited for the future of the Dawgs.

John Miller writes: Coach Richt is a great man and a great football coach. He is a credit to UGA. People are nuts. Please get off his back! He is an awesome mentor for young men. We need more coaches with his morals and ethics. If we had more people like him, this world be a better place.

Angela Wilson writes: [Mark Richt’s] character, his leadership — those make me proud to be a member of the Dawg Nation. When I go to a football game, I know that being a Dawg is about more than the win. Yes, it’s important, but Richt brings us so much more.

Adrian writes: People who only want a championship need to understand just how hard it is to accomplish this goal in a positive manner. A coach has to keep over 100 young players and coaches focused on one thing; some people can’t seem to get this and the difficulty to accomplish it! Coach Richt’s day may or may not come, but he is still a keeper!

The return of Nick Chubb next season is cited as one of the program's big positives. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

The return of Nick Chubb next season is cited as one of the program’s big positives. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Kevin Ley writes: We are definitely on the right track. Currently, there are only 14 teams in all of college football ranked ahead of the Dawgs. Now, look how young we are and all the adversity we faced this off season and season. We dismissed some of our best players and lost others to suspension and injury. Look at all the freshmen we relied on who made a huge impact. Now, look at what might be our best recruiting class shaping up. From a talent standpoint alone, the future looks bright. … We have a top 15 program and are trending up. Our program is clean and represents the university well. I believe we have the right coaches and right players to get us to where we want to go. I’m not giddy about this season either, but I’m excited about where we are going.

BD from Birmingham writes: I think the program is on the right track. … I see a Heisman candidate in Chubb in the coming years. Pruitt is getting the guys he wants to run a Junkyard Dawg D. We have a stable of incredible QB’s vying for the starting job. Our recruiting classes have never been better. Hang in there, Dawg fans, patience is a virtue.

And then there are the fans who see both positives and negatives about the Georgia football program under Richt …

Gene Walker writes: Under Richt, UGA has a chance to win every game. I prefer that to the days when UGA had no chance in half the games. With that said, I do realize that Richt innately has no killer instinct; that has cost the program some wins.

Rick Woodall writes: Mark Richt is, at worst, the second-best coach in UGA history, but he’s yet to deliver a national championship. History tells us it’s unlikely that he will. At the same time, we know from the difficulties other programs have faced (Hello, Tennessee!) that his replacement will likely be a step back. Thus, a program with incredible resources continues to fall just short of the ultimate prize. As a fan my whole life and a season ticket holder throughout the Richt era, it’s beyond frustrating. I don’t think I’m unreasonable. I’m not one of these people who thinks we should win every year, but given all the things the program has going for it, it’s unfathomable to me that you have to go back to the Sugar Bowl against Penn State to find the last time Georgia actually played for a national championship.

Jim Cooney writes: Richt wins too much to be relieved of his duties, but does not win enough to be considered a top-tier coach. Making a change at the top of such a program sounds easy, but is it really? If a change is made by the athletic director, that hire better have greater results or the AD will be the one folks will be looking to change. After all, it did take MANY years for Hall of Fame coaches Bobby Bowden, Mac Brown and our own Vince Dooley to finally win a championship.

Will the new College Football Playoff national championship trophy ever reside in Athens? (Associated Press)

Will the new College Football Playoff national championship trophy ever reside in Athens? (Associated Press)

Matt McLaughlin writes: To see a program like UGA, in a state with so much high school talent and a university with all the resources to compete at the highest level, enter year 35 without a national championship and year 33 without being in a national championship game is really hard to swallow. Much like the Red Sox before 2004 and the Cubs, we’ve now entered the territory of being the most underachieving program in the top tier of the NCAA. … I want more than anything for Richt to be the man to break the drought. I’m hoping that Pruitt will stick around long enough to build a truly dominant defense, and the recruiting is very promising, as usual. I have always said, without Hershel, Vince Dooley goes down in history as a very good but not great coach, but that being said, when Vince got the golden opportunity, he came away with three SEC titles and a national championship. Part of me thinks Richt just blew that golden opportunity.

Ken Willis writes: I think Richt and his staff have the ability to win a championship. But they have to want it — the old fire in the belly thing. If they have that, lots of things will happen that we will never see. Coach Richt will spend one more hour plotting strategy on Sunday night before a game with Vanderbilt. He’ll push his coordinators harder to make it happen with one less assistant so the team can have a special teams specialist. Coach Bobo will pass on a five-star quarterback who wants to do just well enough to get drafted in the first round. And so on. But let’s be careful as fans. Going for it really is risky. If Richt doesn’t step up and we push him away, we might get a loser who talks big. We might yearn for the good ole days when we had a very good team that produced first-round draft picks.

Bill Bragg writes: During his early years at the helm, Coach Richt always seemed to be going for the jugular against his opponent. He was there to win, and we won. Since 2007, it seems I have watched Coach Richt make in-game decisions where he was “trying not to lose.” … Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want anyone other than Coach Richt as the head coach of the Dawgs. I just want him to go back to trying to win instead of trying not to lose.

