Big question hangs over Richt, Bulldogs

semerson@macon.comSeptember 7, 2011 

ATHENS -- Orson Charles literally gulped as the question was asked. It was a heavy, difficult question that plenty of other Georgia football players were getting: Did they feel they were playing for their head coach’s job?

“There’s a lot of talk, like you said, that Coach (Mark) Richt is on the hot seat,” Charles said. “I really hate hearing about that. But we’ve just gotta go out there and just compete.”

Richt’s job status was a big subject the entire offseason, and it has moved quicker to the front burner after Georgia’s performance in a 35-21 loss to No. 5 Boise State to open the season.

The loss itself wasn’t shameful. But the Bulldogs looked overmatched despite an offseason overhaul of their locker room, strength and conditioning program and an infusion of talent.

The result was that Georgia fell from No. 19 to unranked in the Associated Press poll released Tuesday. And Richt found himself asked twice in his weekly news conference about the importance of Saturday’s game against No. 12 South Carolina to his future and the program.

“I view it as a very important game,” Richt said, leaving his answer to those eight words the first time he was asked.

Later, another reporter followed up by asking if this was a “must-win” for him.

“Didn’t I just say it’s a really important game?” Richt answered.

“But do you think it’s a must-win,” said the reporter from The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C..

“I think it’s a really important game,” Richt said. “Do you want to ask me again? Because you can, and I’ll give you the same answer.”

The exchange was witnessed by Vince Dooley, who as Georgia’s athletics director hired Richt on Dec. 26, 2000. The current athletics director, Greg McGarity, has remained supportive of his embattled coach, although careful not to engage in public votes of confidence.

Richt’s players didn’t appear too comfortable having to field the questions, either.

“You (can’t) start worrying about everything else, like, ‘Oh, is coach going to lose his job,’ or ‘Is this or that gonna happen, what’s everybody gonna say about us after the game, is this gonna start the slide like we had last season,’ ” senior tight end Aron White said. “You start worrying about stuff like that, and you lose focus. And right now we need to be completely focused. We have a great team coming in to play us.”

The players and Richt preferred to focus on the Gamecocks, and the fact that a win against them could turn around the public perception of the Bulldogs.

For the moment, the players are well aware of the current feeling of their own fans. Junior linebacker Christian Robinson said he got “nasty” comments from fans on Twitter following the loss to Boise State and decided to take a one-week hiatus from the social network. White announced he was also staying away from football-related Twitter comments.

Even Bulldogs head men’s basketball coach Mark Fox felt the need to post a supportive comment on Twitter.

“Our country is very divided & that’s not working too well,” Fox wrote. “The Dawg nation can’t be. Let’s all fight forward & support this team.”

The fans may be in need of a calm hand, but steadiness, not urgency, seemed to be the focus of the players. They emphasized the importance of not panicking after one game while acknowledging that the fans probably feel a carryover from last year’s 6-7 record.

“I think if we’d have had a better year last year and we’d opened up with this loss, I think things would be a little different,” White said. “I don’t think as many people would’ve jumped to criticize and speak negatively. But I think coming off a losing season, I guess it was the first losing season in 14 years here at Georgia or something like that, and then opening up with a loss, that’s never good.

“You’re here every day, living it every day and seeing everything your teammates are putting into it, and to have people tear it down in a day because you had an off game and you lost to a good team, it hurts, and it’s obviously going to stir some emotion. But it’s to be expected; they care about the team the same way we do.”

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service