Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 1/1/12

STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 5: Head coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs congratulates head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys after the Cowboys won the game 24-10 at Boone Pickens Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It seems so long ago. As 10-3 Georgia goes through their final walk-through in Tampa before suiting up against Michigan State in the Outback Bowl on Monday, it is easy to forget that 12 months ago calls for a coaching change in Athens hit a fever pitch. Hardly any Dawg fan would have bet their life savings on Georgia being SEC East champions and Mark Richt still wearing the red and black. Thats because they remember the feelings from a year ago. As the ball dropped and baby New Year ushered in 2011, the Bulldogs had just put the finishing touches on a lackluster losing season by sleepwalking through an embarrassing 10-6 loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl. Even longtime Richt supporters walked away after that one. The question wasnt whether Richt would leave, but when and under what circumstances. Now, Georgia is hoping to win its 11th game for the first time since 2007. If they pull it off, it will be Richts fourth 11-or-more win season in a career that will soon hit a dozen years. Richt is the most tenured coach in the SEC, and calls for Richts scalp have died down. But there are still a few die-hards who would love to see a change. Message boards burn with the usual anti-Richt rants -- They didnt beat any good teams Richt cant discipline Georgia will never win a national championship as long as hes there. Much of the frustration stems from other successes in the SEC. Florida has three national championships, Tennessee one, Auburn one, and LSU and Alabama have two apiece (with one of them guaranteed a third) all since Georgia won its lone national title in 1980. If only Georgia had Nick Saban or Les Miles or Urban Meyer, the critics lament, then the Dawgs would return to their rightful spot atop the national polls. Such chatter has quieted considerably, especially in Tampa where Georgia will play one of the better Jan. 2 bowl games against the winningest team from the Big Ten. But for those whose hatred knows no bounds, the most maddening aspect of the Georgia coach is his demeanor. Whether the Dawgs are 13-1 or 6-7, Richt remains the same: calm, soft-spoken, the model of placidity in a fiery profession. It is that never-rattled attitude that drives his critics nuts. If only Richt would get mad, they say, Georgia could advance to the next level. As the leader of the program if I act like I'm fretting or if I act like I'm mad at something, it doesn't help the staff, it doesn't help the players, it doesn't help recruiting, Richt said when asked about how he handles criticism. It doesn't help anything. I know the University of Georgia is a great place to be. We've got tremendous facilities; great support from our fans; great support from our administration. We've got a bunch of coaches that know what we're doing. Richt is the same man he has always been. He is a missionary who builds churches in Central America in the offseason, and a parent who adopted two of his children from Eastern Europe after feeling called in a Bible study. He is also a man who either ignored or remained willfully ignorant or the NCAA rule stating that a head coach cannot pay staff members out of his own pocket -- a rule Richt broke by writing more than 15,000 in personal checks to lesser-known staffers who dont get bowl bonuses. It was typical Richt: compassionate, even though the issue involved a silly violation of a black-and-white rule. It is why many give Richt the benefit of the doubt when his talent-laden rosters under-performs, and why others criticize him as lacking the temperament (and meanness) to win championships in the SEC. Either way, Richt doesnt let it bother him. In Tampa, he gave Georgia fans hope by saying, "We're going to be knocking on the door of the greatest success that you can have in college football. If we keep knocking hard enough, one day we'll get there. His supporters could not help but smile. His detractors, as they always do, said, Well see.
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