CHARLOTTE – Mark Richt has been in a rather sour mood the past month. Whether it was the loss to Georgia Tech, the departure of Mike Bobo, or something else, he just hasn’t been a very bubbly guy.
This observation was put to Richt himself on Monday. He didn’t disagree.
“We’re all human,” he said. “It’s not been a lot of fun. It’s not fun to lose any game. But it’s part of the business, and that’s why we worked so hard in this game, knowing it’s gonna be the last little taste in our mouth that we’re gonna have. That’s why I wanna take care of business this week.”
Would there be a chance after the bowl game, and before recruiting resumes on Jan. 15, to recharge?
Richt smiled ruefully.
“There’s a lot of things to be done between now and then,” Richt said, adding almost under his breath: “There’s a lot of things to be done.”
The good news for Georgia is Richt’s mood hasn’t been evident to his players, or at least they’re not saying. Seniors Hutson Mason and Damian Swann seemed surprised at the question on Monday.
Mason opined that Richt is a laid-back guy in general. But if his coach is sour, Mason can understand.
“The man’s dealt with a lot over the last couple weeks,” Mason said. “It doesn’t help that we didn’t beat Tech.”
That loss has magnified, you could also say exaggerated, a lot of the program’s supposed flaws and issues. There’s heat from fans. There’s also what appears to be a strained relationship between coaches and the administration.
It all makes this one of the most important bowl games Georgia has had in recent memory: Lose to Louisville, and the perception of a struggling program only intensifies. But win, and Georgia is a 10-win team that could finish ranked in the top 10.
“Were those the primary goals when the season began, no,” Richt admitted. “But where we’re at, there’s still some very positive things that could happen to finish the season well.”
His mood would improve with a win Tuesday. But even then, as Richt pointed out, there’s still a lot of work to do, starting with hiring an offensive coordinator, as well as an offensive line coach, and trying to retain other coaches.
But one man who won’t be around next year is Swann, who has had some interesting thoughts on the program he will soon leave behind.
Swann, a senior cornerback, was talking about this season, and wasn’t as hung up on the loss to Georgia Tech as he was the other two. South Carolina and Florida each ended up with six losses.
“It seems like we always find a way to lose a game that we’re not supposed to lose,” Swann said.
What’s the reason for that? A lack of consistency, and the need to “do things the right way every week,” Swann said.
Finally, too late for his career, but finally, that’s happening, according to Swann.
“Everything about this program has changed: The way we work out, the way we practice, the way we train, the way we eat. Everything is moving in the right direction,” Swann said. “Within the next two or three years, it’s gonna be the right way. These guys are gonna be competing for a national championship.”
Swann credited Jeremy Pruitt, the first-year defensive coordinator, for many of the changes. Pruitt came to Georgia after winning championships at Florida State and Alabama as an assistant.
“He’s been a part of those programs, he’s won championships, he knows what it takes,” Swann said. “You’ve gotta be consistent every week. And this program is going to find a way to do that, and they’re gonna be fine. They’re gonna be fine.”
That may be. But the next two weeks are also critical for this program: The right coaching hires have to be made, current coaches need to be retained, and before all that, there’s the small matter of the last game.
Many bowls are glorified exhibitions that are essentially meaningless. That’s not the case this year for Georgia. This one is pivotal. A fan base, and its head coach, need some cheering up.