Taking a Break from the Mark Richt Bashing: Chaplain Mike on the Myth of Independence

Today I am going to hit “Pause” on all the Mark Richt bashing that has been taking place here during the past week, and direct your attention to a post by Chaplain Mike over at Internet Monk that I believe would be worth your while to consider.

We Americans, and American evangelicals in particular, are all about independence.  We love to fancy ourselves as self-sufficient people and take pride in our ability to live as autonomous, self-determining individuals.  But are we really?  Think about what it took for you to be here, sitting at your computer, reading this blog.  In order for that to happen, you are dependent upon other people to a much greater extent than you would think at first.

Read The Myth of Independence by Chaplain Mike at internetmonk.com

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Time for Mark Richt to Prepare Three Envelopes

Several years ago Mack Brown, who had just started at Texas, spoke at a Touchdown Club or other such function and told this story about his time at North Carolina:  When he first arrived at North Carolina, the outgoing coach gave him three envelopes numbered sequentially, with instructions to open one envelope (in sequential order) whenever his job was on the line and do whatever it said to do inside.

Mack Brown had a rough first year at North Carolina.  The fans were all up in arms.  So he opened the first envelope.  Inside was a slip of paper that said, “Blame your predecessor.”  So Mack Brown went out on the speaking circuit and spoke about how the previous coach had messed up recruiting and how he would need time to straighten everything out.  The next year, North Carolina improved.  They did well for several years after.

In 1994, North Carolina lost several key players and had a down year.  Again the fans were up in arms.  Mack Brown opened the second envelope.  Inside was a slip of paper that said, “Fire some assistants.”  So he fired several assistants.  The next year North Carolina improved, and went on to become a Top 10 team.  Texas came calling, and Mack Brown took the job.  As he was unpacking in Austin, he found the last envelope, still unopened.  Out of curiosity, he opened it.  Inside was a slip of paper that said, “Prepare three envelopes.”

It is now time for Mark Richt to get busy preparing three envelopes for his successor at Georgia.

I have no idea who that successor will be.  But whoever he is, he can’t get here soon enough.

Because it is glaringly obvious that Mark Richt has run out of ideas at Georgia.

His team is two touchdowns worse than Mississippi State, a former SEC doormat and a team that Georgia has not lost to since I was in diapers.  They are 0-3 in SEC play–the only 0-3 team in the entire SEC, I feel compelled to note–for the first time since Ray Goof.  Mark Richt now owns a three-game losing streak for the first time in his entire career.

Given that, one would think that Mark Richt would have had his charges playing with some semblance of a sense of urgency and desperation at Mississippi State this week.  Throughout the past week, Mark Richt was questioned constantly about his players being in a funk after losing two straight, and he constantly reassured us that they would not be in a funk.  How’s this for not being in a funk:  In the first three minutes they went three-and-out and allowed Mississippi State to score a touchdown in only four plays.

These days, it seems that Mark Richt is constantly questioned about the state of his program and the direction of his program.  Just a couple of short years ago these questions would have been unthinkable, but now they are inescapable.  After the Arkansas loss, someone challenged Mark Richt on what assurance he could give that the program was headed in the right direction, not just for this year but for two and three years down the road.  His response:  “The bottom line,” he said, “is if you’re a true fan, in my opinion, you’re going to support your team no matter what. I don’t think you’re going to just love the boys when they win and hate on them when they lose, you know.”

True enough.  Mark Richt does have a point there.  But for an embattled coach whose fans are openly questioning the state and direction of his program, that was the WRONG thing to say and the WRONG time to say it.

The last time Georgia started 0-3 in SEC play was in 1993.  Ray Goof was the coach then, and the season was excruciating proof that he was bankrupt and devoid of ideas for making Georgia football relevant in the SEC East.  It took a couple of years after that, but eventually the UGA athletic leadership reached the same conclusion and Ray Goof was gone.

Mark Richt has achieved far more in his tenure at Georgia than Ray Goof could ever have dreamed of even in his wildest dreams.  He won two SEC championships in four years at a school that had not won one in twenty years prior to his arrival.

But the SEC landscape has changed drastically since then.  LSU, Florida, and Alabama have all won national championships since Mark Richt won his last SEC championship.  South Carolina, Arkansas, and possibly Auburn are all ascendant powers now.  Even Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky are improving.  And Georgia has failed to keep up.

