He’s pitched Ford pickup trucks, rolled out the Carpets of Dalton endorsement and showed up on the cover of a Wheaties box.
Lately, Georgia football coach Mark Richt has been associated so much with the hot seat, you’d think he’d be hawking them in a furniture store commercial.
Instead he’s in that proverbial spot for college football coaches under pressure.
Truth be told, Richt actually does have a few places where he can plop himself down in the comfort of his own home. And none of them will singe his backside.
"At the lake, there’s a recliner," Richt said. "At the house, there’s a chair in the library that I like to get into and I’ll do my quiet time in the morning, but it’s not a good veg chair. I don’t really have a good veg chair. If I’m going to veg, I’m going to lay out on the couch and watch golf. That helps me fall asleep."
Richt was sitting quite comfortably in his position as Bulldogs coach just three years ago.
He guided a program that had not won a Southeastern Conference championship in 20 years to two league titles in his first five seasons and was coming off a Sugar Bowl win and heading into the 2008 season as preseason No. 1.
The slide since then: from 10-3 to 8-5 to 6-7, the program’s first losing season since 1996. Against that backdrop, the SEC has produced the past five BCS national champions.
The fourth-winningest active FBS coach still has a sparkling 96-34 record heading into his 11th season with the Bulldogs, but that record has been dented by 14-12 the past two seasons, including 7-9 in the SEC.
Richt needs a rebound season, but what kind of bounceback will it take for Richt to be coaching the Bulldogs in 2012?
"Win games," Richt said with a laugh. "There’s no number or anything like that that I know of. That’s for somebody else to decide, not me. No one’s communicated anything like that to me."
The question of just how many wins may be needed is bandied about on talk radio and even some inside the program are wondering.
"It’s extreme motivation to hear people say that coach Richt might be on the hot seat," defensive end Abry Jones said.
At SEC Media Days in July in Hoover, Ala., Richt was asked about the difficulty being at a school for more than a decade.
"It’s not difficult if you win 9, 10, 11 a year, win the Eastern Division every other year, win the SEC every three or four years," said Richt who won nine or more games every year from 2002-2008. "It’s not a problem at all. It’s when you get 6-7, that’s when it’s a problem."
A 9-3 regular season record this season and a second-tier bowl game might not sit well with some Bulldogs fans if the losses include Florida and Georgia Tech, but that same 9-3 would probably be embraced if the Bulldogs get to Atlanta and the SEC title game.
"That’s an evaluation that I would have to make," said second-year athletic director Greg McGarity, who came to Georgia after 18 years at Florida. "That’s the tough part about our job. It’s not just as simple as numbers. Are we doing everything? Is our recruiting a well-oiled machine? Are we doing good things off the field? Are our kids getting better? Do we have control of the team? All those things build in. If you feel like it’s going in the right direction, and that’s my feeling right now that we’re headed this way."
Richt has won the offseason in McGarity’s eyes.
He replaced his friend Dave Van Halanger as director of strength and conditioning with longtime staffer Joe Tereshinski. The team had a relatively quiet offseason after 11 player arrests the previous year that Richt felt seeped into his team’s on-field performance.
McGarity was more than pleased with the bottom line after the program’s first losing season in 14 years. Contributions to the Hartman Fund actually increased from $22.7 million to $23 million.
And the highly-rated "Dream Team" recruiting class gave the program a shot in the arm just when it needed it most.
"I think we’re all believing right now," Richt said. "That’s what I sense."
Now the dream-come-true stuff for Georgia fans would have the Bulldogs start 2-0 with a pair of wins over top-15 teams Boise State and South Carolina, then have Richt pick up career win No. 100 two weeks later at Ole Miss and the good times keep rolling into the program’s first trip to the SEC title game in six years.
"We know what’s at stake," McGarity told an audience in June at a UGA Terry College of Business-sponsored event in Buckhead. "I’ve got confidence. Mark did it at one time. We had some great years early on. I was able to look at that from the outside in. We’ve just got to get back to doing what made us successful. I’m confident Mark can do that and so we get a pretty quick test this year in Boise State and South Carolina."
LAYING DOWN THE LAW
Richt set a new tone after the loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl when he said he decided that players who were bringing down the team would go.
"I knew when that season ended I wasn’t going to have anybody on that team that shouldn’t be there, didn’t want to be there or whatever," Richt said this month. "You’re either with us or you’re not. We’re going to find out who wanted to be with us and who didn’t. Some guys volunteered their way out and some, like I said before, I kind of helped them out the door."
Among the departures: linebacker Marcus Dowtin, tailback Washaun Ealey, offensive lineman Brent Benedict and receiver Logan Gray.
"Some people might have been saying, ‘Oh, here goes someone. Oh, there goes you know,’ " Richt said. "That didn’t bother me. I had a peace that when we got to this point we were going to have the right guys here. I just knew. That was something I was going to be sure of."
Richt will go to battle with a revamped roster and a highly motivated team.
"We know it was a terrible season for the University of Georgia, the first losing season in a long time," cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "Just our pride alone is going to allow us to bounce back."
Said Jones: "We don’t really want to be seen as the Georgia years where they had the down years. No one wants that on their record when they leave here."
Improving on last year’s meager win total will be needed at the very least for Richt and his staff.
"I think they’re all pros," McGarity said. "They know that 6-7. ? Everybody was embarrassed by that. They know 6-7 is not going to get the job done. If I’m sitting here saying Mark, you’ve got to win 8, 9 or 10 games or 11 games, that’s not fair to him. That’s not fair to the program. What you’ve got to look at is, you’ve got to look at the whole program.
"Are we making the right strides since January? Absolutely. I just think winning is going to be a byproduct of doing things a certain way. And we’ll see. Because at the end of the day, wins and losses are important."