Once nearly a great coach, Richt isn’t now

Mark Richt briefs the assembled media.

Call him Coach A. Over seven seasons at a Power Five conference, his teams were 72-19 (winning percentage of .791) and 34-16 in regular-season league play (.680). His teams were 14-12 (.534) against conference opponents that finished above .500 in league play. His teams were 24-13 (.649) against ranked opposition. His teams won two conference titles and three division titles. His teams graced three major bowls.

Call this one Coach B. Over seven seasons and 84 percent of an eighth at a Power Five conference, his teams were 72-32 (.692) and 43-21 (.672) in regular-season league play. His teams were 5-16 (.238) against conference opponents that finished above .500 in league play. His teams were 13-24 (.378) against ranked opposition. His teams won no conference titles and two division titles. His teams graced no major bowls.

From those numbers, you’d have to say that Coach B has done OK on the overall record but less well at the major stuff – championships, brand-name bowls, beating quality opposition. You’d also have to concede that Coach A was superior in every single category. And now for the not-so-big reveal: Both Coach A and B are Mark Richt

The back-and-forth over Richt has grown so heated that perspective tends to go missing. To his supporters, he’s a great coach. To his detractors, he’s a failed coach. When we view his record in context, we find truth in both beliefs. He was indeed on the fast track to greatness but, by the standards he himself set, he has lately failed. Georgia football has been worse over the past eight seasons than over his first seven. That’s not open to debate. That’s the fact, Jack.

Over those first seven seasons, Georgia had everything except luck. It went 13-1 in 2002 but didn’t play for the BCS title because Miami and Ohio State were undefeated. The next year, one-loss LSU played for and won the BCS title. The Bulldogs were 11-2 in 2007 but were barred from playing for a national championship because they didn’t play for the SEC title. That same year, two-loss LSU won the national championship.

On Jan. 1, 2008 – the night a young Georgia team destroyed Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl – the Bulldogs’ date with destiny seemed very near. They opened the 2008 season ranked No. 1. That’s where we draw the line through Richt’s Georgia. Alabama came to Athens on Blackout Night and led 31-0 at the half. Neither program has been the same since.

Since 2007, these are Georgia’s yearly records against SEC teams that finished above .500 in league play – 0-2, 0-2, 0-3, 0-2, 2-2, 2-2, 1-0 and 0-3. (This assumes that Tennessee beats Vanderbilt on Saturday.) Even when the Bulldogs won the East in 2011 and 2012, they lost to South Carolina and had to wait for the Gamecocks to lose twice. Over those eight years, Georgia has won four games against an East team that finished above .500 – Vandy and Florida in 2012, South Carolina in 2013, Missouri in 2014.

This tells us two things: That Georgia hasn’t often beaten the better teams in its conference and, more important, that there haven’t been many good teams in its division. (The East hasn’t produced the SEC champ since 2008.) They haven’t won what has become the SEC’s weaker half since 2012. This year’s conference victories came against the four worst teams in the East — teams that have beaten only each other in league play — and the worst team in the West.

If the Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech, they’ll be 9-3. That sounds nice until you examine the nine. Unless Auburn upsets Alabama, Georgia will close its regular season without a victory over a Power Five team that finished with a winning record. We say again: Empty calories.

Once very nearly a great coach, Richt has descended to the ranks of the pretty good. Cold numbers tell us so. If you’re a decision-maker at Georgia, you have to ask: Is pretty good good enough for our proud and prosperous program? If it’s not, are you confident in Richt’s ability to lead the Bulldogs back to prominence? And if you aren’t, isn’t your choice clear?

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