Now the program is in free fall, hemorrhaging conference losses, doing things that have not been done at Georgia since Ray Goof, and losing to teams that Georgia hasn’t lost to since I was in diapers.

No longer does any opponent fear Georgia.  As a matter of fact, Georgia is now the chic team to play if YOU are looking for a signature win to establish YOUR program.

The old Steve Spurrier critique of Ray Goof–‘Georgia gets all these players, I don’t know what happens to them”–is just as poignant now as it ever was then.  Since when does all that blue-chip talent coming through Athens square with 0-3 in SEC play?  How does a program with all those five-star recruiting classes coming in get to be two touchdowns worse than Mississippi State?

This is all about coaching, people.  It is a MASSIVE failure in the area of coaching.

“This one’s embarrassing for me. As a head coach, I’m responsible for everybody in this program, from the trainers to the managers to the walk-ons, to the kids to the coaches — everybody.”  So said Mack Brown after his team inexplicably got punked by UCLA in Austin this week.

Can any of you out there imagine these words, or anything sounding remotely similar to these words, coming out of the mouth of Mark Richt?

Didn’t think so.

The loss to Mississippi State this weekend was a tipping point in the minds of many Georgia fans who now see Mark Richt as the problem, not the solution.  I am part of that number.

I have tried to remain positive, and I expect you, my readers, to take note.  I tried to stay positive when Georgia was getting its doors blown off over at the Dead CockroachAnd I tried to see the positive while acknowledging the problems that surfaced against Arkansas.  So I don’t want to hear any of you out there saying that I am always down on my team.

In light of what I have seen this weekend, I cannot stay positive anymore.

It is time for Mark Richt to go.  He has clearly run out of answers.  I have my own ideas of who I would like to see take his place, but in the end, I don’t care.  I just want him gone and somebody else with fresh ideas in his place.  The sooner the better.

My Fellow Georgia Fans: Time to Get Embarrassed

I am now embarrassed to be a Georgia fan.

No.  Correct that.  I am now MORTIFIED to be a Georgia fan.

I tried to keep a positive face on things as Georgia was in the process of losing to South Carolina and Arkansas.  Both of these are Top 25 teams and it was surely a quirk of scheduling that had Georgia playing both of them on back-to-back weeks in September of a rare year when both of them figured to be for real.

I tried to maintain faith that Georgia’s recent woes were the result of short-term chaos from the transitions which the program is currently going through:  a new starting quarterback, a new DC, and a new defensive system.  That things would surely improve as the season progressed, and that next year or perhaps later this season, we would be in a place where we could look back and say that it was worth enduring the present chaos to get to that place.

You have all read my blog over the past couple of weeks.  You can bear witness to this.

I have no such faith anymore.

When a team loses by two touchdowns to Mississippi State–MISSISSIPPI STATE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!–it is not an aberration.  It is not a quirk in scheduling.  It is not the short-term chaos of a program in transition.  It is not anything that can be blamed on the absence of one player or inexperience or lack of depth at a certain position in the lineup.  All you people running around out there saying that this is all due to A. J. Green being out:  It is now time for you to sit down and shut up.

No, when your team has its ass handed to it by Mississippi State, it is a sign that your program has severe and profound flaws that cannot and will not be fixed anytime soon.

For crying out loud, people, Mississippi State is seldom a force within the borders of its own state.  And yet Georgia managed to make them look like a major SEC power.

Turn back the clock.  Cover your faces.  Hang your heads in shame and disgrace.  The last time Georgia lost to Mississippi State?  The year was 1974.  I was still in diapers.  The last time Georgia lost to Mississippi State in Starkville?  1956.  My parents were still in high school.

The previous week, Georgia lost to Arkansas in Athens for the first time since Ray Goof.  The week before that, they lost to South Carolina in Columbia for the first time in a decade.  The humiliation grows deeper and more abject by the week.

Are you still not convinced that this isn’t an aberration?

Try this:  Georgia is now 2-7 in its last 9 SEC games.  Among those seven losses:  Lane Kiffin’s pathetic joke of a program at Tennessee.  Kentucky.  South Carolina.  Arkansas.  And now Mississippi State.  The only wins in that stretch:  Vanderbilt, who cannot be taken lightly because they are two touchdowns better than Ole Miss, and a Gene Chizik-coached Auburn team that, as presently constituted, is at least two touchdowns better than Georgia.

