The year is 2013. Aaron Murray, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in UGA and SEC history, announces that he will forego the NFL Draft and return for his senior season with one goal in mind: winning a National Championship.
Dawg fans everywhere rejoiced, because not only were they returning an All-SEC quarterback, but many felt as if the team for the 2013-2014 season would be one of the best—if not the best—of the entire Mark Richt era. Plus, one can’t forget just how close the Bulldogs were from taking down the would-be national champion Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship Game the previous year.
There were a lot of things to like about that team: Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall were arguably the best one-two punch in the country as freshmen and they could only get better, the receiving corps was loaded with depth and talent, and although the defense was losing a lot of players to the draft, it seemed as if Todd Grantham’s system was legit because the defense finished amongst the best in the entire country in 2012.
The Bulldogs finished the 2013-2014 season at 8-5. Not good.
The defense was bad. Embarrassingly bad. Needless to say, Grantham and Coach Right “agreed to part ways” (he was fired) and then Richt completed the best hire of his tenure at UGA; he coaxed Jeremy Pruitt, one of the most talented recruiters and defensive masterminds in the whole country, away from Florida State and into the vacant defensive coordinator role left by Grantham.
Couple that dynamite hire with a new season on the horizon, and Bulldog fans were left with a lot to be excited about before the season started last year. Todd Gurley was arguably the best player in the entire country, Jeremy Pruitt was the new defensive coordinator, the schedule was relatively easy (by SEC standards), and freaking Jeremy Pruitt was the new defensive coordinator.
The Dawgs finished last season at 10-3, including three losses to three major rivals. Again, not good. That is simply unacceptable for a team that could have—should have—made the SEC Championship at the very least.
As we approach the upcoming season, Dawg fans—yet again—have a lot to look forward to. But this time it’s different. Two offseasons in a row now, Richt has hired someone with both the pedigree and the reputation to have a huge impact for the Bulldogs. Brian Schottenheimer, the new offensive coordinator, left the NFL to have the same role on Mark Richt’s staff. That says a lot about how far the program has come, but it also speaks volumes for the amount of respect Richt has amongst his peers.
Richt also moved Bryan McClendon from running backs coach to wide receivers coach, the position he played for Mark Richt while at Georgia. McClendon spent the last three years coaching and developing guys like Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, and Nick Chubb. This move is important because it allowed Richt to go out and hire Thomas Brown, former Dawg running back and head running backs coach at Wisconsin, who helped coach Melvin Gordon on his way to a 2,587-yard and 29 TD season last year.
While this subtle change to Richt’s coaching staff may seem insignificant on the surface, it’s just the opposite. Brown and McClendon are young, extremely smart, unbelievably talented recruiters, but most importantly, they are Dawgs. Richt always tries to sell the idea of the brotherhood that he shares with his current and former players, and Brown and McClendon are living proof of that notion.
Richt has surrounded himself with a dream team of great recruiters and tacticians, and this will be the difference for Georgia moving forward. This coaching staff is the best that Richt has ever had, and it could be the best in the history of the entire program. Vince Dooley is still the greatest head coach in the history of the school, but Richt has at least three future head coaches with him on his staff. The university seems to feel the same way because they gave everyone on staff a raise, and also approved a $40 million expansion to the Butts-Mehre building.
Now more than ever, it finally seems like all of the pieces surrounding Richt are in place and this team is poised for success. That success needs to come sooner rather than later, however, because patience is a virtue that Georgia fans simply do not have.