This week’s Courier Herald column:
The original opening of this column started by saying that 2015 is mercifully coming to an end. Given that many of those reading this in a newspaper this week are in areas that have flooded or are flooding, it appears instead that 2015 is not going quietly. Thoughts and prayers are extended to those affected by the weather.
As we prepare to turn the page and look toward the new year, we must also prepare to put last year behind us. The past is done. Today is what we have. It is only the future that is in our power to change.
With that in mind I’d like to revisit one of the major Georgia news stories of 2015. After 15 seasons Mark Richt is no longer on the sidelines for the University of Georgia. Gone also are his Offensive and Defensive Coordinators. Even the interim coach tapped for the bowl game, Bryan McClendon, will be headed out of Athens as soon as the team returns from Jacksonville. The changes are sweeping and thorough.
The reaction to the announcement was somewhat predictable. The calls from the fans for heads to roll were replaced by grumbles from an equally loud corner of the fan base that couldn’t understand how one of Georgia’s winningest head coaches was being let go.
Such often the case when a there is a high profile leadership change in any organization. Change is never easy. In the transition period, existing chasms and rifts are exposed and have the opportunity to grow deeper. Division has the opportunity to entrench itself with the opportunity to sew discord well into the future.
I am sorry to see Mark Richt go. He’s a good man. I also believe he’s a great coach. I wish him nothing but success at the University of Miami, and hope he’s able to bring them a National Championship. I still hope UGA gets one first. Maybe two.
I also will still be in Sanford Stadium next September when we have our home opener against Nicholls State, and maybe will even score tickets the week before in the Georgia Dome when we play UNC. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kirby Smart can do with the team.
He’s now in charge. To pull for my team I must pull for him. A failure of Smart won’t bring Richt back. And there would be empty joy for anyone wishing that just to say “I told you so” about our now former coach.
Luckily I grew up being prepared for changes such as this, as I was raised Methodist. While the custom isn’t as rigid as it once was, Methodist ministers were known to have a shelf life of one to five years – with only the exceptional ones getting to remain at a church for a fifth year.
Methodists don’t get to choose their ministers any more than casual fans get to choose their football coaches. The bishops appoint a minister annually subject to the approval of the local church and the minister himself/herself.
While it’s common to refer to college football as a religion in the South, try regularly swapping out a group’s actual spiritual leader on a regular basis. It’s not easy on anyone. Churches have split over the moves – including the one where I was raised. I’ve seen friends become enemies and regular attendees disappear over decisions made beyond the locals’ control. It’s often not pretty.
But others in the role understand that a leadership position in any human organization is ultimately just that – a position. No person is bigger than the role. Succession plans are in place for the exact reason that one day for one reason or another it will be time to move on. An organization worth having must be able to survive and thrive as leaders come and go.
The minister we had when I was born, the Reverend Riley Burton, was a great example of this. He was the minister at my church in North Fayette County in the late 60’s while in seminary at Emory University. He returned to Mississippi about 1970 or 71 when he finished school, fulfilling a promise to return to those that sent him to school in Georgia. During his short time here he became one of my Dad’s best friends.
We visited him at places in Mississippi with names like Morton, Pearl, Gautier, and Eupora. He returned occasionally for homecoming and other special occasions. I was the one to call and ask if he could make it to preach my father’s funeral. He was happy to oblige under one condition: I needed to clear the invitation with our church’s minister. He reminded me of what I had heard him say many times: He would be a guest in another minister’s pulpit. He came as a family friend, but it was the current minister’s church.
2015 was full of transition, and with 2016 being an election year it’s clear that more transition is ahead. Change is inevitable whether we fight it or embrace it.
As we welcome the new, we must say goodbye to the old. That doesn’t mean severing all ties or displacing old loyalties in favor of future ones. Rather, it means understanding that there is but one leader at a time. And whomever that is will be human, fallible, and in need of support and prayer.
May you prepare the room necessary to embrace the challenges ahead with the optimism and resolve to be ranked pre-season #1 in your next polls. Happy New Year to you and yours.