If Mark Richt is on the Hot Seat, It Must be August // SEC 2011

This shouldn't take as long as it did last time, in part because a lot of what I said in that post could carry over to this year and in part because I've come up with a far simpler and more objective definition of what being on the hot seat means. But also because I think the answer is clearer this year. I think Mark Richt is almost certainly on the hot seat.

Let's begin with the new definition. As I've grappled with this question -- not just about Richt, but about other coaches and even coaches in other sports -- I've tried to come up with what thread connects coaches that are truly on the hot seat. In other words, coaches that face a make-or-break season somewhere else than in Paul Finebaum's mind.

And the common thread seems to be this: A coach is on the hot seat when the current level of performance will no longer cut it. If a repeat of last year's record will get the coach in question fired, then that coach is on the hot seat. And that appears to be the situation Richt finds himself in today.

Again, this doesn't mean that Georgia will have another losing season (when you count the bowl game) or that Richt will get fired. It's just an acknowledgment that the former will likely lead to the latter.

This points the mistake that some people make -- the thought that, somehow, if a coach manages to survive the year anyway, he wasn't on the hot seat. If the coach in question has a good season, of course he's not going to be fired. But some coaches can continue the current level of performance, or even take a step back, and is likely to return the next year. The coach on the hot seat has no such assurance -- he has to win to keep his job. Saying someone is on the hot seat is simply an acknowledgment of the pressure he's under.

In Richt's case, the reason he would probably add to the nation's unemployment rate if he has another .500 or below season has less to do with the number of wins and losses. For an example of what another subpar season means, let's say that Richt has a five-loss season in 2011. The five "best" losses for the Dawgs given their current schedule would likely be Boise State, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Florida and Tennessee. That would be an 0-fer against the top tier of the schedule and at least one mid-level SEC team. (The wins would be Coastal Carolina, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State, Auburn, Kentucky and Georgia Tech.) Start tacking on losses to go to or below last year's record, and things get ugly.

That's why Richt is in a precarious situation. It's not that the majority of Georgia fans are unlikely to be grateful for what Richt accomplished in the earlier part of this decade; it's that he will have given any observer of the program a reason to doubt whether he can return the program to the level it was at in the earlier part of this decade.

So what does Richt have to do to turn it around? I have no earthly idea. Georgia's season last year was so bizarre and inexplicable that it has led to almost as many theories about what went wrong in 2010 as there are analysts. Georgia needed to do better in the fourth quarter. Georgia needed to do better in the first three quarters. Athens is where statistics go to die.

Bill Connelly hits on part of the problem with trying to figure out Georgia -- the games they won were blowouts over lesser competition, while the games they lost were hard-fought contests against teams that were equal to or better than Georgia. While the South Carolina game was in some ways not as close as the score might indicate, this South Carolina fan was not entirely comfortable that the game was won until the 17th point was scored.

In fact, there was only one game in 2010 that Georgia lost by more than 12 points, and only two more games that the Dawgs lost by more than a score. At the same time, four of Georgia's six wins came by a margin of at least 27 points, and the only won a single game by less than double digits.

That points to a couple of things -- first, the disparity in quality between the teams Georgia defeated and the teams that beat the Dawgs. (Though Colorado and UCF severely challenge that theory. There's no neat and clean way to dissect Georgia in 2010.) The other point bucks the trend toward sabermetrics and non-results-based stats that's taken off in last few years. There seems to be a lack of clutch at Georgia.

To explain that a little bit -- there has been a heated discussion in the sabermetric baseball community over the last few years about whether being clutch is a skill. Actually, heated in that there's basically one analyst who's argued that it is a skill, and a lot of other people saying he's wrong. I'm not going to go so far as to say that being clutch is a skill, but I'm also not going to say that the ability to keep your cool and make sound decisions under fire isn't a factor in every sport, and especially in football. With the game on the line, some people call the right plays to pull out the win. Others blindly call running plays that make it look very much like they're trying to get their running back killed.

That, ultimately, is the question I have about whether Richt can survive. Can he change and adapt enough to turn those close losses into wins?

It's not an easy thing to do, not after you've been a great coach as long as Richt has. He might intellectually know that things have to change. But somewhere inside his brain, he also likely "knows" that the way to win is to continue to do what it was that allowed him to win for so long.

Anyone who's watched Georgia and the SEC for more than a few years knows that it's a bad idea to bet against Richt. But for the first time in a long time, I'm not sure I would bet on him.

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