He had to know that it was coming, so Mark Richt probably didn't get his hopes up when the first 10 questions strayed from the question he would most like to avoid. But then came the 11th question.
Not too many coaches make it to 11 years in the conference. How do you address off-season rumors or internalize it about your future?
But Richt -- perhaps the most universally respected coach in the SEC -- took the question in stride. He didn't address the rumors, Richt said. And he suggested that he didn't need to, even among a flurry of reporters and analysts suggesting this is a make or break year for the longtime Georgia head coach.
I know if you walk in the Butts-Mehre Building, there's not one sense of doom or gloom. There's only excitement, only guys that are so thankful that we've got a new season and a clean slate and the ability to play some great opponents to start the year.
Those great opponents could very well kick the hot-seat talk into high gear. Boise State comes to the Georgia Dome for a major nonconference tilt with the Dawgs on opening weekend, followed by a visit to Athens by division favorite South Carolina. Georgia's season won't be over if they go 0-2 in that stretch, but the pressure on Richt to almost win out will be immense.
And Richt knows the only thing that will really answer the questions about his future -- winning. A successful season, a trip to the Peach Bowl or a New Year's Day bowl, and the critics will quickly shut up at the sight of the team turning around. Anything less than that -- well, it depends on how much less than that, but it seems fair enough to say another 6-7 season isn't going to cut.
"It's not difficult if you win," Richt said when asked about how tough it was for an SEC coach to stick around for more than a decade. He smiled and the assembled media members laughed. It was the kind of humility and self-deprecation that has won Richt the respect of most SEC observers.
It has also begun to earn him some critics in Georgia circles. The idea that Mark Richt is too nice a coach to win games in today's SEC is ridiculous, largely because he did not magically become a nice coach before the 2008 season. But it is also in part Richt's niceness that makes him an easy target, even as it makes him so popular among his players.
"Coach Richt is the face of Georgia. ... He's a great man and he's a great coach, and that's hard to say about a lot of people," center Ben Jones said. Jones and Brandon Boykin praised Richt's strong faith, referring to the coach as a "Godly man" and a "God-fearing man," respectively.
It is also paradoxically Richt's warmth and personality that has won him so many fans among his players and so much patience from Georgia's fans. It doesn't hurt that he won.
"It's when you get 6-7, that's when [longevity is] a problem," Richt said. Then, he couldn't help but emphasize the sunny side once more. "But greater days are coming. The best is yet to come."