Analysis: Richt’s recruiting, and what it means to his future

semerson@macon.comJuly 18, 2011 

You have to be careful with recruiting. You need only scan the recent Georgia football rosters -- filled with five-star flameouts and three-star success stories -- to know not to go crazy with any single bit of news.

You also have to be extremely hesitant to project too much about a player who commits but has seven months until he can sign and change his mind. Or 19 months, in the case of three players who committed to Georgia last week. Or 31 months, in the case of yet another.

This much, however, should be clear: All those players who have yet to even enroll at Georgia may end up helping save Mark Richt’s job.

When Richt walks to the podium Thursday at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., the Georgia head football coach will know what awaits. There may be a thousand credentialed media members at the SEC Media Days, and a lot of them will be thinking of nice ways to ask the hard-hitting question: Is he on the hot seat?

The short answer is yes. But anyone looking at a certain number of wins Richt needs to get this year is being too simplistic. And the events of Friday night, when five players committed within 10 minutes to Georgia, are part of the reason why.

There was offensive tackle John Theus, the nation’s fourth-ranked rising senior according to Scout.com. There was Brice Ramsey, the Bulldogs’ top quarterback target for the 2013 class. And there was Derrick Henry of Yulee, Fla., already one of the top-rated running backs in the 2013 class, receiver Tramel Terry (from South Carolina) and Stanley Williams, who will only be a sophomore at Apalachee this year.

Theus, whose brother Nathan will be a freshman long-snapper for Georgia this year, is seen as a rock-solid commitment. So is Ramsey, who’s from Camden County. The other three, well who knows with players from other states or players who have so long before they play.

But as far as Richt’s future, that’s not the point.

If Georgia changes coaches, Richt will argue -- and his bosses will be very well aware -- then commitments become de-commitments. Theus would in all likelihood re-open his recruitment, with Florida and Texas ready to pounce. Other highly rated commitments, such as defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor and defensive end Leonard Floyd, will be preyed on by rival schools while Georgia looks for a new coach.

By itself, is that enough to convince Georgia’s administration not to change coaches? Of course not, if the school’s leaders feel strongly enough about the on-field product.

But let’s say it’s a tough call: If Georgia starts 0-2 -- a very real possibility -- the obituaries on Richt’s tenure at Georgia will be written like no one has ever seen. But it will in all probability still be way too premature.

This Georgia administration is going to give Richt all the rope he needs. And his success on the recruiting trail, adding to his goodwill within the Bulldogs fan base, is providing Richt with a lot of rope. He’ll be able to withstand a couple of early losses. At least that’s the smart bet.

Now if the Bulldogs are sitting later at something like 2-6, with losses to say, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and the like, yes, a change will in all likelihood come.

But athletics director Greg McGarity and president Michael Adams will weigh everything, including recruiting. And they will know that if they oust Richt, they’ll in all likelihood lose Theus and Henry and perhaps Ramsey and others.

Coaching transitions are never easy. Sometimes they’re necessary. Richt and his defenders will argue that the risks in this case would outweigh any benefits.

The Florida recruits are key and are why Friday night was so big for the program.

Last year’s recruiting haul, while great, was dominated by in-state recruits. And if Richt and company were still killing it with a predominance of Georgia talent, the argument could be made that the program is -- to borrow a phrase -- recession-proof. The kids that grow up wanting to go to Georgia will still go there.

But to lure in so many top-tier players from out of state, that says this: Whatever the troubles of the past few years, Richt and his staff can still recruit. And when it comes to the debate about the coach’s future, don’t underestimate that.

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