Warming trend

HOOVER, Ala. - Nice guys don't always finish last. If they consistently fail to finish first, though, they suffer the same fate as not-so-nice guys: They fall from favor with the fan base.

Georgia's Mark Richt is a perfect example. There is no nicer guy in college football. But his 2008 Bulldogs fell well short of their preseason No. 1 ranking and his 2009 Dawgs went 8-5 with lopsided losses to Tennessee (45-19) and Florida (41-17). Moreover, he hasn't won a division title in four years after winning three in his first five years.

So, despite a 90-27 record and two SEC titles in nine years, Richt's approval rating has slipped a bit among UGA fans. And, as a result, he is portrayed as a coach on the hot seat. Now in his 10th year as a head coach, Richt has been around long enough that he is not offended when his job stability is questioned.

"Not really," he said at Thursday's SEC Media Days. "I understand the business. I understand just how things go, so I don't worry about it. My goal is to focus on the important things and the things I can control.

"I can control my attitude. I can control my effort. I can control certain things. That's what I focus on. Then the things I can't control, I just trust the Lord with that. That's kind of how I've been operating since 1986."

One thing Richt can't control is the expectations of Georgia fans. They're looking for a big year in 2010 due to the return of 10 starters on offense. Here's the catch: The lone new starter, quarterback Aaron Murray, is a mere redshirt freshman. Richt believes Murray is a special case, however, because of his grasp of the game.

"You can get him in the meeting room and ask him anything; he'll tell you the answer and get it right," the head man said. "That can be exciting as a coach."

It also can be misleading. After all, the game is played in a stadium, not in a meeting room. Richt says he and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo understand as much.

"We've got to be careful – Coach Bobo and myself – not to get enamored with that (knowledge) and expect him to be able to answer the question quite so well as when he's on the field getting chased by a bunch of 300-pound defensive linemen," Richt said. "Because he's surrounded by a bunch of veterans … I think we're in good shape. But we've got to be careful to go at his pace. If we do that, we'll be OK."

Whether Georgia will be "OK" on defense is another matter. The Dawgs were awful last fall, ranking ninth among the 12 SEC teams in pass defense, 10th in scoring defense (25.9 points per game) and 11th in pass defense efficiency. Those numbers got Willie Martinez forced out as defensive coordinator.

The new coordinator, Todd Grantham, is switching Georgia from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme. That's a transformation that may involve some growing pains. The Bulldogs made wholesale personnel changes throughout spring practice in an effort to get the best personnel in the best positions.

"We think we've got them placed in the right spot," Richt said hopefully. "Now it's a matter of learning what to do and being able to play fast and play physical, play with confidence."

If the Dawgs grasp the new defense quickly, they could challenge Florida for the SEC East title. If not … well, Richt's seat could get a little hotter.

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