No coach ever goes into a season conceding that it’s one of those win-or-else propositions.
But it’s clear in seeing how the fans have voted in our SportsNation poll that Georgia’s Mark Richt needs to win and win big in 2011.
We asked which coach’s seat in the SEC was the hottest, and not surprisingly, Richt was a runaway winner with 60 percent of the vote. At last check, more than 32,000 votes had been cast.
The Bulldogs are coming off their first losing season since 1996 and have lost 12 games over the last two seasons. They haven’t played in the SEC championship game since last winning the league title in 2005.
At a place like Georgia, that’s a drought that seems like an eternity.
Richt is entering his 11th season in Athens. He’s already defied the odds. The general rule is that head coaches in this league don’t last for 10-plus years anymore.
And while he clearly needs a big season to ease some of the restlessness in Athens, he has a team that should be better in 2011 in an Eastern Division that will again be wide open.
So it’s not too farfetched to think that Richt could go from the hot seat to the driver’s seat in the SEC if the Bulldogs get off to a quick start in those first two games against Boise State and South Carolina and the right pieces fall into place.
Nobody else was really close to Richt in the voting, although Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt came in second with 19 percent of the vote. This is also a key season for Nutt, who needs to bounce back from last season’s 4-8 disaster. It won’t be easy, especially with some of the injuries and other defections the Rebels have suffered over the last several months. Something that needs to be taken into account is that Nutt did engineer back-to-back nine-win seasons and Cotton Bowl victories prior to last season's slide, so it's not like there's been a steady decline. Still, he needs to prove he can do it with his own players in Oxford.
I'm sure somebody's going to ask about LSU's Les Miles. I chose not to even put him on the list, because he's one of those coaches who lives on the hot seat. Come on, the Tigers were 7-0 last season, and some on the Bayou were complaining. The guy has won 11 or more games in four of his six seasons in Baton Rouge. Sometimes, he's his own worst enemy with some of the goofy things he does and says.
But he just keeps on winning.
Welcome to the World of the Mad Hatter.