Emerson: Stability not a bad word for Georgia

semerson@macon.comJanuary 2, 2014 

gator_bowl

Rantavious Wooten (17) and the Georgia Bulldogs slipped to 8-5 with their Gator Bowl loss Wednesday to Nebraska.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com

Stability not a bad thing at Georgia, even with this season’s disappointments

ATHENS -- Four years ago, it was an insult. Scott Lakatos, then the newly hired Georgia secondary coach, taunted his players by yelling out the previous season’s record:

“Eight-and-five! Eight-and-FIVE!”

Four seasons later, the Georgia football program has finished its season … wait for it … eight and five.

Yes, along the way there were a couple of 10-win seasons, and this year’s drop-off can be easily blamed on injuries. But, as it stands now, seven of the coaches who were part of the 2010 team that went 6-7 are set to return for next season. After a down season, head coach Mark Richt is not making major changes -- or many apparent minor ones -- and his bosses are not pressing him to make any.

Is there an air of complacency around the Georgia football program? That’s what some fans have been asking, filling my email inbox, Twitter feed and rabbling on message boards. They want something done, anything tangible that screams of immediate, major changes.

But taking emotion aside, there’s good reason behind not rushing to judgment about 2013 and 2014.

Georgia lost a combined 41 full games from offensive starters Malcolm Mitchell, Todd Gurley, Justin Scott-Wesley, Keith Marshall, Chris Conley, Michael Bennett, Arthur Lynch, Jay Rome and Aaron Murray.

Next year’s team is set to return 16 of the players who started in the Gator Bowl, as well as All-SEC place-kicker Marshall Morgan and both punters.

And the five losses this year were by a combined 32 points. No blowouts.

The concern of passivity is partially a reflection of Richt and his laid-back demeanor. Then again, sometimes people only want to see what they want in order to fit their world view. They don’t see, for instance, Richt laying into officials in between timeouts. They don’t know what he says behind the scenes to players. They don’t know what he says to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, or Lakatos, about this season.

And Richt doesn’t publicize what he says, because, well, that’s who he is. So Georgia fans, who like to rabble in general, will rabble on even more this offseason, with eight antsy months before their team takes the field again.

The Bulldog Club tour this spring could end up being pretty interesting.

Richt said in the lead-up to the Gator Bowl that he didn’t want to talk about next year. After the game, he waited 43 words before jumping to next season.

“Everybody else that’s left is going to get better,” he said. “Looking forward to a really outstanding 2014.”

That underpins Richt’s previous-stated reasons for not making staff changes, particularly on the defensive side: “The continuity is good for Georgia.”

Moments after that 99-yard Nebraska pass, a fan chirped on my Twitter feed: “There’s your continuity.”

And that’s the conundrum.

One man’s complacency is another man’s stability.

One man’s continuity is another man’s belief that stubbornness is winning out, that a leader is refusing to see that changes need to be made.

One man’s belief that no firings should happen is another man believing -- or making, in Richt’s case -- more subtle changes behind the scenes and not producing a scalp just to satisfy an angry Twitter and message board mob.

Is there an air of complacency? It’s hard to say. On some level, you can understand the fans who are incredulous that nothing would happen after an 8-5 season.

But you can also see Richt’s point of view: Rather than change coaches and schemes and terminology on a young defense, he’ll believe for one more year in that staff, a staff that can at least point to 2011 as evidence it can coach them up.

The fact is, if Georgia wasn’t returning so many starters, if there hadn’t been so many injuries this year, if the Bulldogs had been blown out in their five losses (instead of none of them), then there would be justification for blowing it up. At least on one side of the ball.

But given all the talent coming back, given all that happened this year, there’s more justification for that stability and continuity.

And then, if it doesn’t pan out next year, then yes, maybe it’ll be time to rattle the cages around Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.

Contact Seth Emerson at semerson@macon.com or on Twitter@sethemerson.

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