Richt’s firing confirms what many believed: It was time for a change

Georgia coach Mark Richt was fired Sunday despite a 9-3 season. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

For an updated column, please click this link.

Below is an earlier column:

Mark Richt did what Jim Donnan and Ray Goff couldn’t. He returned Georgia football to a level of prominence, winning two SEC championships in his first five seasons at a school that hadn’t won a conference title in two decades.

But the potential downside to having so much early success and raising the bar at a major college football program is that a coach is expected to maintain that. Richt didn’t. And so, he is gone. Georgia made official Sunday what had been rumored for several weeks, firing one of the most successful coaches in the school’s history, despite a 9-3 record and four straight wins to close the regular season. That should tell you the decision was actually made a while ago.

Am I surprised? No. Not after my brief exchange with athletic director Greg McGarity Saturday following a win over Georgia Tech. It was clear the decision was weighing heavily on McGarity and he declined to shed any light on Richt’s future. The only question was whether he and school president Jere Morehead would push the button on firing a coach who finished 9-3.

This isn’t a day of celebration. A good coach and a great man lost his job. But Richt simply wasn’t getting it done to the level he needed to any more.

I’ve included a text of the official announcement below. No reason was given for Richt’s firing. Logic suggests the decision actually was made weeks ago, likely after the loss to Florida, because the Bulldogs have won four straight games since then. But as I wrote following Saturday’s 13-7 win over Georgia Tech and four weeks ago after the Florida game, the Bulldogs’ record was built on wins over soft competition, they had struggled in recent years against ranked teams and their season had long been defined by the losses to Florida, Tennessee and Alabama.

Some Richt supporters had drawn parallels between Richt and LSU coach Les Miles, who appeared to be in trouble until a clumsy post-game news conference Saturday night in which LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said Miles would return next season. But Miles won a national championship and has been to the title game twice. That earns him a longer period of time to amend for the LSU’s relative slide in recent years. Richt hasn’t earned that benefit of the doubt.

I’ll have more later on this. I’m sure everybody wants to know who Georgia should hire. Here are a few names I like.

First two calls:

  • Make Jimbo Fisher and Chip Kelly say no. I know they’re longshots but both are proven college coaches who obviously can recruits and have enjoyed tremendous success. My guess is Kelly will be back in college somewhere next season.

Second calls (no particular order)

  • Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. He has done an unbelievable job at Mississippi State and indications are he’s looking for an escape rout. His hiring also conceivably would allow Georgia to keep defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, if they chose to.
  • Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart. Nobody knows if he will be a great head coach but I’ll take anybody who has worked this long for Nick Saban. Smart has learned from the best.
  • SMU coach/former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Morris just got to SMU and went only 2-10 but he inherited a bad situation and has significantly improved the Mustangs’ offense. He’s going to be a very good head coach.

Here’s a text of the official news release:

“Coach Richt and I met Sunday morning to discuss the status of our football program,” said UGA J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Greg McGarity, “and we mutually agreed that he would step down as head coach and would have the opportunity to accept other duties and responsibilities at UGA following the bowl game.”

“I appreciate the opportunity of serving the University as well as considering any other options that may present themselves in the future,” said Richt.

“On behalf of the University of Georgia Athletic Association and Bulldogs everywhere, I want to thank Mark and Katharyn for 15 years of remarkable service to the UGA community, hundreds of our students and staff, and to college football,” McGarity continued.

“Mark’s record on the field was outstanding; however, his impact on college football goes well beyond the gridiron. His fingerprints are evident on shaping the lives of children, many of whom attend a Bulldog summer camp or a retreat; they are evident on the prospective student-athletes as they determine what college to attend — whether it be UGA or a competitor; they are evident on his current players, and probably even more so, on those who have lettered and are in the workplace, as fathers and husbands. For those contributions, we are sincerely appreciative. … Mark has touched thousands of lives over the past 15 years — he has a huge heart and his positive influence has affected many people, young and old. We will never actually know how many people were positively impacted by a comforting phone call, a sympathetic or uplifting note, an autographed football or photo — he had the unique ability to shine a bright light on others when they needed it most.  … Mark has the opportunity to remain on our staff at the University of Georgia, and would be heavily involved with outreach programs for our former football lettermen via the PO Network as well as other University and Athletic Association initiatives. We wish Mark, Katharyn and his family the best as he enters a new chapter of his life.”

“Mark Richt has been an outstanding coach and mentor to our student-athletes during his fifteen-year tenure, and we have developed a strong and enduring friendship during that time,² said UGA President Jere W. Morehead.  “I am deeply grateful for his many years of dedicated service to the University of Georgia, and I particularly appreciate the positive way he has represented UGA. I have asked Mark to remain engaged with the institution in a new leadership role, and I look forward to hopefully working closely with him as we advance our capital campaign at the University of Georgia. I know all UGA alumni and supporters will look forward to celebrating the successful conclusion of his coaching career at UGA in a bowl game later this year. I want to wish Katharyn and the Richt family all the best.”

More on Richt:

Recent ramblings
Short takes on Georgia’s win
McGarity mum on Richt, and Georgia’s win doesn’t feel like a celebration
Johnson, Bobinski confident about Tech’s future
• Weekend Predictions: Dogs over Jackets in Bad Aura Bowl
A new tradition, in the spirit of Furman Bisher: Giving thanks (to those who deserve it)
• Overreaction Monday: Richt’s status, Ryan’s fall, and does Tech have a chance?
Georgia Tech loses Justin Thomas, ball and all hope
Short takes: Jackets lose Thomas, fumble nine times (yes, nine)
• Weekend Predictions: It’s marshmallow opponent week
• Coppolella tired of being roasted, says, ‘We are not tanking’
Roddy White has survived far worse things than reduced role in offense: tragedy
• Why are those Freeman T-shirts included in Braves’ clearance sale?
• Overreaction Monday: Richt’s ploy, Falcons’ bye, Braves’ salary dump
Jeremy Pruitt’s defense is salvaging Georgia’s season
Short takes on Georgia’s win over Auburn
• Simmons gone, and Braves’ offseason already looking like last one
Weekend Predictions: It’s not a good time to invest in Georgia
Former Georgia player Faloughi at center of Missouri protests
• Overreaction Monday: Kyle Shanahan, have you met Roddy White?
Latest Falcons’ embarrassment is on Dan Quinn
• Short takes: This Falcons’ loss is on Dan Quinn
Weekend Predictions: Dogs in middle of Dysfunction Junction
Georgia’s finish, Eason status shouldn’t tilt Richt decision
• Richt should take over Georgia’s struggling offense
• Overreaction Monday: Loss-loss-loss means chaos all around
Mark Richt has failed too many big moments — it’s time for a change at Georgia
Falcons may be 6-2 but they don’t look the part
Short takes: Sloppy Falcons gift-wrap game for mediocre Bucs
Matt Ryan: ‘It comes down to me being better’
 

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