I want you to do this. I want you to go back to the day after Halloween – five weeks ago, so it’s not that long a stretch – and be honest. If, on Nov. 1, someone had said, “After the season, Georgia will fire Mark Richt and hire Kirby Smart,” would you have taken that? On the day after Faton Bauta started at quarterback and the Bulldogs lost 27-3 in Jacksonville, would you have taken Smart as your coach and been glad to have him?
I’m suggesting a lot of you, maybe even most of you, would have. If you were among that number, you’ve gotten your wish. Maybe you’re sorry that Richt got fired. Maybe you’re so sorry you’ve forgotten that you ever wanted him gone. If so, I understand. That’s human nature. But the backlash of the past week has reminded me of Margaret Thatcher’s words to the first President Bush: “Don’t go wobbly on me, George.”
If you ever wanted Richt out – even for a fleeting second after the squib kick against Georgia Tech – you shouldn’t be wringing your hands over the cruelty and injustice of it all. That’s going wobbly, and going wobbly wasn’t going to win Georgia a championship. Going boldly forward in the proverbial different direction just might.
Richt got fired because he couldn’t win a division that you didn’t need to be all that good to win. (The Florida that gained 413 yards against Georgia couldn’t manage half that against Smart’s Alabama defense in the SEC championship.) After winning the East three times in his first five seasons, Richt won it twice over the final 10. It’s not that he lost a lot of games – he didn’t, which is why this choice was so polarizing – but that he lost the wrong games.
There’s no guarantee that Smart will win even as much as Richt. A mountain of evidence, however, suggested that Richt was never going to win any bigger than he already had. There would always be a squib kick, a Faton Bauta, a bit of clock mismanagement, a no-show game that became a stupefying rout. Long before Richt showed up at a press conference in Coral Gables making Miami’s sign of the “U,” another “U” had attached itself to him and Georgia – underachieving.
I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. You saw it, same as everyone saw it. And if you ever thought, “Georgia should be better than this” … well, that’s what just happened. Georgia has made its move to try and be better than that.
It’s no accident that the 18th word in the first sentence of athletic director Greg McGarity’s stated reason for hiring Smart – as issued in a Georgia release Sunday – was “championship.” That was why this was done, why McGarity dared to become the reviled administrator who dared to fire that nice Mark Richt. This AD stopped believing that Richt could win championships.
While working at Florida, McGarity saw Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer win three national titles, so he knows a bit about what works and what doesn’t. Whatever the edge that Saban and Meyer possess was, McGarity decided, missing in Richt. That decision having been made, the AD had two choices: Do nothing and settle for pretty good, or do something and aim for being great. He chose the latter, even though it meant catching a week’s worth of holy heck. He knew what needed doing.
South Carolina required 54 days to replace Spurrier. McGarity essentially needed two to replace Richt. (South Carolina’s apparent first choice was the guy Georgia hired.) McGarity had his plan and got his man. You’re free to keep typing “#FireMcGarity” on Twitter, but can any Georgia fan say in good conscience that this is a terrible move? The hottest assistant from the nation’s best program is coming to coach his alma mater: What part of that doesn’t make sense?
Richt had 15 years. His teams never played for a national championship. That failure, rightly or wrongly, became his signature. That’s why Georgia will introduce a new coach Monday — because its AD expects more. I’m guessing a few of you do, too. And if you do, don’t go wobbly. This wasn’t a move for the faint of heart. But doesn’t fortune favor the brave?