Richt Keeps the Faith

ATHENS – Mark Richt is a man of faith. It's a source of pride and inspiration that he believes strongly in things he can't completely understand.

The important thing is that he believes.

A 4-4 start to his season and a wave of criticism from fans and media would be enough to test the faith of most head coaches, but Richt continues to believe. Georgia has dropped three of its past four games, including two blowout losses to SEC East foes, and the future looks bleak, but Richt continues to believe. A number of the Bulldogs veterans have struggled on the field and been dogged by criticism off it, but Richt still believes in them, too.

"You want to continue to believe that success is not that far away, and we're not too far off," Richt said. "We've just got to keep knocking at it until it breaks free and the good things happen."

Faith is one thing, and Richt has it in spades. But it's not often that answers appear out of the ether and fortunes turn on a dime.

To turn around a slide like this one, fans assume action needs to be taken, changes must be made and heads need to roll.

Richt hasn't officially ruled any of that out, but for the time being, the plan is to stay the course. With Tennessee Tech – a FCS team from the Ohio Valley Conference – coming to Athens today, Richt is hoping it's a chance for his team to right the ship without sweeping changes taking place. The plan is simple: Confidence over chaos, patience over panic.

"You can try to do some things as it's happening, but I think it's got to be more of a tweak rather than a wholesale change," Richt said.

That was the rationale behind Richt's most publicized decision of the week. He announced Monday that senior Joe Cox would remain the starter at quarterback despite 12 interceptions this season.

The decision was unanimous among the coaches, Richt said, and it simply underscored the message Richt has for the entire team. No one is looking ahead to 2010. The focus is on winning as many games as possible this season, and Cox gives the Bulldogs their best chance to do that.

"I know that there are things that I've done that I should be doing better, and if there was a change that needed to be made I understood why," Cox said. "It was just one of those things where it was out of my hands and it was up to them whether or not they wanted to make a change and they ended up not making that change."

Consistency in the face of adversity hasn't exactly inspired confidence among many fans, but it has affected the mood in the locker room, where Richt's veterans have endured a slew of criticism but have found comfort from their coach.

It's a plan that is not without a blueprint either. Richt said he has taken inspiration from the Bulldogs' 2006 season, when the team rebounded from a 6-4 start to win its final three games, all over ranked opponents.

The plan then was as it is now: Patience and consistency eventually pays off.

"If you look back, we didn't make a bunch of wholesale changes," Richt said. "We didn't start throwing guys in and throwing guys out and changing your scheme and all those kind of things. We just stayed the course, and we finished very strong. We finished very honorable. It did build momentum for the next season, so my feeling is to build the most momentum towards the future for Georgia is to get it back on track and begin to win."

The path should get a bit easier today against Tennessee Tech. The Golden Eagles last trip to Athens came 66 years ago and ended in a 67-0 Georgia win. Fans aren't expecting a similar blowout this time around, but Tennessee Tech does provide Georgia with its first non-BCS conference foe of the season and, more importantly, a chance to take a deep breath and begin to rebuild its season.

Of course, the pushover games don't always turn out to be as easy as expected, and Golden Eagles' head coach Watson Brown knows that firsthand. He led UAB into Athens in 2003 as a heavy underdog and nearly pulled the upset, eventually falling 16-13 after Georgia scored the game's final six points.

"I'm sure he'll probably bring that memory back up to his players even though they weren't at UAB, but I'm sure he'll make mention of that, or at least know in the back of his mind that you can get after Georgia with one of his teams," Richt said.

Richt has offered reminders this week, too.

It wasn't so long ago that Georgia was riding a wave of enthusiasm following a season in which the Bulldogs finished No. 2 in the country. It wasn't so long ago that Georgia earned a 10-win campaign. And it wasn't so long ago that the Bulldogs overcame a dismal stretch of games to salvage a seemingly lost season.

Richt has reminded his team of what it can be, and he's kept faith that it will be that great again.

"It's one thing to kind of hold everything together, but another thing to turn it around," Richt said. "First you start with keeping everyone together, keeping everyone on the same page and keeping everyone focused on the important things. That's very crucial, but then you also got to be strong enough to turn the thing around. That's really our main focus right now."

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