Former players defend Richt but not current team

semerson@macon.comOctober 6, 2010 

ATHENS — David Greene talks about it with his co-worker, fellow former Georgia player Matt Stinchcomb. Others also constantly ask Greene, the winningest quarterback in Bulldogs history, the same question:

What’s wrong with his former team?

Greene thinks it’s a “culmination of things,” but he would not point the finger at Mark Richt, his embattled former head coach.

“It’s not that he all of a sudden doesn’t know how to coach,” Greene said. “It’s just not working right now.”

Another former Bulldogs player, defensive end Charles Johnson of the Carolina Panthers, echoed his support of Richt. He said his former school had to stick with Richt “because he’s such a good coach.”

But Johnson also didn’t mince words on his evaluation of the current team.

“For us to lose to Colorado, that’s just a disgrace right there,” Johnson said. “A disgrace to Georgia. That’s as low as you can get.”

Johnson also isn’t a big fan of the team’s switch to a 3-4 defense, saying “we ain’t never a 3-4 defense. It’s not looking like it’s working out down there.”

Richt, for his part, has shown some signs lately of making some changes, albeit minor ones.

For the first time in his decade-long tenure at Georgia, he held a full-pad, in-season Monday practice. A day later, he allowed the media to stay an extra 25 minutes.

On his radio show Monday night, a caller asked why Richt doesn’t lead his team out of the tunnel before games. Richt, who has not done so in 122 games as the Bulldogs’ head coach, said on the spot he would do so Saturday against Tennessee.

“The caller made a good point, you’re the leader of the pack, why don’t you lead the pack?” Richt said Tuesday.

Otherwise, there have been no major changes. No personnel shakeup among coaches, no word of any fire-and-brimstone speeches.

That’s the right move, according to Greene.

“The worst thing that any coach can do is be somebody that he’s not. Players can see right through that,” Green said. “I played for Tony Dungy in 2008, and there’s plenty of ways that guys can get their point across without throwing helmets. …

“Trust me, Coach Richt, he has his ways of getting his point across, and he’s not a pushover. When things are going bad and you’re losing, everybody’s looking for something different. The worst thing for Coach Richt to do is something different.”

But the criticism has mounted with each loss.

There was a column Monday in the Georgia student newspaper, the Red and Black, calling for Richt’s ouster. Some callers to Richt’s radio show have been critical, and the Internet is full of invective.

“I understand that’s the nature of the business,” said Greene, who works at a commercial insurance firm with Stinchcomb, a former Georgia and NFL tackle. “It’s like anything in life, if a company is not doing well, who gets all the blame? It’s the CEO. Obviously it’s not realistic. Coach Richt’s not out there playing the game. It’s just ultimately his responsibility.

“When things aren’t going right, everybody’s gotta take responsibility. The players, the coaches, the strength staff. Everybody’s gotta look around and say, What can we do better?”

A more succinct defense of Richt came from John McKissick, the all-time winningest high school coach in the nation and A.J. Green’s high school coach in Summerville, S.C.

“I think they should leave him alone,” McKissick said. “They’re not gonna get anyone better.”

Other players are standing behind their former head coach. David Pollack gave a spirited defense of Richt and the program on ESPN’s “College Gameday” on Saturday morning.

Corey Irvin was a defensive captain for Georgia in 2005 and 2006. Now the defensive tackle is on the Panthers’ practice squad.

“You know how the fans in the outside base are — once you’re losing, they’re really going to go against you,” Irvin said. “But I believe Coach Richt, he’ll be OK. Like Charles said, he’s done a lot for the University of Georgia and also the community. We’re just having a down year right now. Hopefully we can bounce back this week and get a win.”

The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.

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