Let me preface my thoughts with a couple of disclaimers, if you will. Number one, I have not and will not use this space to call for anybody's job. I have the utmost confidence that the staff that we have has the ABILITY to make the adjustments that HAVE to be made in order to turn this ship around. I love everything that Coach Richt stands for, and I don't think he has forgotten how to coach since winning two SEC championships and averaging 10 wins a year.
Number 2, this is the hardest post I have ever had to write. I have not been posting much the last few weeks specifically because I did not want to post some of the things that I have been thinking. But I also want this blog to be a place to be honest with my opinions....so, here we go.
"Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we will catch excellence."
- Vince Lombardi.
Chasing perfection. Demanding excellence. Expecting nothing but the best from yourself and from those around you. These are the signs of a leader, and part of what leads to the ultimate success as a football team.
This team, as recently as 14 months ago, was considered to be the number one team in the country. Now? We have really good kickers, and we are very dangerous on kickoff return. Other than that, there is not one facet of the game that we are consistently good at, much less excellent.
I am not in the locker room, I am not on the practice field, I am not on the sideline, so I can only go by a) what I see on the field, and b) what I hear from our coaching staff during press conferences and interviews. But, from what I can tell, the biggest problem that our team has is this...our coaching staff does not demand excellence. They are not chasing perfection.
There have been several examples that have led me to this opinion. A few of them (all quotes are paraphrased):
- Coach Richt saying that penalties don't bother him. For two years running, we have been one of the most penalized teams in the country. Many of our penalties have come at critical junctures in games, costing us big plays and/or points. And, despite what Coach Richt has said, many of these do NOT seem to be penalties of aggression. Holding penalties, offsides, false starts, personal fouls AFTER the play, etc...these are penalties of laziness and lack of focus. But, based on the fact that the problem continues and that our head coach is quoted in the media as saying that it really doesn't bother him, our coaching staff apparently thinks there is no work to be done in that area. That is not demanding excellence.
- Our kickoff coverage team is a constant source of embarrassment and big plays for the opposition. And yet, not only do we continue to approach that facet of the game with the same inexplicable strategies and personnel choices, but we as fans are condescended to and basically told that we don't know what we are talking about for questioning those strategies. Former players are quoted as saying that we continue with the same approach because our kickoff coverage coach enjoys the challenge. That is not chasing perfection.
- Over the last several years, our defense has been exposed over and over as a group that can be exploited due to lack of assignment discipline, poor tackling, and a failure to adjust to what an opponent is doing to have success. But the problems continue with no end in sight. Why are these results considered to be acceptable? That is not demanding excellence.
- On punt return, we have been relegated for the last several games to bringing our backup QB to come in and call for fair catches while we defend against the fake, rather than just coaching our punt return team to be aware of the fake and continuing to give our playmakers a chance to make plays. Rather than attempting to be excellent, we instead choose to just give up on that aspect of the game.
- Earlier this year, when the team was 3-1, many of us in the fanbase, as well as many media members, could see these problems and others, but when our coaching staff was questioned about them, the pat response seemed to be along the lines of, "Well, we are winning games...so it must not be all bad."
To me, that is the crux of the problem. From all indications, the goal of our coaching staff is to be just good enough to win. Why should our fanbase, or our team for that matter, be happy that we beat South Carolina at home on the strength of Rennie Curran's fingernail on the last play of the game? Why should it be enough that we beat a 2nd tier Pac 10 team at home on a last second field goal? Are we not supposed to be an elite team? Is that not what we are supposed to be striving for? Excellence?
- Our stated goal every year, according to Coach Richt? Win the SEC East. I get the thinking...win the east, and you are competing for the SEC title, and if you are competing for the SEC title you are in contention for the National Championship, etc...
But here is what I wish our goal was: Excellence. I know it's just a quote from a movie, but I think it is applicable: "We will be perfect in every phase of the game...offense, defense, special teams."
Because, as Coach Lombardi knew, if you shoot for perfection and fall short, then excellence is still within your grasp. But if you aim is just to be "good enough" to win and you fall short, well...yesterday happens. And Alabama 2008, and Florida 2008, and UT 2006/2007, and West Virginia 2006, etc, etc.
One other caveat...I am in no way blaming our players. I know that they work hard, and I think that they will honestly tell you that they are giving everything that they have and trying their very best. It is up to the coaching staff to define what "everything you have" and "very best" means...to set the standard for what is considered excellence.
I want Coach Richt to retire from UGA 20-25 years from now. I can think of no other coach that I want running this program that I love and support. I am not advocating firing coaches...but I do believe that Coach Richt has to change the mindset surrounding this program. To set the standard at "Perfect" and hold people accountable for striving to attain it.
The talent is there for this team to be successful. We have what should be a very winnable game this week against Vandy followed by a week off to prepare for the Cocktail party. It will be very difficult to affect the type of changes I believe that we need in that amount of time...but I do believe it's possible.
On top of that, I believe it is a necessity.