The past two weeks for the Georgia Bulldogs has been a little crazy, as the Dawgs started the season with a loss to the Clemson Tigers, heard a decent part of the fanbase scream (and even cry) for Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt to get the boot, then turned around and beat South Carolina last Saturday, which quickly made the Richt critics disappear.
While the season seems to be back on track for the Bulldogs, I cannot help but think back to what was happening this time last week, specifically all of the fans who truly wanted the current longest tenured head coach in the Southeastern Conference out of a job.
Through his thirteen seasons as Bulldogs head coach, Richt holds a 119-41 record, good enough for a remarkable 74% winning percentage (that’s basically a 9-3 record every season). As if the wins were not enough, Richt also boasts 2 SEC Championships (the Bulldogs had not won a title since the Dooley era), 5 SEC Championship game appearances (the team never played in the championship game before Richt’s first in 2002), and a ridiculous 69-32 record against fellow SEC schools.
As if having guys call for your head is not bad enough, the exact same thing happened back in 2011 when Georgia had an even worse start, beginning the season with a dismal 0-2 record (Georgia would rebound and finish the year 10-4). Mark Richt has proven time and time again, whether it be by his excellent recruiting or his tactical game-planning, that he is the best man for the Bulldogs’ head coaching position, yet Georgia fans (admittedly myself, at a few different times) throw him under the bus so often that treadmarks may soon appear.
Why is it that Georgia has almost no loyalty towards the only Bulldogs head coach that a significant amount of the fans have known? I have a few theories:
Theory #1: He’s an outsider! Mark Richt had no prior ties to Georgia or the SEC for that matter when he landed the Bulldogs’ head coaching job way back in 2001, so naturally the Bulldogs fans should have no warm feelings for a man from Nebraska who made his name calling plays for Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles, right? Apparently, even though Alabama fans have embraced a man from West Virginia who played at Kent State as the next coming of Bear Bryant and LSU has fallen head over heels for a Mad Hatter who sang Hail to the Victors in college.
Ties to your school or your conference seems to be very important to so many fans, but should it really be? Yes, arguably the Bulldogs’ greatest head coach spent his college days at Auburn, but aside from Vince Dooley the ties usually does not help at all (See: Ray Goff). If more fans refrained from drooling over a name or one’s alma mater, maybe the Tennessee Volunteers would have avoided the Derek Dooley “incident” altogether.
Theory #2: The grass is always greener on the other side. Most fans should admit that Mark Richt is a darn good college football coach, but he’s as vanilla as they come: 95% of the time he’s cool, calm, and collected on the sidelines as he watches his Bulldogs out on the field. He’s an active Christian head coach coaching along the likes of Nick Saban, who I am convinced may very well be void of a soul.
Despite all these things, Georgia fans want something more, another head coach that will immediately take the reins and lead the Bulldogs to the Promised Land, but as nice as that sounds, it just doesn’t work like that. Clay Travis of OutkicktheCoverage.com hit on this point precisely in his mailbag last week, comparing firing Richt to what Tennessee did to Phillip Fulmer, an alum of UT, back in 2008. The result for Tennessee has been nothing but headaches, as the Vols are now under the leadership of a third head coach in five seasons. Losing Richt would undoubtedly result in a step-back of sorts for Georgia.
Not only would firing Richt be a disaster due to his departure, who exactly do these fans believe the Bulldogs can haul in that can outcoach the likes of Saban? I’m a diehard Dawgs fan and have been as long as I can remember, but anyone with enough sense can accept the fact that the caliber of coaches that Georgia could hire are nowhere close to Saban-eque; I understand that there are very few that are that good, but with that being said the Dawgs are not at the traditional level of an Alabama, USC, or Notre Dame where any coach comes running “when mama calls”.
The top candidates for the Georgia job if and when Richt leaves (some say he will retire once he turns 55, which would be in two short years) would more than likely be Alabama defensive coordinator and Georgia alum Kirby Smart, Louisville head coach Charlie Strong (who would probably be crazy to leave UL), and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden TCU head coach Gary Patterson, none of which would be a definite upgrade over the former Miami Hurricanes quarterback who is calling the shots right now.
Theory #3: He can’t win the big games. It’s true that the Bulldogs have not had the upper hand as of late when it comes to played ranked teams like they have the last two years in the SEC Championship game, but a 5-5 record against teams ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game is not too shabby considering how competitive the SEC is. Some fans harp on the SEC Championship game loss from last season as “the one that got away” for Richt, which is 100% true; but consider it from this perspective: the Bulldogs were five yards away from beating Nick Saban and advancing to the national title game—something the Dawgs haven’t done since the ‘80s—to face an inferior Notre Dame squad. The result of such an outcome would have been chaos in Athens, the building of a statute at Sanford Stadium for Richt, and the happiness of a fandom that has gone thirty-three years without a title for about, oh, I don’t know, five minutes.
This whole college football deal is very simple: there is only one champion each year (disregard 2003), and the odds that your particular team winning it are very, very low. As bad as those who bleed red and black hate it, the Bulldogs are not going to win the title five years in a row; as we can all see, once is hard enough.
Theory #4: He does very little with a whole lot of talent. Yes, it’s true that the Bulldogs have the fourth most players in the NFL (35 players), but it’s not like these teams with so much talent are really bad. Over the last five years, the Bulldogs have gone 47-22 with three bowl victories and have only gotten better during this period of time. Meanwhile, take a look at a team like Texas, who has consistently brought in a top 10 recruiting class, has a 48-18 record with three bowl victories over this same period of time, but has struggled ever since their loss to the Crimson Tide in the 2009 championship game. Considering the Longhorns just fired their defensive coordinator after giving up 550 rushing yards to BYU, one could say that Georgia could be doing much, much worse with the players they have.
My main concern and reason for writing this article is simple: I really think Georgia fans out there need to wake up and realize how important Richt is to the Georgia program. Otherwise, they may not really realize what they’ve missed until it’s gone and the Dawgs turn to being content with a trip to the Music City Bowl at the end of each season.
Why do you think Mark Richt is underappreciated by Bulldog Nation? Leave a comment and let your opinion be heard