HOOVER, AL — The way Mark Richt explains it, he was in a state of shock when his entire team rushed the field to celebrate Georgia’s first touchdown against the Florida Gators at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium last November. He says he was a desperate man looking for a way to fire up a team and says he thought the 11 guys on the field were going to celebrate, not the whole team. He says he’s being truthful. We’re supposed to believe him.
I’ll buy the desperate part. In a game like Florida-Georgia when you’ve only beaten the Gators one out of six times and your own fans are starting to get that owned feeling because they’ve only won two games in 16 years, a measure of desperation sets in. Compound that by the fact Georgia got hosed by Tennessee and only some nice zebras saved them from losing to Vandy and I can see frustration and a whole lot of desperation.
Who couldn’t? Those $2.8 million a year jobs are hard to come by and if you can’t beat the one team on your schedule that really matters to your fans and if you don’t change things pretty damn quick you might just be kissing good-bye that $2.8 million salary and all the perks that go with it. So, a measure of desperation might creep into the equation. I can see that.
So I’ll buy it that he’s telling the truth about the desperation. When you’re willing to give Brandon James an extra 15 yards of field position to work with on the ensuing kickoff, you’re desperate. Maybe even nuts.
So that brings us to the second part of the explanation. This is where I have the problem.
“We score the touchdown then bang, guys start leaving the sideline,” Richt explained Thursday morning at SEC Media Days. “I was in shock as much as anybody else. My initial reaction is, ‘Oh heck, you know … what’s going on?’”
Oh heck? What’s going on?
Gag me with a spoon.
This was staged. This was planned out and practiced ahead of time, orchestrated to perfection even down to the Poodles making darn sure they didn’t do anything to provoke a helmet-swinging riot on the field that would have made FIU-Miami look like Romper Room.
You don’t believe it?
Then listen to what else he said.
“Now I didn’t even think that it could probably have turned into a melee,” he said.
Of course he didn’t think it would turn into a melee. He had his team practice and practice the celebration all week, all the way down to the part about making certain not to bump a Florida player or say something to a Florida player that could have evoked a response.
You still having trouble believing it? Well read on
“Now in hindsight, I asked the team to do an unsportsmanlike act, because it’s called unsportsmanlike conduct … excessive celebration,” Richt said. “In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done it. I won’t do anything like that again. It could have easily turned into big stupid brawl and everything else.
“That’s as truthful as I can tell you what happened.”
Your nose just grew four inches longer, Mark.
He KNEW he was risking a brawl. That’s why you know the whole thing was choreographed and NOT spontaneous.
If it wasn’t spontaneous then why didn’t he and all his assistant coaches do what every coach in the country would do? Why didn’t they run out there and do everything in their power to stop their guys from rushing the field? Not one coach moved on that sideline. Richt, for all his alleged shock, was seen grinning smugly and clapping. His coaches didn’t attempt to stop even one player from rushing the field.
But let’s say Richt is telling the truth that HE was shocked. Let’s assume — and you know what assume means … it makes an ASS out of U and ME — that Richt actually was shocked. If that’s the case are you willing to say that ALL the assistant coaches on the sideline were also in shock, which is why not one of them had the presence to keep the team on the sideline somehow?
If it indeed was spontaneous and if indeed the team just rushed the field without the knowledge of the coaches and not one of Richt’s coaches made an effort to stop them, then Mark Richt just told us in so many words that there are bricks in those nice dorms in Athens that recruits say they like so much that are ten times smarter than any coach on his staff.
Coaches KNOW what’s at risk, folks. Coaches KNOW that after what happened with Miami-FIU they could lose their jobs if they have no more control over their team than that. Mark Richt isn’t dumber than a brick and neither are his coaches.
Richt says he called Urban Meyer to apologize the next morning.
“I told him what I told you,” Richt said. “I said I was a coach desperate to try to get some enthusiasm and I was willing to take a 15-yard penalty.”
What does Meyer think about it?
In Thursday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chip Towers quoted Meyer as saying: “It was uncalled for. First of all it’s against the rules. If you really look at it, some players could have been thrown out the game for leaving the bench.
“As for the impact on the game … I understand the motivation of it. It was a big deal. It was just a big deal.”
Yes, it was a big deal. And it’s going to continue to be a big deal.
Richt tried to downplay the incident, saying that the celebration hadn’t intensified the rivalry.
“What intensified the rivalry is that we won, okay?” he said in answer to a question. “I mean that’s the reality.”
Okay, Mark, since we’re talking reality, here’s a dose of reality for you. You needed to get the fans off your back so you took a big risk, staged a celebration and it got a red and black half of the stadium poised to boo you off the field on your side again. You went from the bum that had lost to South Carolina and Tennessee — and we can’t forget a gift-wrapped escape against Vandy thanks to a bad zebra — to the guy that stuck it in the face of the team that owns you. If that can’t rile up a bunch of Georgia rednecks, nothing will. And it paid off. You had the crowd behind you and you won.
Here’s another reality. When you choose to engage in mind games you better pick and choose your foe very well. Mark Richt fired off a salvo against Urban Meyer and he caught everybody by surprise. He won a mind game.
Round one to Mark Richt.
We’ll see who wins round two. Personally, I’ll put my money on Urban Meyer. When it comes to mind games, he’s about as good as it gets.
If you ask me, Mark Richt brought a butter knife to a gunfight and the guy with the gun has a howitzer. Paybacks are hell, baby. Just remember that.