For a coach expected by many to be shown the door at the end of the 2011 season, Georgia's Mark Richt didn't exactly seem consigned to his fate during an upbeat appearance at SEC Media Days.
"If you go in to [athletic building] Butts-Mehre," he said, "there's not one sense of doom or gloom ... Expectations are just as high as they've ever been going into any season. Our goal is to win the Eastern division. That's just the way we think, every single season, and we believe we've got just as good a chance as anybody to do that."
The rest of the highlights from Richt's time at the podium, organized by topic:
The first two games. The Bulldogs start the year off with the most challenging of bangs, playing Boise State in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic and hosting SEC East favorite South Carolina in Week 2. About agreeing to play the Broncos, Richt said "What better way to send a surge of energy through our program than to schedule a game like that? There's risk in playing a team that can whip your tail. Because they might whip your tail. But to get back where we want to be -- highly ranked and highly thought of -- we need to play this game."
About the Broncos themselves, Richt called them "a special football team in the way they approach it ... I've probably never seen anyone play any harder than they do as a team, down after down."
As for Carolina, Richt said understanding the challenge the Gamecocks represent "energized the program in a big way ... everybody understands what it's going to take, preparation-wise."
Recruiting. The most animated Richt became was discussing the Bulldogs' efforts to recruit in-state, which he says was hampered by opponents willing to hand out scholarship offers they don't intend on honoring right away.
"That's our biggest problem at Georgia, is trying to make those evaluations properly," he said. "Because I'll say this: when we offer a kid at Georgia, we mean it. If we offer a kid and he wants to accept that offer, we're not gonna tell him 'Well, we offered you, but we don't want you to commit right now.' If we offer a guy and he commits, he's in ...
"Some out-of-state schools, they'll go blazing through the state offering everybody--not everybody, but a lot of guys. And so the high school coach is like 'Well so-and-so offered him, why didn't you offer him?' It does put pressure on us to offer a guy a little sooner than you'd like to."
Richt also criticized teams that would take an early commitment, and then sever ties with the recruit once they saw a prospect they liked better. "At Georgia, if he commits to us," he said, "we're not dumping him."
The 3-4. Richt expects a big step forward in his team's performance in second-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's system, for two reasons. One is the Bulldogs' familiarity with the defense. ""Our guys were spending a lot of time last year trying to figure out what to do, [asking] what's my assignment," he said, "and maybe not enough time on 'How do I do my job well.'"
But he also said the arrival of jumbo-sized JUCO nose guard Johnathan Jenkins would make a major impact, both in terms of Jenkins' ability and in motivating holdover Kwame Geathers into his spring MVP performance. "We think [Jenkins] can really do a great job of making the 3-4 go," Richt said. "If you don't have a nose guard that demands double-teams and maybe a triple team once in a while, you're not going to free up your linebackers to do the things that you want them to do."
Crowell? On Signing Day, Richt said that incoming five-star running back Isaiah Crowell might take the first handoff of the season against Boise. But Richt said little (if anything) specific about Crowell at Media Days, choosing instead to focus on running back-turned-linebacker-turned-runni
ng back Richard Samuel when asked about the Bulldogs' diminished running back depth.
"We're really only one guy shy of where we thought we'd be," Richt said. "[Samuel] knows the system, knows the plays, knows how to play the game. And he's a more mature man than he was a couple years ago ... I think we have plenty of depth at that position right now. Question is how productive will we be."
That Richt declined to discuss Crowell could be a signal that he's less confident in Crowell's abilities than he was at Signing Day ... or he could just be trying to keep a lid on the hype that's described Crowell as the next Knowshon Moreno.
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Richt did add that the "starting lineup gives me a lot of confidence" and that he thinks center Ben Jones "is going to win the Rimington." He even got to reiterate that stance when Jones himself entered the media room to take the mic and ask if Richt "trusted" the offensive line. (Rich said he did.)
Jersey change. The Bulldogs already have a history with uniform experiments and will go to the well again against Boise, donning a set of Nike "Pro Combat" uniforms (as will the Broncos) the players saw for the first time this week.
"I think jersey change is a great idea if you win, and I think it's a bad idea if you lose," Richt said. "Our players are excited about it. A lot of energy in the room [on their debut] and a lot of excitement. They're going to enjoy wearing those jerseys .... Is that going to help us win the game? I promise it won't win the game for us. Boise's going to be wearing theirs too.
"But it's fun ... College football is a grind. A grind for the coaches, a grind for the players. We're not complaining. But any time you can have some fun with your guys, I think it's good to do that."
Muschamp. Richt drew a laugh with this reponse to a question about new Florida coach Will Muschamp, a Georgia graduate: "I'm sure he's going to tell everyone in Florida he's Florida through and through, but I guarantee there's a little bit of red and black in his veins."
Tenure. Asked about the difficulties of being at one SEC school for 11 years: "It's not difficult if you win."