Losing three of four games in SEC play can put any otherwise successful head coach on a bit of a hot seat, as Georgia head coach Mark Richt appears to be learning the hard way this week. A loss in Jacksonville to Florida dropped the Bulldogs behind the SEC East-leading Gators in the division and may have been enough to eliminate Georgia from reaching Atlanta as division champion for a third straight season. Now the rumblings about possible changes within the program are beginning to pop up for the longest-tenured coach in the SEC.
On Monday, Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports reported, via Twitter, influential people connected to the Georgia football program are asking questions and discussing the possible exit strategy from the Richt regime.
Richt has been the head coach of Georgia since 2001 after serving as an offensive coordinator for Bobby Bowden at Florida State. Since being named the head coach of the program, Richt has gone 141-51 with a 9-5 bowl record and two SEC championships and six SEC East titles. The two-time SEC Coach of the Year has become a buzzworthy name floating in the coaching rumor pool with an opening at Miami available. Richt played for the Hurricanes from 1979 through 1982, and the logic of a change of scenery benefitting Richt is a popular thought. If, for whatever reason, Richt is a candidate on the market, he would be an excellent hire for a program like Miami.
That is a big “if” though. Despite the recent struggles and concerns with the program, there are some questions the people with the power at Georgia must answer.
Has Georgia met its ceiling under Richt?
After 14 and a half seasons, it is perfectly fair to suggest Georgia has reached its ceiling under Richt. Just as Nebraska decided with Bo Pelini, if Georgia decides the ceiling on the field should be higher then making a change at the coaching position is entirely easy to defend. In college football there is more to the gig than just simply winning football games, and Richt has had his ups and downs off the field with running the program, but ultimately if Georgia is not winning then the pressure to change will continue to grow.
Would a coaching change benefit Georgia in the long-term?
This is the most important question to answer, and once again Nebraska feels like a suitable litmus test for this question. After continuous nine-win seasons under Pelini, Nebraska cut ties and brought in Mike Riley to lead the program. As things stand right now, Nebraska is 3-6 and one loss away from being ineligible for the postseason. Changing the head coach does not always lead to an instant turnaround, but this may be difficult to comprehend at Georgia as they see what is happening at Florida in the first year with Jim McElwain at the helm. The quick work done by McElwain may put more pressure on Georgia to make a change, because of Florida can do it, then why couldn’t Georgia?
The people who make the big decisions at Georgia need to avoid falling into the trap of comparing the program to Florida’s seemingly quick turnaround. Remember, Brady Hoke took Michigan to the Sugar Bowl in his first season. McElwain is a solid coach, there is no disputing that, but so is Richt. If Georgia is going to push him out, it would be wise to have a succession plan already lined up and in motion when the time comes.