Still not convinced?

Okay, try this:  Georgia is now 0-3 in SEC play.  They stand completely and totally alone in that regard.  Behind Mississippi State.  Behind Vanderbilt.  Behind Kentucky.  Behind all the other teams that you used to joke about.  Behind all the other teams about whom you used to say, “At least we’re not as bad as _________.”

Folks, Georgia IS that bad.

No, correct that.  Georgia is WORSE.

This week’s game was a MUST-WIN for Georgia.  Facing the prospect of a three-game losing streak for the first time ever in Mark Richt’s career and 0-3 in SEC play for the first time since Ray Goof, one would think that Richt would have had his charges playing with desperation, urgency, and reckless abandon.  Here’s how much desperation, urgency, and reckless abandon Georgia was playing with this evening:  In only the first three minutes of the game, Georgia went three-and-out and then surrendered a touchdown to Mississippi State in only four plays.

Mark Richt has GOT to do better than that.

The offensive line remains hopelessly pathetic.  Three trips to the red zone for Georgia netted only two field goals and a fumble.  Georgia did not score a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, well into trash time, well after the game had already been decided.

The defense remains pathetic, as evidenced by that early touchdown and the two quick fourth quarter touchdowns that won the game for Mississippi State.  Maybe this will get better as the season progresses.  Maybe not.

What you see before you is not an aberration.  It is not short-term chaos.  It is not the result of certain key players being absent or certain skill positions lacking experience.

No, what you see before you is not a football team.  It is a sick, pathetic joke.

Wide receiver Kris Durham:  “It’s one of those things where you’re not embarrassed to be a Georgia Bulldog, but we’re embarrassed at the way we’re playing….Our season could turn into a catastrophe if we don’t stay together.”

As if it hasn’t already.  There is a strong possibility that Georgia will not win another game in all of 2010.

Forget Vanderbilt.  Forget Kentucky.  Forget Mississippi State.  The SEC has a new doormat:  Georgia.

If you, my fellow Georgia fans, are not completely and utterly humiliated and ashamed, then I don’t know what is wrong with you.

All-Skate: What Are Your Thoughts on the State of Georgia Football After the Arkansas Loss?

Okay Georgia fans, I’ve given you a couple of days to think over and process the events in Athens this past weekend.  I have been attempting to process it all myself, but I find myself at a complete loss.  So I am asking for your help.

Before I open the floor for discussion, here are my thoughts so far:

–Mark Richt overhauled his defensive staff this offseason just past, replacing all but one of his defensive coaches.  Todd Grantham, the new DC, is attempting to implement the 3-4, a brand new defensive system.  A change like this is almost as disruptive as bringing in a new head coach, and is bound to cause a lot of short-term chaos.  As the transition progresses, the chaos will dissipate and Georgia’s defense will be in a much better state than they ever were under Willie Martinez.  And then all the present chaos will prove to have been worth it.  Hopefully.

–All three of Ryan Mallett’s touchdown passes were the result of blown assignments and busted coverages.  Mark Richt is sounding all the right notes about this; he says that as long as the players are playing hard (and he believes that they are), he can live with the mistakes.  This makes sense to me; mistakes can be easily corrected in practice.  Lack of intensity–not so much.

–You knew before the season even started that South Carolina and Arkansas would represent a huge test for Georgia early on.  Many analysts had Georgia losing one of these games, if not both.

HAVING SAID ALL THAT:

Anytime a loss has Aloysius researching 0-2 SEC starts, it is NOT a good thing.

–Georgia is now 0-2 in SEC play.  Aloysius, our new Executive Director of Sports Information here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion, has done some research into that.  (It actually happens around here from time to time.  Imagine that.)  He found that the last time Georgia dropped its first two conference games was in 1993, the heart of the Ray Goof era.  In that dreadful season Georgia would fall to 0-4 in SEC play before finishing 2-6 (5-6 overall).  Anytime a loss has Aloysius researching things that have not happened at Georgia since Ray Goof, it is most decidedly NOT a good thing.

–Speaking of which, the last time Georgia lost to Arkansas in Athens was in that same woeful 1993 season.

