ATHENS. Ga. — Welcome to the world’s largest outdoor pity party.
Or as it is known by its generic name — the Tennessee-Georgia game.
On one Sanford Stadium sideline this afternoon will stand the visiting Volunteers, fresh off their 16-14 loss at LSU. Easily one of the most bitter and controversial defeats in school history, it’s kept the Big Orange Nation editing more videotape than Oliver Stone the past seven days.
Was LSU really ever set on what should have been the game’s final play? Did the referees give the Vols enough time to switch defenses? Is LSU coach Les Miles a joke or a genius, since the chaos caused by his apparent confusion possibly did more to mess up the Vols than the Tigers?
Whatever, UT isn’t just 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference. It is in danger of posting its third losing season in six years, a period of paucity not seen in Knoxville since the Vols recorded three straight losing seasons from 1909 to 1911.
Not that Georgia’s any better off at the moment.
The Bulldogs have lost their first three SEC contests and four of their five total games. If UGA coach Mark Richt’s seat were any hotter, he’d be welded to it.
“I think it’s wrong,” said ESPN analyst Lou Holtz, who coached Notre Dame to a national championship, as well as lifting programs at William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota and South Carolina during his career.
“Does Mark Richt have problems? Yes. Does he need to fix them quickly? Yes. Can he fix them? Absolutely.”
Coaches almost always defend other coaches, of course. And Richt delivering four 10-win seasons in the past six years is easy to defend. But the school’s also had more arrests (10) than victories (six) during the the past 12 months. Nor is there an obvious sign that next year will be better than this one, since the Bulldogs’ best player, wideout A.J. Green, almost certainly will turn pro after this season.
Throw in the facts that Richt also is no longer working for either the man who hired him (Vince Dooley) or the man who made him rich (Damon Evans), and that new AD Greg McGarity owes Richt nothing, and it’s easy to see Richt’s status becoming the most debated since UT let go of Phillip Fulmer two years ago.
And Fulmer had gone to the SEC title game the year before he was fired. Richt hasn’t been since 2005.
“We’ve talked about it in our studio meetings all week,” Holtz said. “It may be the subject for our Final Verdict segment.”
The weekly kangaroo court skit usually pits Holtz against fellow analyst Mark May arguing a hot topic in front of “Judge” Rece Davis. If Richt becomes this week’s topic, expect Holtz to support him and May to submarine him.
“Here’s what I’d say about Mark Richt,” Holtz said. “Florida State’s demise began when he took the Georgia job. Now he’s got a [redshirt] freshman quarterback. They’ve had porous defenses the last couple of years. You can’t change that overnight. In a year or two they’ll be back to competing for championships.
“I know this: If Georgia gets rid of him, they’ll be lucky to find a coach as good as him.”
As for Tennessee, Holtz said Derek Dooley was absolutely right to protest the clock situation at LSU.
“The clock should have run out before the [last play of regulation] was run,” Holtz said. “Tennessee wasn’t given the proper time to substitute on defense.”
But should two of the proudest programs in SEC history both be entering an Oct. 9 game with losing records?
“I predicted before the season that both would be down,” Holtz said. “They’re just both down a little further than I thought they’d be.”
Let the pity party begin.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...