HOOVER, Ala. - In the lovely college town of Athens, Ga., people don’t worry about the brutal summer heat; they deal with it, and they move along.
They don’t worry about calories and fat content at The Varsity, that landmark hot-dog joint on Broad Street.
And they don’t worry about their fashion sense. When the Georgia football team blazes into Sanford Stadium with red jerseys and silver britches, some of the best uniforms in the land are on display.
Here’s what the people of Athens do worry about: wins and losses.
Which is why, after 10-plus seasons as Georgia’s coach, Mark Richt might find himself a little closer to the hot seat than he’d ever care to be.
Still, if he’s feeling pressure, he’s not letting on.
“I don’t. I don’t,” Richt said Thursday during Southeastern Conference Media Days.
“I know if you walk in the Butts-Mehre Building, there’s not one sense of gloom or doom. There’s only excitement. ? The expectations are just as high as they’ve ever been going into any season.”
How quickly we all forget. Richt, after all, helped to raise those expectations.
He’s been named Southeastern Conference coach of the year twice (which, incidentally, is two more times than LSU’s Les Miles). He has two conference championships (which, incidentally, is one more than Miles).
But there’s also another reality: Since 2008, the Bulldogs have gone from 10-3 to 8-5 to 6-7. Last year marked Georgia’s worst record under Richt, and its first losing season since 1996.
In other words, fans have to wonder if his program has fallen too far.
Will Richt and Georgia stick together, or part ways? And is it simply too difficult for a coach to keep the same high-pressure job for 11 seasons?
“It’s not difficult if you win,” Richt said. “It’s not difficult if you win nine, 10, 11 (games) a year. ? It’s not a problem at all. It’s when you get 6-7, that’s when it’s a problem. But greater days are coming.”
This fall, before the Bulldogs even get a taste of their first SEC opponent, they begin this season in Atlanta with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game - against Boise State, which, lest anyone forget, has won 38 of its last 40 games.
How’s that for a rough opener?
“There’s risk in playing a team that can whip your tail,” Richt noted, “because they might whip your tail.”
A win could build momentum, maybe propel Georgia to a return to the top of the Eastern Division. A loss could leave fans searching for the nearest panic button.
If players feel a little extra pressure, cornerback Brandon Boykin said they’ve hidden it well.
“We don’t pay attention to it,” said Boykin, who cited Richt as the No. 1 reason he chose Georgia.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do, everything else will take care of itself.”
The people of Athens are counting on that.
So is the coach.