Richt of the Antarctic, or Why Nice Guys Finish Dead Last in This League

Amundsen-Scott Station, Antarctica, is a crazy place.  It is consistently one of the coldest places on the face of the earth, with temperatures well below -100 degrees (Fahrenheit) and windchills well below -130 during the height of the Antarctic winter.

The sun does crazy things in the sky over Amundsen-Scott Station, Antarctica, as well.  The sky is pitch black for six months out of the year, but around the end of September you start to see some light.  Around the end of October the sun starts to peek above the horizon.  Now the sun does not move straight across the sky, the way it does here in Georgia.  Instead, it moves counterclockwise in a wide circle at the horizon.  Gradually it moves upward in a corkscrew-type motion, until it reaches 23.5 degrees above the horizon.  This happens around the end of December.  For the next two months it corkscrews back downward, until the end of February when it starts to drop below the horizon.  By the end of March all light has disappeared from the sky over Amundsen-Scott Station.

For those of you who don’t know, Amundsen-Scott Station, Antarctica, is a U. S. research station located at the South Pole.  It is so named to honor the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who was the first to reach the South Pole, and the Englishman Robert Scott, who reached it a month later and died during the return trip.

Robert Scott was a British naval officer who first made his claim to fame by leading an expedition to Antarctica in 1901-1904.  During the course of this expedition Scott journeyed southward and got to within 530 miles of the South Pole.  Scott returned home as a popular hero.  He won numerous awards for his expedition, including the Legion of Honor.

In 1910 Scott decided to have another go at the Antarctic.  This time his objective was to reach the South Pole.  Now of course Scott had his own ideas about how to go about this.  Sled dogs and skis had proven to be a superior technology, but Scott wanted nothing to do with this.  He showed a marked preference for this thing called “man-hauling”, which consisted of using manpower to propel sledges.  His use of sled dogs during this expedition was strictly an afterthought.

Well, in October 1910 Scott got the word that Roald Amundsen was headed toward the South Pole as well, and that his expedition would actually be a race.  The expedition arrived at Antarctica in early 1911, just in time for the onset of the Antarctic winter.  The idea was that they would reach their starting point, hunker down for the winter, and set out for the South Pole when the weather improved.  Unfortunately, their ship got stuck in ice and they missed their intended starting point by about 35 miles.  They learned that Amundsen was camped 200 miles to their east and a good ways closer to the South Pole, but Scott refused to alter his plans.

In November 1911 Scott and his crew set out for the South Pole.  But there was little communication about who was to do what, what all those horses and dogs were to be used for, etc.  This resulted in much confusion.  In January 1912 Scott reached the South Pole, only to find that Amundsen had beat his ass by five weeks.  There was a Norwegian flag at the South Pole, with a note taped to it along with instructions for Scott to take it and deliver it to the king of Norway.  (How’s that for rubbing it in?)

The return trip did not go well at all.  The weather deteriorated, the health of Scott’s men declined, and by March 1912, Scott was snowed in about 11 miles short of his starting point.  There he and the last of his men died.

Robert Scott was a nice guy who did some amazing things early on in his career.  Because of his early success, he was very well-liked by his friends and countrymen.  But in this race, Robert Scott finished last, and did not even live to tell the tale.

In this expedition, Scott failed because there was confusion, misunderstanding, and poor use of resources.  No one knew what on earth to do with all those dogs and horses.  Scott failed because he was intractable in his plan–he had a game plan and by golly he was going to stick to it.  He would not make adjustments for anything or anyone.  Scott failed because of his dogged insistence upon the use of “man-hauling”.  He included dogs in his expedition only as an afterthought.  Amundsen, on the other hand, knew all about sled dogs and what to do with them, and he used them to great effect.  He did not fool around; his expedition was “lean, mean, and ready for tonight”.

Sound familiar, people?  Because if you change the sport to football, Robert Scott to Mark Richt, and Roald Amundsen to Urban Meyer, the story is exactly the same.

Mark Richt was a coach who became wildly popular both inside and outside of the great Bulldog Nation because of his early successes.  He did tremendous things in the early years of his career, just as Robert Scott did tremendous things on his first expedition to the Antarctic.

But then Urban Meyer showed up, just as Amundsen showed up as Scott was setting out on his expedition to the South Pole.  Mark Richt was unprepared to deal with him, just as Scott was unprepared to deal with Amundsen.  Mark Richt and his staff continued on, business as usual, when it was perfectly obvious that fresh new approaches would be required to deal with the challenges posed by Urban Meyer.  And the result was the train wreck that we saw in Jacksonville last Saturday.

Now bear in mind that, though Florida was ranked No. 1, they had plenty of issues to go around.  They were sorely missing deep threat Percy Harvin.  Tim Tebow was nursing a concussion, and the offense was terribly sluggish.  They had struggled to beat LSU, Arkansas, and Mississippi State in previous weeks, and had looked very unimpressive in doing so.

But all that went out the window the moment this game started.  Florida scored on their first two possessions.  They made it look as if there was nobody on the field playing for Georgia.  Then the Georgia defense figured some things out and actually managed to stop Florida a few times.  Georgia’s offense figured some things out as well, enough to pull within 14-10.

But then Florida kicked a long field goal to go up 17-10.  At first this appeared to be a fine defensive stop, but on closer examination it turned out that Georgia didn’t even have enough men on the field for that play, and there was not even the slightest attempt to block the kick.  The offense went backward on the next series.  Florida got the ball back.  Tim Tebow burst through the Georgia line, made the first guy miss, and he was gone.  24-10 Florida.  Game over.

There was still a half of football to be played, but Georgia might as well have not even shown up.  Joe Cox was intercepted on his first throw of the second half, and just like that it was 31-10 Florida.  Georgia scored a touchdown to pull within 31-17, and was theoretically right back in it.  But Cox just kept throwing interceptions.  Logan Gray came on, and showed us on his very first snap why he hasn’t gotten more meaningful playing time this season.  By the time it was all said and done, it was 41-17 Florida, and it really shouldn’t have been that close.

Now spare me the reading of Richt’s resume.  Seven 10-plus win seasons, two SEC championships, three SEC championship game appearances, three BCS bowl appearances–I get it.  And spare me the sermon about Mark Richt’s excellence in character–I get it.  (By the way, has anyone else out there noticed that Mark Richt has not won a single championship of any stripe since 2005–Urban Meyer’s first year in the SEC?)

Robert Scott was a nice man, and a very popular man, who accomplished a lot on his first trip to tht Antarctic.  Just as Mark Richt is a nice and popular man who accomplished a lot during the early part of his Georgia career.  But in the race to the South Pole, Scott lost.  Badly.  And not only did he lose, he didn’t even live to tell about it.

There is a similar race going on between Mark Richt and Urban Meyer.  In this race, Mark Richt is losing.  Badly.  Just like Robert Scott.  And if things continue on their present trajectory, Mark Richt will not live to tell the tale.  He will end up getting snowed in and dying, only a few miles short of his goal.  Just like Robert Scott.

By the way, read Birmingham News sports columnist Kevin Scarbinsky’s take on the Mark Richt situation.  He makes some excellent points.

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