Mark Richt is almost certainly not on any kind of real hot seat at Georgia, and doesn't deserve to be: Since 2000, he's ended the Bulldogs' 20-year SEC championship drought in 2002, added another conference title in 2005, led a struggling team out of a midseason slump to a No. 2 finish in the final polls in 2007 and won at least 10 games six times. The Bulldogs finished in the top 10 four years in a row from 2002-2005, the longest streak of the decade in the SEC and matching the Herschel Walker years from 1980-83 as the best run in school history. He's well on his way to becoming the most successful coach Georgia's ever had, and is already the longest-tenured boss in a trigger-happy league.
And still, ten years in, that resumé isn't enough to counter the cutthroat buzz about his immediate future, even within the Peach State itself:
Richt fired three defensive assistants after last year's 7-5 regular season and four players who were committed to Georgia signed elsewhere.
Now, [Rivals recruiting analyst Mike] Farrell said he's talked to recruits that have been told by other schools in the SEC that Richt's job is in jeopardy after this season.
"They're dealing with all that negative recruiting and I think this is just a way to combat it," Farrell said. "It's the SEC. It's cutthroat. When Phillip Fulmer was struggling at Tennessee, everybody came in and was hammering him. ... I've heard some ugly things."
The Fulmer comparison is apt, and hardly new: After last year's blowout loss at Tennessee dropped UGA to 3-2 in mid-October, Richt was ominously compared to both Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville, successful, entrenched coaches who were abruptly dumped after 5-7 swoons in 2008. Even more foreboding: Fulmer and Tuberville's demises were both foreshadowed by the exits of longtime, relatively conservative offensive coordinators (David Cutcliffe and Al Borges, respectively) who'd once been integral to those programs' greatest successes, and whose "innovative" replacements (Dave Clawson and Tony Franklin) turned out to be the lit fuses that reduced the entire operation to rubble.
Generally, Georgia fans seem to think things can't get any worse than they were at the end under guillotined defensive coordinator Willie Martinez (UGA allowed more points in each successive season after Martinez was promoted to replace Brian Van Gorder in 2005), but where coordinators begin to fall, there's only one direction for the blame to go if there's no immediate improvement.
The rational, skeptical half of my brain (the half I tend to trust) dismisses the Fulmer/Tuberville template as a timely but outlying coincidence, and negative recruiting as simply "in the game" – lord knows what the same coaches allegedly undercutting Richt were telling recruits about Urban Meyer's uncertain future at Florida. (And lord knows it didn't work.) At the same time, the credulous, pattern-seeking, "where there's smoke there's fire" half of my brain is thinking the perpetual hot seat is just "in the game" now, too, in a conference whose financial and emotional stockholders demand consistent returns from multimillion-dollar CEO coaches on their increasing investments in tickets, lavish facilities and outsized television contracts. With great salaries come great expectations, etc.
Richt is widely perceived as the most decent guy in the business, like Fulmer, a far cry from the burgeoning mercenary model that's paid such dividends for Florida and Alabama. If the defensive overhaul under new DC Todd Grantham doesn't take, or if new quarterback Aaron Murray struggles as a redshirt freshman, this could be the year we find out if nice guys can still afford back-to-back five-loss seasons at places with a bottom line like Georgia's. Either way, I think this will be a more interesting conversation at this time next year.
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Hat tip: Blutarsky