–And speaking of 2-6, Mark Richt is now 2-6 in his last eight SEC games, going back to last year’s LSU game.  AJC sports columnist Jeff Schultz asserts that this is hard evidence that Georgia is now firmly ensconced into a new identity:  mediocrity.  Here is enough to give you the idea:

It’s not about one player not being here. It’s not about playing a freshman quarterback or having a certain soft spot on the depth chart or the big, bad NCAA being out to get Georgia.

When a program sinks to lows not seen since the Ray Goff administration, it’s not an aberration.

–Schultz sees this loss as providing abundant evidence that Mark Richt’s program at Georgia has flaws which are deep and widespread.  To a certain extent, I agree with him.  I disagree with his views on the defense, as I feel that the defensive issues are short-term chaos which will improve as the season progresses (hopefully).  But concerning the offensive line, he makes a most poignant point.  The hiring of Stacy Searels away from LSU in 2007 was seen at the time as a major coup; it has since proven to be an EPIC FAIL.  The offensive line has failed to perform as advertised for as long as he has been at Georgia.  This year, the offensive line was billed as a major strength of this team, with all of those returning starters.  Instead, it has been nothing if not a major weakness.  Against South Carolina, the offensive line failed to clear enough room for Washaun Ealey to run the ball effectively.  Against Arkansas, the offensive line was better at running, but gave up an INEXCUSABLE six sacks (try saying that six times really fast) to one of the worst defenses in the entire SEC.  Mark Richt has got to find a way to get better play from his offensive line, or else it is going to be a VERY LONG season.

–Georgia’s margin for error is now reduced to absolutely zero if it is to have even the remotest shred of a prayer of competing in the SEC East this year.  In light of this, the next three games on Georgia’s schedule loom VERY LARGE.  None of these games are gimmes (can Georgia in its present state regard ANY game on its remaining schedule as a gimme?) and after the latest losses they look much less winnable than they did before the start of the season.  This week, Georgia travels to Mississippi State.  Starkville is always a quirky and difficult place for opposing teams to play, and Mississippi State is much improved under second-year coach Dan Mullen.  Georgia has already flunked its first SEC road test of 2010; what makes you think this one will be any easier?

Assuming Georgia survives this test, they must then travel thousands of miles from home and take on an inspired Colorado team with a coach on the hot seat, nothing to lose, and everything to prove, in a stadium packed to the gills with jacked-up, screaming Colorado fans.  This will be a much harder test than anything Georgia has faced to date.  And assuming Georgia survives THIS test, they must then return home to face Tennessee.  First-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is the son of Vince and Barbara Dooley; his return to Athens figures to be a very emotionally charged affair.  Who knows how that will turn out?

Could this be Athens in a few weeks?

Lose any one of these three games–to say nothing of losing two or, God forbid, all three–and there will be scorched earth over in Athens.  Lots of it.

So what say you, my fellow Georgia fans?  Have the wheels come completely and totally off Georgia’s 2010 season, if not the entire program?  Are Georgia’s current woes a result of the program being in transition, with a new starting quarterback, a new DC, and a new defensive system?  Or are they, as Jeff Schulz maintains, the evidence of serious flaws that are deep, widespread, and not going away anytime soon?  Will things improve as the season progresses?  Do you trust that Mark Richt, Todd Grantham, et. al. have the program headed in the right direction?  Or is it time to just kick ’em all to the curb and start all over from scratch with a new head coach and a new program?

Okay.  Discuss.

Les Miserables 53: Poverty a Good Neighbor of Misery

At this point in the story, Marius is at a season of life where he is struggling with intense poverty.  During the course of this, Victor Hugo gives us some quotes which seem to show that he holds a very romanticized view of poverty:

Wonderful and terrible trial, from which the feeble come out infamous, from which the strong come out sublime.  Crucible into which destiny casts a man whenever she desires a scoundrel or a demigod.

For there are many great deeds done in the small struggles of life.  There is a determined though unseen bravery that defends itself foot by foot in the darkness against the fatal invasions of necessity and dishonesty.  Noble and mysterious triumphs that no eye sees and no fame rewards, and no flourish of triumph salutes.  Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields that have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes.

