My default position has been that Georgia could never fire Mark Richt because, if you’re a self-respecting institution of higher learning, how can you fire a coach who wins nine or 10 games every season? (Assuming his program isn’t in NCAA trouble, which Richt’s has never been.) Recent events have altered that stance.
When I asked Greg McGarity last December if he believed Richt was capable of winning a championship, the athletic director thought hard before answering. “Unless I’m convinced he isn’t,” McGarity said, “then I believe he can.” Ten words, not a “yes” among them.
I posed that same question in an email Sunday. McGarity’s response: “Am focused on the Kentucky game and supporting our coaches and players.” Twelve words, still no “yes.”
Since Halloween 2014, Georgia has lost five games, all of the jaw-dropping variety: An 18-point loss to a Florida team about to fire Will Muschamp; an overtime loss to Georgia Tech after taking a three-point lead with 18 seconds remaining; a 28-point home loss when the Bulldogs were favored over Alabama; a squandered 21-point lead a week later at Tennessee, and finally a 24-point loss to a different Florida under a different coach.
To be fair, there have been nine victories over the past 12 months. But how many of those wins were because Georgia is Georgia and has advantages South Carolina and Missouri never will? (The Bulldogs’ best win since Halloween 2014 was over Auburn, which is 6-8 over the same span.)
There was a time when almost every Richt hunch came up trumps: P-44-Haynes in Knoxville, 70X Takeoff at Auburn, even the ad-libbed Gator Stomp. Now everything turns to sludge. He’s awful at clock management. The squib kick against Tech lost a game all but won. Running outside with Sony Michel on fourth-and-1 didn’t work Saturday. Having Brice Ramsey throw on fourth down from punt formation didn’t, either.
Bumping Faton Bauta from No. 3 to No. 1 was a bold move gone meek. The Bulldogs didn’t try to wrong-foot Florida with option reads. They merely had Bauta run the same offense Greyson Lambert had been running. Bauta threw 33 passes against three rushes. Even after four interceptions, he was left in the game.
In the heralded prospect Jacob Eason, Georgia figures to have its most gifted quarterback since Matthew Stafford. But Stafford, with Knowshon Moreno alongside, never played for an SEC championship. (Eason should pair with Nick Chubb next season.) The Bulldogs of Stafford/Moreno lost just enough to bar them from the truly meaningful games.
Georgia has become the program that only wins big on Signing Day, and even that has been called into question. Why was Lambert needed? Why has an offensive line that returned four starters achieved so little? Why are these Bulldogs so young in the secondary and along the defensive front?
A man who has coached college football sent this message Saturday: “Talent discrepancy (is) overwhelming.” He meant Florida’s talent over Georgia’s – the same Florida talent coach Jim McElwain described as “insufficient” upon inheritance.
If you’re thinking, “Richt deserves a chance to see what he can do with Eason” … well, how long has it been since the Bulldogs developed talent, as opposed to collecting it? Is Brian Schottenheimer the guy you want as tutor? And should a program of such pedigree keep a head coach because one recruit happens to like him?
These Bulldogs could finish the regular season 9-3, but those nine wins would be empty calories. They’d add nothing of nutritional value and satisfy no hunger. The lasting memory of October’s Alabama and Florida games – one in the rain, the other in sunshine – was how Bulldog Nation began vacating the premises before halftime. That’s how we know this has reached the point of diminishing returns: Even Georgia fans can’t bear to watch Georgia.
In years past, I’ve asked if Georgia could get anybody better than Richt. I now think it could — because I no longer consider Richt a top-shelf coach. He was once, but that was then. His teams have gone three years without winning the East with no Urban Meyer or Phillip Fulmer in the division, and Florida and Tennessee are getting good again. Even with Eason, I don’t see Georgia playing for championships under Richt, which is what McGarity says he wants from all his coaches.
Winning nine games while coaching Vandy would be fabulous, but Richt isn’t coaching Vandy. I never thought I’d say this, but here it is: He and Georgia need to part.
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