LORAN SMITH COLUMN: This is a week for UGA fans to celebrate good coaching

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

“Didn’t I tell you after the South Carolina game,” the voice on the other end of the line was proclaiming, “that we were going to win the rest of our games and play for the SEC championship?”

One must not resort to insult or rudeness in such circumstance, but, no, I don’t remember anybody saying that with any authority. Maybe one or two diehards, here and there, with sincere feelings of loyalty, did make such a bold prediction.

However, I am sure they would not have bet their house that the Bulldogs would wind up in the Georgia Dome. Funny how euphoria brings about recollections, laced with clairvoyance.

What I did hear a lot of, when Georgia was 0-2 after the South Carolina game, was that we needed a search committee to find a new coach, most suggesting that the incumbent was on the hot seat. What was commonly noted was that, while Mark Richt is a “fine, fine person,” he is in a business where there are jackals with whistles around their necks, and he doesn’t have the commitment to fight fire with fire. Also heard a lot about the play calling, none of which was positive.

But look where we are — in the Southeastern Conference championship game, and we essentially got there without a running back. If the guy with the ugliest golf swing gets it on the green from the brush and bramble and scores well enough to win, the pain is not in how ugly his swing was but in having to pay the guy when the bets are settled.

The view here is that Richt’s faith and patience has had a lot to do with the success of this team. After South Carolina, he dug in his heels, underscoring positive thinking and reminding his team that he believed in them-admonishing them to, henceforth, commit to a “one-game-at-a-time” approach. Throughout the rest of the fall, he followed that theme with his players and coaches. There is no magic potion in the business, and his way might be different from the next coach’s. What is important is that you find a way to make it work.

It is revealing to compare Richt’s career to that of Georgia’s winningest coach, Vince Dooley. He didn’t win a championship every year — no coach ever does — but Dooley was often in contention, and over a 25-year period, he won six SEC titles, which means that he averaged a championship every four years or so. A victory Saturday would have Mark Richt in the same relative position. In 11 years, he has won two SEC titles and has gotten his team to the championship game four times — on average, once every three years.

All the while, Richt has represented Georgia with the greatest of integrity. Matt Stinchcomb, All-American with the Bulldogs and a seven-year career veteran in the NFL, made a very interesting comment to the Athens Touchdown Club recently.

“This should not be a win-at-all-costs business,” he said.

Another of the many studied tributes to the Georgia head coach, who would quit before segueing into the den of recruiting iniquity.

This is a week to celebrate a good coaching job. A defense against scoring that has been as unyielding as any in the conference, save Alabama and LSU; an offense which is one of the best when it comes to scoring touchdowns. Red zone proficiency would make any offensive coach drool with 32 touchdowns in 50 opportunities. The special teams struggled early on, but lately they have been making amends.

As recent as the week after Kentucky, Richt did take time to reflect on the time when his record was 0-2.

“I always liked the ingredients, the chemistry of the team — dating back to our camp in August — and felt that if we could just put it together, if we could become a team which was hard to beat, if we didn’t beat ourselves, we could be very successful,” he said. “Nobody pointed fingers, they just buckled their chinstraps and went to work — week after week. We are now reaping the awards of a never give up attitude. I am so happy for this team.”

This alumnus is happy for the deserving coach as well.