Thursday, October 18, 2012

Of fear, hammers and storm clouds

Fear haunts my dreams; losing wrecks them. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said so many years ago - "...the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself..."

Right now the Georgia fanbase is in a state of turmoil. The number of people who've lost faith in the program's leadership (read: not just the coaches, the leadership) is at an all time high. The South Carolina debacle is like the Lewinsky blue dress of the Clinton administration: a permanent stain that even the most ardent supporters can't fully ignore. It's the "read my lips, no new taxes" failed promise and dip in the approval ratings for Daddy Bush voters whose faith begins to waver and then slip. 

Fans are grumbling, frustrated and dissatisfied. Message boreds are hot, Twitter is aflutter and even the Mike in Columbus Show Bulldog Hotline has some uneasy callersAll this while the team stands at 5-1 on the season and still within reach of a 2nd consecutive trip to Atlanta in early December.

By now I'm sure most of you have seen the message board post from a former player a couple weeks back about how there's no fear in the football program. It harkens back to Richt's glory days when there were certain coaches that no one wanted to be around. They made everyone uneasy and kept the players on edge. Not by design mind you, but because that's who they were - hardcore assholes. Grade A sumbitches. They made elevator rides just as uncomfortable as gassers in the cold, early morning rain.

I certainly don't know everything it takes to be a competitive program at this level of tackle football. In fact I can only assure you of one thing - I personally fear losing. The idea of it haunts me, as I'm sure it does you as well. We hate it! I don't want to fall short of any goal, personally or professionally. And I transfer that feeling on to my alma mater.

No, I can't pass along great insight into what specifically Richt is not doing now that he might have been doing back then. I can't even tell how much of it is his burden to carry and how much is McGarity's or Bobo's or Grantham's or the equipment manager's. But I can tell you what I see. And that is a team that doesn't have an edge to it. Too often the fake juice is exposed for what it is and too often the swagger only lasts through warm ups.

Ultimately that lies at Mark Richt's feet. And many of you are probably reading this as a shot at him. I guess that's fine. But I'm also a realistic man. And I know that he's not only our coach this Saturday, but he's our coach the rest of the season and surely again next year and probably beyond that. I'm not looking ahead to next season anymore than I'm looking ahead to the WLOCP. Any argument otherwise is futile.

Richt has been at Georgia for 11.5 seasons now. And still there are fans expecting him to grab a player's face mask or bite Penn Wagers head off and kick it through the goalpost. They want him to storm onto the field after every missed extra point and rip Marshall Morgan's jersey off. My answer to that (including myself on occasion) is that's not who he is. We should know by now that there's no Mr. Hyde to his Dr. Jeckyll. He's closer to Saturday night Lawrence Welk than he is Saturday Night WWE. Let's get real. How many of us can change our personality as easily as Dr. David Banner?

However, I also believe people can evolve. They can recognize certain patterns and institute changes and adjustments to rise the a new occasion, a new era. And that is Richt's challenge. The frustrating part is that it's been his challenge the last few years. The team needs an edge. They need to fear more than losing. They need to fear for their role on the team and their very presence in the huddle. They need a fear that is - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. If Richt needs help in instituting that level of fear then the administration needs to get out of the way. Get out the checkbook instead of sitting on it. Take the leash off Grantham if that's what's holding us back. 

But if it's Richt's stubbornness that is an additional obstacle, then he needs to look longer in the mirror. A 5-1 season ain't broke, but that doesn't mean it doesn't need some fixing. A few years ago we needed more than spackle and paint to fix what was wrong. It took an extra season or two for it to dawn on Richt to cut bait and get out the hammer and nails. That was being stubborn. And despite the fact that those changes were eventually made doesn't mean he can keep shifting into cruise control. Continued losses to actual ranked teams might not call for a bulldozer, but it certainly suggests you might want to strap on that tool belt. 

And that might be true as well for the fans.

In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
For those of us who are truly outside the arena, just support the program. In my mind, supporting the program means supporting the coach. Don't misinterpret that to mean doing so blindly. Y'all know I'm big on accountability. But if I'm cheering for my team on Saturdays, that includes the guy who leads them out of the tunnel.

The road ahead ain't gonna be easy. It never is. But wear your G proudly and let's not put the cart before the horse. There could be more storms ahead. If so, we'll weather them together. Just like we do the sunny days when there's nothing to fear, but the word itself.