Stacy Hunnicutt Heath writes: After the inexplicable loss to Florida this season, my husband looked at me and said, “Richt has one in his pocket for us every year.” But, for all the disappointment, many of us are hung up on our love and admiration for Coach Richt. Not to detract from his good character or many accomplishments as our head coach, but there does seem to be a hump we just can’t get over as a football program. … I’m not saying Richt should be fired or that there is someone out there who could do better. I don’t know. But I think it’s fair for fans to not be content with UGA football being good, but not great.

Wade writes: With the talent we had, we shouldn’t have lost to anyone this year. The Gurley situation still gives me a feeling of nausea; he was, in my opinion, the best running back to come through UGA. I never saw Herschel play, I was born in ’86, but I feel if Gurley wouldn’t have missed any games he would have surpassed #34.

RC writes: I like the changes and optimism that Pruitt is bringing, but it is very tough to have to keep looking toward next season. There is not a quick fix to win the SEC. In my opinion, Richt deserves to go out on his own terms, if possible. And I don’t want to be the next Tennessee. … I think, with this being Pruitt’s first year and a great recruiting class being put together, that we are going to have to try to remain patient for a couple of seasons and see how things go. Unfortunately, it’s still “next season” for our Dawgs.

Chris Houck writes: I am as confused as ever as to whether Mark Richt will ever break through. … I think Richt has assembled as good a coaching staff as we’ve had in a long time. I really like what Richt and [Mike] Bobo have done with the team offensively. I figured we’d take a decent step back this year even with Gurley, but we didn’t. In fact our offense was better. While the sample size is small, I like Pruitt as D-coordinator. He’s a heck of a recruiter, a good game planner, and a pretty good in-game coach. Pruitt is young, give him time to grow into the position and recruit his style of football player and I think UGA will see the Junkyard Dawgs of old.

Wick Cauthorn writes: I believe that UGA fans suffer from unreasonable expectations. Mark Richt and UGA have performed right in line with the comparative talent level in the SEC. … Most years, UGA has a Top 10 class, but ranks only 4th or 5th in the SEC. Most years, Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Florida have better classes than UGA. For the last 10 years, these four schools have been consistently better recruiters than UGA. They have also won every SEC championship since 2006 and every SEC national title since 1999. … UGA hasn’t underperformed; traditionally, they play right around their talent level.

UGA football has a lot of passionate fans, whether optimistic or pessimistic. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

UGA football has a lot of passionate fans, whether optimistic or pessimistic. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Mark Hammond writes: As always, we UGA fans are unrealistic. Richt is the first coach we’ve ever had who has put it all together. Nationally and historically, we are a second-tier football program. … Under Coach Richt we are as close to the next level (first-tier program) as we have ever been. … I predict that the next 5 years will be UGA’s best ever in our 100-plus year history. Just as we were this year, we will be in the playoff discussion every year for the entire season. We have everything in place right now to go to the next level, including the right head coach.

Fred Cooper writes: Richt can fix it, but he must fix it. No more ignoring special teams and lacking discipline and laying eggs instead of showing up to play. That is what he is paid millions to do, in addition to the wonderful mentoring he does to these young men. I believe he can do it, but I also have a nagging fear that Georgia will always be just short of a championship-caliber team under Richt.

Dan Bernitt writes: I know there is no guarantee that if we got a new coach this success we have had will continue. However, don’t we all believe that this is absolutely one of the best jobs in America? … And we have the resources and profitability that few other athletic programs can match. I am not openly wanting another man to lose his job — I just want everyone that loves this university like I do to realize that is BIG-TIME college football. And while change is very hard, sometimes it is needed to take that next step forward.

Finally, a somewhat different perspective …

Timothy M. Gibbons writes: Although a lifelong Georgia Tech fan, I attended both Tech and UGA. I have heard many other analyses of UGA football similar to yours, and I have to say I am amazed that UGA fans are in a funk. Show me some statistics on how many other teams have a better winning percentage during the time of Richt’s tenure at UGA. There may be some, but there are not many. We Tech folks like to point out all sorts of problems with the athletes off-season and academic differences, but the reality is that, during the season, UGA usually performs at a very high level on the football field. And regardless of how you view his treatment of his players, Richt seems to be a genuinely good guy. Your perspective is reminiscent of the complaints I heard about the Atlanta Braves during the Bobby Cox era, “never can win the big one,” blah, blah, blah. My question is this: Would you rather have a team that can legitimately have a shot at championships year after year (even if things don’t always work out that way), or would you prefer to hand the reins over to someone else and risk the chance that you never get back to this level?

Thanks to everyone who wrote in, whether your letter was quoted here or not. It’s good to know that UGA football stirs such passion in so many people.

Go Dogs!

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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