Strong and rare natures are created this way; misery, almost always a stepmother, is sometimes a mother; privation gives birth to power of soul and mind; distress is the nurse of self-respect; misfortune gives good milk for great souls.

But is such a romanticized view of poverty truly warranted?  Let us go back to this post by Damaris Zehner that I linked a few weeks ago.  Here she offers a poignant counterpoint to everything that Victor Hugo says about poverty in the above quote with some rather unsavory glimpses of what poverty is like for some people.  She then goes on to make the point that poverty can be just as corrosive to the spirit as it is to the body.  Many American Christians believe that poverty is a precondition for a simpler and more holy lifestyle.  After all, Jesus did tell the rich young ruler to give away everything he had and follow him.  But poverty is not the difference maker in a more holy Christian life; gratitude is. Continue reading “Les Miserables 53: Poverty a Good Neighbor of Misery”

Quick Hit: The South Carolina Game

No matter where I am in the world, I can always tell whenever Georgia has taken a particularly distressing loss by looking at my blog and seeing how many people find it by using the search term “fire mark richt”.

It has taken me a few days to think this one through, but here is where I come out:  Come on, people.

What happened this past weekend was not a failure of coaching.  It was not a failure to scheme properly.  It was simply superior athleticism from the other team.  It happens sometimes.  Deal with it.

Georgia’s defense looked pathetic with all the missed tackles.  But let me tell you a secret:  Marcus Laddimore is going to make a LOT of defenses look pathetic by the time it is all said and done.

Todd Grantham had his players where they needed to be, doing the things that needed to be done in order to make plays.  But the plays would not be made; Marcus Laddimore refused to allow that to happen.  It happens sometimes, and a defensive coordinator can live with that.

And despite all the missed tackles, we must not forget that the defense kept Georgia in the game all the way until the very end when South Carolina got that last field goal.

Aaron Murray was not the most effective, but what do you expect from a freshman quarterback starting his first ever SEC road game?  There is a HUGE difference between playing in front of 90,000 of your fans and playing in front of 90,000 of theirs.  Aaron Murray had to learn this the hard way.

The offensive game plan was overly conservative, and if you wish to criticize that, you might have a legitimate argument.  Still, it is a sensible thing to do when you are trying to break in a freshman quarterback who is starting his first ever SEC road game.  On the other hand, at some point you do have to take the training wheels off.  Let your freshman quarterback go out there and step up like a veteran and make the big plays to win the game.  I think you can be pretty sure that Mark Richt and Mike Bobo are thinking long and hard about that this week.

To sum up:  This was NOT a failure of coaching, or a failure of schemes.  It was simply two very good teams who figure to do a lot of damage in the SEC East this year, going at it in a close, hard-fought game.  In such an instance, one of those teams has to lose.  This time, it was Georgia.  It happens sometimes.  Deal with it.

Movie Review: Green Zone

Green Zone is a 2010 action thriller centered around the war in Iraq.  Starring Matt Damon of The Bourne Identity/Conspiracy/Ultimatum, it brings much of the same look and feel of the Bourne movies to the war in Iraq.  The movie takes its name from the Green Zone, a specially secured area in the center of Baghdad which included Saddam Hussein’s palaces and the government buildings.

Damon plays a US Army officer who smells a rat when his unit’s search for weapons of mass destruction comes up empty.  Believing his information to be based on faulty intelligence, he strikes out on his own in a search for the truth.

Green Zone did not do very well in the theaters.  It just missed making enough to cover the costs of production, and for all the publicity it got, it might as well have gone straight to DVD.

While the movie is an action thriller, it nevertheless manages to take an honest look at many unsavory aspects of the war in Iraq.  Much of the story is fictionalized, but the basic elements are quite recognizable and true to reality:  faulty intelligence driving the search for weapons of mass destruction, high-ranking Pentagon officials closing their eyes to reality in order to make the case for war, and an anti-Baathist purge in the Iraqi military that made the conflict far more costly and complicated than it had to be.  The most powerful aspect of this film is that it provides a ground-level view of these things through the eyes of soldiers on the field over in Iraq.

Because of this film’s honest portrayal of the war in Iraq, it has generated a great deal of political controversy.  If you are a supporter of Bush and/or the war in Iraq, then you will probably not like it very much.  But if you like Matt Damon and the Bourne movies, then you will probably like this one.