Coaches facing a lot of pressure

sports@macon.comJuly 13, 2014 

Football coaches are used to pressure. It comes with the territory. They are paid to win and win a lot, and if they don’t, well, you know what usually happens.

The three main head coaches in the state of Georgia are facing a season full of pressure. The fan bases of the Atlanta Falcons, Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have high expectations, and that all falls on the shoulder of the men in charge.

For the Falcons, who are coming off a horrid 4-12 season, head coach Mike Smith knows what he’s facing. It’s the NFL, and that stands for “Not For Long” if your team does not win, especially two seasons in a row.

Smith is the most successful coach in Atlanta’s history. The Falcons had never had back-to-back winnings seasons before Smith arrived in 2008, and he was above .500 in each of his first five years. But last season, a year after almost going to the Super Bowl, was a disaster.

The Falcons’ lines of scrimmage fell apart. Injuries depleted the team, and the Falcons were never able to get on track. Well, the lines of scrimmage seem fixed, at least on paper, and with no clear-cut favorite in the NFC South, the Falcons might have a good chance.

The new stadium is something to keep in mind. The Falcons have three more seasons at the Georgia Dome before they move across the street in owner Arthur Blank’s newest toy. For Blank to sell seats, which will be expensive, the team needs to win.

And the Falcons should win this season. They might not be back to where they were when they almost went to the Super Bowl two years ago, but the new additions to the team should make a big difference.

That puts the pressure on Smith. If, for whatever reason, the Falcons falter, he will be blamed. That’s just what the NFL is all about.

Mark Richt will enter season 14 in Athens with the Bulldogs. He hasn’t won a conference title since 2005, and his team is only 44-23 in the past five seasons.

Richt will have two new elements to his team this year -- a new starting quarterback and a new defensive coaching staff. There are questions about the depth in the secondary and worries about the offensive line. But Richt does have Todd Gurley, perhaps the best running back in the country, coming back.

Georgia’s schedule sets up well. The Bulldogs have to get past the first two games of the season -- home against Clemson and at South Carolina. But with all the new quarterbacks in the SEC East, the Bulldogs have just as good a chance as anybody to be in Atlanta in early December.

If they don’t make it, what will the Georgia fan base say about Richt? Will it be yet another disappointing season that he’ll be forgiven for because of how the fans feel about him personally?

Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets are 28-25 in the past four seasons. He also has a new quarterback, and the hope is it’s a player who can better execute Johnson’s offense.

The Georgia Tech fans sounded a little testy late last season. They seem to like Johnson, but it’s all about winning. Johnson’s Yellow Jackets are only 19-13 in the ACC the past four years, so calling the program mediocre might be a stretch.

Of course, the coach who wins the Georgia-Georgia Tech game might be safer than the losing coach. Richt’s lost only once in his tenure in Athens in that series, while Johnson squandered a great chance in December when his Yellow Jackets led Georgia 20-0 but lost the game.

Last year the Falcons, Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets were a combined 19-23, so football fans in this state will be expecting more this season. And the coaches must make them happy, or else things could change. That’s just how foootball is for coaches who know all about pressure.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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