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Smith: Dogs’ situation recalls ’74 team

Mark Richt has plenty of advisors who seem cocksure that they know exactly what is wrong with Georgia football – whom to fire and what to do, so he doesn’t need another expert to weigh in.

Stephen M. Dowell/AP Georgia coach Mark Richt, left, shakes hands with Central Florida’s George O’Leary after the Bulldogs’ 10-6 loss in the Liberty Bowl.
Associated Press

However, I would like to offer a vignette from the past that he might want to review. In 1974, the Bulldogs had experienced an up-and-down season and were headed to the Tangerine Bowl with their tails between their legs. Many felt this 6-5 team, which had been embarrassed by Georgia Tech between the hedges 34-14, had no business going to a bowl.

Georgia went to Orlando and suffered even more embarrassment. Miami of Ohio whipped the Bulldogs 21-10. Seems that the critics were saying some of the same things I’m hearing now. If Vince Dooley were to keep his job, he certainly should be forced to fire a few coaches. He ought to get a new recruiting coordinator. We can’t have anymore of this inconsistency and God forbid, losing to Miami of Ohio! This wasn’t the Miami from the palm trees of Coral Gables, but a second-tier school known for kickstarting the careers of famous football coaches that was now about to derail Dooley’s.

You never heard such howling. Embarrassed by Georgia Tech and losing to Miami of Ohio, in of all places the bush-league Tangerine Bowl. When the bowl game was over, Dooley made a speech to his team that I can recall as if it had taken place before breakfast this morning.

It is important, however, to flash back to the final game before going any further. Tech, with Pepper Rodgers returning as head coach at his alma mater, had installed the wishbone. The Yellow Jackets dominated Georgia on a cold, rainy day between the hedges. Tech was romping in the mud and Georgia’s players were huddled around portable heaters. After that, Dooley decreed to his equipment people that if temperatures dropped below zero no heaters were to ever find their way to a Georgia sideline again.

Sometimes it is difficult to ferret out the issues with a team that finds a way to lose. This current Georgia team had that in common with the 1974 Bulldogs. Teams lose their edge, their killer instincts, but they can regain those intangibles. In Dooley’s estimation, there would be a return to fundamentals, and his postgame locker-room speech set the tone. The message went something like this.

"Men, get ready. We are going to work until we play football like Georgia is supposed to play. Spring practice is going to be very tough. We are going to learn to block and tackle the way football is meant to be played. You’d better fasten your chin straps and get ready. I want you to know what is coming."

With that, he walked away. As the players undressed and took their showers, you could hear a pin drop. Nobody smiled, nobody laughed. They knew the man meant business. They knew spring practice would be bloody.

Good news followed that head-knocking spring practice. Georgia became a savvy, hard-nosed football team in 1975 and almost won the conference championship, barely missing out on the opportunity when the ‘Dogs were upset by Ole Miss, 28-13, in Oxford.

Football is a cyclical business, and the doomsayers are impatient and unforgiving. But there is no question – this program can rebound. Nobody knows that more than Mark Richt. It is up to him, like it was with Vince Dooley, to find a way. He knows that, too.

A review of the careers of most successful coaches, long term, will confirm that there are down cycles, but the successful coaches are always able to reverse the trend and find a way to recover. I believe that Mark Richt can do that.

• Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for the Athens Banner-Herald. E-mail: loransmith@sports.uga.edu

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