HOOVER, Ala. — Despite 90 wins, two SEC titles and complete dominance of instate rival Georgia Tech, Mark Richt is still fielding questions about if he is coaching for his job this season.
Welcome to the precarious coaching realm of the SEC.
While there is evidence to build a case against Richt — a 2-7 record versus Florida and last year’s eight-win season — the past decade as been one of the most successful eras in Georgia’s history.
For those arguing one way or the other, Richt isn’t paying much attention.
“Not really. I understand the business,” he said. “I understand just how things go. So I don’t worry about it. My goal is to focus on the important things and the things I can control. I can control my attitude. I can control my effort. I can control, you know, certain things. That’s what I focus on. Then the things I can’t control, I just trust the Lord with that. That’s kind of how I’ve been operating since 1986.”
These are the kinds of answers we’ve come to expect from Richt, who appears at peace with where his as person.
Without much offered from Richt himself, star receiver A.J. Green went to bat on his behalf.
“There is no pressure on Coach Richt,” Green said. “There’s a bunch of rumors out there, like I said. Coach Richt is a great guy. I believe there is no better coach in the country that has the character and the leadership that can really push a program like he has. He’s a great guy. He just preaches how to be a better person, how to be a better husband, better father and to be a better person to society. That’s really why I went to Georgia. He’s a high character man. You can’t really find another coach like that in the nation.”
Opting not to talk about if he was on the hot seat, Richt indicated a double-digit win season would cool the talk.
The best athletes in the SEC are represented at Media Days, with three players from each team making the trip to represent.
When media members noticed a punter was scheduled to speak on Georgia’s behalf, many wondered aloud over the selection.
That is, until those questioning the selection realized Drew Butler was the Ray Guy Award winner in 2009, establishing the junior as the best punter in the nation.
“I don’t really recall the last time when a specialist came,” Butler said. “When I found that out, I was surprised. It’s an honor and privilege to be here. This is known as the start of the season. As far as specialists go, we’re football players, we’re on the field, so it’s an honor to represent them.”
Butler averaged 48.1 yards a punt last season, setting a Georgia record. Richt acknowledged how proud he was of his punter, but added he hoped Butler doesn’t have to be employed in the same manner as last season.
“This year my guess is he won’t have quite the average because I think and I hope he’ll be punting with less grass in front of him,” Richt said. “Hopefully he punts a lot less. I think his focus is going to be more on, you know, trying to pin people deep. His focus will be more on maybe some directional kicking if we’re trying to keep it away from a special return man. And then when there are times we’re back deep and we need help, he can still boom it out of there like he’s done in the past.
He’s a tremendous weapon. He’s a guy that has nothing to prove other than he can do it again. He’s really worked hard to be great.”
Ends at comparisons
Green and Alabama counterpart Julio Jones have been compared to one another since high school.
Most recruiting services ranked Jones slightly ahead of Green coming out of high school, but Green has enjoyed a more productive career.
He’s caught eight more passes, racked up 251 more yards receiving and crossed the goal line six more times than Jones.
Yet, Jones does have a national championship ring.
Both were named to the Preseason All-SEC Coaches Team, and neither figure to relinquish their bid to be deemed the best in the nation.
“It’s crazy how we’ve both grown from high school to now, all the success we’re having coming into a great conference like the SEC,” Green said.
With all the comparisons and mentions in the same breath, the two don’t keep up with each other on a personal level.
“No, you know, I don’t know him that well,” Green said. “Just know him from the recruiting process in high school. We were always compared to each other. Coming out of high school, being the one and two receivers coming out. Now we’re in college, coming into our third year, and we’re still compared to be the number one and two receivers coming out whenever we declare for the draft.”
Seeing is believing
The South Carolina baseball team proved the Gamecocks could win a major national title.
Steve Spurrier says so.
The Palmetto State showered the baseball team with pride after the Gamecocks’ College World Series win over UCLA at the end of June. The team enjoyed a parade through the heart of the state capital and flooded the headlines for a solid week.
Five years ago when Spurrier was hired, many believed a parade would be held for the football team.
But that hasn’t happened. In fact, Spurrier has yet to win more than eight games in a season.
“We didn’t think we were going to just step in there and start tearing it up at South Carolina,” Spurrier said. “Seven wins over five years is 35. In the history of the school, we’ve never had 35 wins in a straight five-year period. So we don’t have tremendous tradition there on the long haul at South Carolina. Certainly been some good teams in the past, but consistent winning teams has not been there. We’ve not done poorly, but we just haven’t done super. We want to do real well.”
If the Gamecocks are going to have a breakthrough in the Eastern Division, most say this is the year to do it.
Florida lost Tim Tebow to the NFL. Tennessee is in transition after Lane Kiffin bolted to the West Coast. And Georgia is breaking in a new quarterback and defensive scheme.
“I think we’ll be up there close to the top,” said linebacker junior Shaq Wilson. “It’s a long season, but we’ve been working hard, and we have lot of players coming back. We’re here to make good things happen.”
Aside from a women’s track and field championship, the baseball team brought South Carolina its only major title in the school’s history.
The football players say they intend to follow the successful suit.
“I got some text messages saying it’s our turn now,” said fullback Patrick DiMarco. “It’s true. They stepped it up and did something, and now it’s time for us to do something.”
Just happy to be here
Among SEC coaches wearing, looking and saying all the right things, Robbie Caldwell admittedly looked, sounded and felt out of place.
Using humor to acclimate to his surroundings, the Vanderbilt coach proved he was right where he belonged.
After coaching as an assistant for over 30 years, Caldwell made his first appearance at SEC media days Thursday.
In a matter-of-fact form, Caldwell, who took over when Bobby Johnson retired July 15, didn’t hold anything back at the podium.
“All I know how to do is work,” he said. “I’ve been a worker all my life. I grew up in it. My wife said, ‘You can’t talk about anything but football.’ I can. I can talk about pouring concrete, farming, being a pipefitter, all those things, working on a turkey farm. But nobody wants to hear that. Those are the things that I did prior to getting into football. That’s the God’s truth.”
For a media contingent that had long tired of the same generic answers, Caldwell provided more than enough comedic relief. Three more questions were posed about turkey farming, two of which centered on feeling guilty at Thanksgiving.
Caldwell played to his crowd, drawing laughs and even applause after he left the stage.
Despite all the humor, there were some serious thoughts expressed.
Speaking to the challenges Vanderbilt faces on the field in the SEC East and also in recruiting, Caldwell admitted his task is difficult. But he’s jumped headlong into the fight.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for him,” Spurrier said. “Somebody asked me about Bobby stepping down at this time. Obviously it appears Bobby is ready to get out of coaching, do something else. It gives his good friend Robbie Caldwell an opportunity to be the head coach and see what happens there.
“But all I know about Robbie, he’s very enthusiastic, an excellent offensive line coach.”
When Caldwell first thought of becoming a coach he thought it would be at the high school level, and now, over 30 years later he’s a head man in the most successful conference in the country.
Still, he’s staying true to himself, and winning over crowds in the process.
“I enjoy my roots. I like to think I’m a humble guy,” he said. “I try to do what’s right. I’ve told you already I’m not an angel. I wish I could say that, but I got my faults. My wife will tell you. Just ask her. She’ll school you up on it.”