CORAL GABLES, Fla. — I don’t get it. I don’t understand the Georgia fans — and I’m convinced it’s a vocal minority — who seem to pitch a little fit every time I or somebody else associated with covering the Bulldogs writes something about Mark Richt.
I came down here to the Miami area for a couple days this week to sort of close the book on the Richt era at Georgia. The intention was to bring everybody up to date on what’s going on in his life, catch folks up on his family and the many members of his staff with Georgia connections, and kind of provide some insights on how his ways and methods, honed in Athens over the last 15 years, are translating with his new school and team here in South Florida.
And that’s it. I’ll fly back to Atlanta Wednesday morning, be at Georgia’s practice in the afternoon, and likely not write much about Richt again unless the Hurricanes end up meeting the Bulldogs in a bowl game or the college football playoff (wouldn’t that be awesome?).
I know this: Most of the people I associate with outside of the business still love Mark Richt. That doesn’t mean they didn’t favor a coaching change or won’t get behind Kirby Smart. It means they just like Richt. They wanted to see him succeed at Georgia and, now that he’s no longer there, they want to see him succeed where he is now.
I have one longtime buddy, Jimmy, who is a lifelong Bulldog fan. After Richt was hired by UM, he immediately went out and bought a Miami Hurricanes’ jersey and cap. He says he’ll now root for the ‘Canes every week, except if they happen to come up against the Dogs. And this guy is as rabid a UGA fan as you’ll find.
So it always surprises me when I get Twitter mentions and social media messages from people like @Shcyphers, who say, “why are you writing about (Richt)? He gone and thank God it finally happened.” Or @Dawg_Fan1972, who writes, “Why are you still talking about him? Luckily he has no more relevance to UGA football anymore. Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
That blows my mind. “Bad rubbish?” Really?
Granted, Richt didn’t win an SEC championship at Georgia over the last 10 years of tenure. But the Bulldogs did play for it five times while he was with them. He won two conference championships in his first five years after Georgia hadn’t won one in 20 years. And while the Bulldogs came up short for league titles those last 10 years, it’s not like they were toiling away in obscurity. They were left just barely on the outside looking in for a national title shot in 2007 and 2012. It’s not like that’s ancient history. Bottom line, Georgia remained in the national conversation most of the time.
But here’s the most notable thing, in my opinion: Richt won games at a higher rate — .740 (145-51) — than any other coach in Georgia history at a time where it could be argued that the SEC was the strongest it has ever been. The next closest coach was Vince Dooley (.697, 201-77-10), followed by H.J. Stegeman (.689) and Jim Donnan (.678).
Only Dooley (1980) and Wally Butts (1942) won national championships in the program’s 127-year history. The other 24 coaches all came up short, Richt included, of course.
It’s important to provide some historical perspective when evaluating the worth these coaches. While Georgia has been great at times and certainly strives to be all the time, there is no guarantee than anybody will do any better than Richt did. That includes Smart.
That said, I’m not trying to be a Richt apologist. That’s certainly not my intention here. I like the guy because of how he carries himself and the kind of man he is.
But change is good. I believe Richt needed it and Georgia needed it. That’s one of my takeaways from South Florida this week. Richt needed a change of scenery. And there’s no denying the energy and positive momentum Smart has brought to UGA.
But no matter what happens to either coach going forward, one needs to give Richt credit for what he was able to do while he was with the Bulldogs. They actually enjoyed they’re longest, most consistently successful stretch in history under his leadership.
That’s worth checking in with him from time-to-time, if you ask me.