Behind the scenes Georgia is in as much turmoil and chaos as any point of the Mark Richt Era. College football has changed — and the SEC was the leading reason why. Coaches like Phil Fulmer and Bo Schembechler, perhaps even Vince Dooley, simply would not have survived in this day’s SEC. Coaches are no longer allowed to surround top 5 finishes with 8-5 marks — fans, boosters and administrators start ruffling at the thought of anything other than a 10-win season at many SEC schools. Case in point: Look at the end of Steve Spurrier at South Carolina — a beaten, defeated stranger to the man who helped redefine this conference.
The multi-million dollar contracts for conferences and, therefore, the coaches in it has raised the pressure to win in a big way. 2008’s SEC wouldn’t recognize the 2015 version, and not just because Texas A&M and misplaced Missouri are in the conference. Cheating in recruiting is at an all-time high. Facilities are being thrown up with little regard for balanced budgets. Georgia has reconfigured its football facility make up several times in the last few years, and will do so again in the next year. It went decades before that by fundamentally changing nothing about the football facility in Athens — and some argue that Georgia is still behind on that front.
It is amazing to watch the acceleration of what is important on college campuses now. Georgia’s athletic budget in 1999 was about $40 million. The institution invested that much into football alone this calendar year.
Richt very well could be the latest casualty of an SEC that’s no longer hand-to-hand combat, but a full-on proxy war nearly every day whose actors don’t use fists — they use missiles. Surrogates (many of whom the schools themselves may suspect, but have not real actionable intelligence on) are working on behalf of the programs, and are out of control like never before.
That’s just recruiting. Inside the practice facility at Georgia, Richt has become much more like Bobby Bowden — a delegator — than anything else. Richt’s critics, and many of his advocates, say he’s more engaged with the program than he was at the turn of the decade, but that he’s still overseeing more than putting his finger on things.
They say the simple reality is that Richt allowed too much control, for whatever reason, to be given or wrestled away from him over the last few years. Whereas in the past loyal lieutenants like Mike Bobo and even Willie Martinez were by his side — Richt’s top two surrogates now have no tie to him — and no tie to Georgia.
That’s made for an interesting dynamic behind the curtain. Jeremy Pruitt, who can be described appropriately as an aggressive up and comer with ideas about how to be successful on the field, has ruffled feathers, stepped on toes and been no stranger to conflict this year.
Still, Pruitt has a good record to back up his notion of what winning is, too. During his stops at Alabama and Florida State those two programs won the national title three times. It goes without saying that Pruitt wasn’t the exclusive reason why, but nonetheless he’s been a part of national championship programs as an assistant and a coordinator.
So has Mark Richt.
Richt saw the potential in Pruitt and handed over all of the decision making on the defensive side of the ball to him. Even after the explosive in-game and post-game confrontation between the two after the Georgia Tech game in 2014, Richt’s actions showed that he was willing to defer to Pruitt on major decisions like the hire of strength and conditioning coordinator Mark Hocke and some say even the hiring of Rob Sale.
Even though Pruitt has been low key in the media his DNA is all over Georgia right now. That’s because of the influence he’s had over the last two years, and the fact that Mike Bobo left the school in order to become coach at Colorado State. Many in the coaching world have felt that Pruitt has been maneuvering to be the next coach at Georgia for some time. His influence over many decisions in the program as well as his recruiting prowess seemed to make that argument one to be taken seriously.
A speed bump in the form of the 2015 season has all but wrecked that proposition. Pruitt stands virtually no chance of being the next head coach at Georgia for a few reasons, but namely that he needed Richt to be successful in order for him to be successful. Not only that, he and the rest of the staff at Georgia right now could be swept out of Athens in the form of being terminated.
The boiling point on the coaching staff has been reached.