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Athlon's editors debate Mark Richt's future at Georgia.
Despite averaging 9.6 wins a year in 10 seasons at Georgia, Mark Richt sits on the hot seat coming into 2011.
Will Mark Richt Coach at Georgia in 2012?
Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Absolutely. I understand the term "Keeping up with the Joneses," and that there are a lot of Joneses in the SEC. But I am not on board with the "Fire Mark Richt" chants echoing from between the hedges in Athens. Richt's .738 winning percentage ranks him fourth in the nation among active coaches (Joe Paterno, Gary Paterson, Bob Stoops) and is essentially the best winning percentage in Georgia history - with all due respect to Herman Stegman's three-year run from 1920-22 (.741). With four wins he will get to 100 for his career in only 10 seasons and has two SEC championships. Only LSU's three titles are better over Richt's tenure while only Florida and Auburn can match his two over that span.
Did complacency set in for Richt's Dawgs since 2005? I can buy that. But he also has a 31-point BCS bowl win in the 2008 Sugar Bowl after one inexplicable road no-show to Tennessee kept them from potentially playing for the national title (they never got a chance to play the two-loss LSU Tigers that year). He has since made changes to the coaching staff and I expect marked improvement from Todd Grantham's 3-4 defensive scheme in 2011. Georgia has the best special teams in the nation, a cakewalk of a schedule by SEC standards and the best quarterback in the league. Additionally, the whole team will be playing the roll of cornered animal, as its back is securely plastered against the wall. I expect a return trip to Atlanta if the offensive line can stay healthy - and it can beat South Carolina at home in Week 2.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Yes, I think Mark Richt will be back at Georgia for 2012. Last season’s 6-7 record is a concern, but I don’t think the program is in a drastic decline. I expect last year’s record to be a source of motivation for the Bulldogs in 2011. Aaron Murray was supposed to be the big question mark surrounding this team last year, but had a solid debut season and returns as the SEC’s best quarterback. Although A.J. Green is gone, Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Malcolm Mitchell are talented and ready to emerge. The offensive line and rushing attack are an issue, but those concerns could be eased if freshman back Isaiah Crowell is as good as advertised.
Another reason for optimism is the defense. Coordinator Todd Grantham should have this unit playing at a much higher level in the second year of his 3-4 scheme. The linebacking corps could be one of the surprises of the SEC this year, especially if Jarvis Jones is eligible. The Bulldogs played in five games decided by 10 points or less last year and with a tight SEC East race expected, having two of the best specialists in college football – kicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler – will be extremely valuable. Georgia’s schedule also sets up well, missing Alabama, LSU and Arkansas from the West and hosting South Carolina. I’m picking Georgia as my SEC East champ, which means Richt’s job should be secure going into 2012.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I do believe Mark Richt will be back at Georgia next year. There is no denying that the Bulldogs have hit a rough stretch in recent years — 7–9 in the SEC the past two seasons — but let’s not forget that Richt went 46–18 in league games in his first eight seasons. He has proven that he knows how to win games in the SEC.
Richt now must prove that he can get his ship righted. And while this is far from a vintage Georgia team, I believe the 2011 Bulldogs will be good enough to challenge in the SEC East — we did, after all, pick the Dawgs to win the division — and prove that the program is on the way back to national prominence.
The defense should be solid, especially in the second season of Todd Grantham’s 3–4 scheme. Georgia is set at quarterback, and should be strong at running back with stud freshman Isaiah Crowell. If the offensive line holds up and a receiver emerges as a big-play threat, the Dawgs will score plenty of points. And let’s not forget that Georgia boasts arguably the best set of specialists in the nation in placekicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
It’s very difficult for me to see Mark Richt not being the head coach at Georgia in 2012, but that possibility does exist in the highly-pressurized SEC. Obviously his overall record of 96-34 is stellar, but something has been missing over the last two seasons. The Bulldogs have gone 7-9 in SEC play during that span, including 10-6 loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl that resulted in a losing season a year ago. The Bulldogs won the SEC crown in 2002 and 2005 but have not been back the conference championship game since that ’05 victory.
There is optimism in Athens this season, with a returning star in quarterback Aaron Murray and a defense that should be much better in its second year under coordinator Todd Grantham. Richt and staff have recruited well, so the talent is there to win the East once again. However if the Dawgs falter again this season, the fan base is going to be very restless for a change at the top.
I believe one interesting factor to watch this year will be the success of UGA graduate Will Muschamp in his first season at Florida. If the Gators out duel the Bulldogs in the SEC East, the Georgia administration may feel pressure to make a similar move and hire another UGA alum, current Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
Mark Richt seems to be a perfect fit as the type of coach and person Georgia wants leading its football program. The results have to be there though, and the performance of the Bulldogs in 2011 will determine just how hot Richt’s seat gets in Athens.
Steve Patterson, UGASports.com
I am not sure how bad the 2011 season would have to be for Mark Richt to lose his job in Athens. In fact, if the season were to go terribly wrong I can see him stepping down before being fired, and I am not sure he would want to end his career on a sour note. Other than the terrific recruiting the Bulldogs have enjoyed with their “Dream Team” they signed this past February in which several players are expected to make an immediate impact, the team had a whopping five commitments last weekend at the Dawg Night camp. This week at the SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Richt came across as highly motivated, in good spirits, and seemed especially confident in his program despite some unexpected losses in personnel in the offseason. It appears that the team has put 2010 behind them and are raring to go for 2011. I do not see this team repeating last season’s 6-7 record, and I expect to see Mark Richt on the UGA sidelines for 2012 and beyond.
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