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Murphy: It's going to be a long offseason for Georgia fans

Recruiting this month could help save Richt's job

POSTED: January 6, 2011 8:29 p.m.

It’s a hopeless feeling to be a University of Georgia football fan these days. Things are bad, and by the tone of coach Mark Richt during his end-of-season press conference, I find it hard to believe things are going to get better any time soon.

Richt came out on Wednesday and said there aren’t going to be any major changes during the offseason with the program.

With that logic, I’m now completely dumbfounded as to how the Bulldogs (6-7 in 2010) can improve after an ugly season and equally frustrating Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida.

Now, I’ve already written my column about how Richt has lost his hold on this program and should be replaced. Any person that thinks a coach that makes millions (and would receive even more in a lucrative buyout) should have leeway to have a losing season or two along the way is showing misplaced compassion.

I feel like the Bulldogs’ excess of arrests (most recently the revelation of linebacker Marcus Dowtin’s arrest last summer for knocking a guy unconscious in a bar fight), and lack of apparent interest by some of the players during a low-tier bowl game only helped to reinforce my feelings.

Other college football programs have been in equally ugly situations and have already pulled the string. The most similar to Georgia’s was that of Rich Rodriguez, the former University of Michigan coach who was let go this week.

Even though Rodriguez led the Wolverines to the Gator Bowl this season with a 7-5 mark, he met his fate in Maize and Blue country for the fact he finished a combined 0-6 against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.

Now, I’ll admit that Michigan’s football program is further behind that Georgia’s, but the wide gap in decisions with regard to the coaches shows how the Bulldogs are going to be perfectly happy with the status quo. The fact that Georgia is 2-8 against Florida under Richt doesn’t seem to come into play either.

Popular belief is that Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity is going to use this season as the true measuring stick as to whether Richt will be able to stay on board.

I see no real areas to point to as encouraging, except for the fact that the Bulldogs’ defense looks to be turning around under coordinator Todd Grantham, who just completed his first year.

Here’s a few areas that are of immediate concern for Georgia to address with a long eight months left before it can truly wipe the slate clean with the start of next season.

Recruiting: First of all, the Bulldogs are going to have to finish strong signing top-notch athletes with four weeks left before National Signing Day. Georgia currently has 16 verbal commits, led by East Hall’s Sterling Bailey, Christian LeMay and Nick Marshall.

However, Wednesday was not kind to the Bulldogs. Two of Georgia’s big targets, DE Xzavier Dickson (Griffin) and ATH Quan Bray (Troup), committed to out of state school’s during the Under Armour All Star Football Game. The silver lining is the that RB Isaiah Crowell, the nation’s top running back, is still on the table for Georgia, but will wait until Feb. 2 to make his announcement.

Discipline: Georgia has to get a grip on player arrests before it can become a championship program. I know some of the Bulldogs’ 12 player arrests last season were not particularly egregious, but it still reflected poorly on the program.

On the other hand, players that get in bar fights should be dropped from the team immediately, regardless of their role on the team. Football players that are getting all the perks of playing college football should be held to a different standard.

Star power: We should go ahead and assume that WR A.J. Green and LB Justin Houston will be playing on Sundays next fall. That leaves the Bulldogs without their leader on both sides of the ball next season.

Now, Georgia has replaced star players before and will do it again, but the Bulldogs will need a home run threat, like Green, that will get the team jacked up with big plays.

Luckily, the Bulldogs return a strong quarterback in Aaron Murray next season, he just needs someone to lean on to help lead the offense. That’s where getting a player like Crowell could pay off big.

Other Georgia football coaches have finished with a losing record and still kept their jobs. Ray Goff and Jim Donnan each finished with losing seasons with the Bulldogs.

Even Vince Dooley had a losing record in 1977. However, after steadily declining win totals each of the past three seasons, I feel confident that this is Richt’s last shot to get it right.

Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbmurphy.



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