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 coachs job?
Theres 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 weve just gotta go out there and just compete.
Richts job status was a big subject the entire offseason, and it has moved quicker to the front burner after Georgias performance in a 35-21 loss to No. 5 Boise State to open the season.
The loss itself wasnt 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 Saturdays 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.
Didnt I just say its a really important game? Richt answered.
But do you think its a must-win, said the reporter from The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C..
I think its a really important game, Richt said. Do you want to ask me again? Because you can, and Ill give you the same answer.
The exchange was witnessed by Vince Dooley, who as Georgias 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.
Richts players didnt appear too comfortable having to field the questions, either.
You (cant) start worrying about everything else, like, Oh, is coach going to lose his job, or Is this or that gonna happen, whats 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 mens basketball coach Mark Fox felt the need to post a supportive comment on Twitter.
Our country is very divided & thats not working too well, Fox wrote. The Dawg nation cant be. Lets 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 years 6-7 record.
I think if wed have had a better year last year and wed opened up with this loss, I think things would be a little different, White said. I dont think as many people wouldve 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, thats never good.
Youre 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 its obviously going to stir some emotion. But its to be expected; they care about the team the same way we do.