It was announced Sunday that Mark Richt would no longer be the head football coach at the University of Georgia. My first emotion was that of shock. After all, Mark Richt had been the only coach at Georgia since I started watching SEC football. He was a very good coach and had taken the UGA program a long way. His overall record was admirable. However, Richt will be remembered for being an even better person than coach. In spite of this, UGA AD Greg McGarity decided a change needed to be made in Athens, and as sad as I am for CMR, I believe it had to be done.
Mark Richt's hiring will be remembered as one of the best things to ever happen to the University of Georgia. Richt was hired as head coach at Georgia prior to the 2001 season. He was formerly the offensive coordinator at Florida State University, where he served under the legendary Bobby Bowdon. He replaced Jim Donnan in Athens and compiled a 145-51 overall record and two SEC Championships in his 15 years at Georgia. He ranks second on the Bulldogs' all-time win list.
Like I said previously, for the great coach that Mark Richt was, he will be remembered even more for his actions off the field. He was known for being a philanthropist and a very religious man. I personally respect him more than any other figure in college athletics. The coach did it the right way. He was not only concerned with winning but making his players into admirable young men and good citizens.
He was known for his support of charities and his radio commercials and support as well of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta in Georgia. He was known for his amazing handling of the Devon Gales' situation. He was known for being the epitome of class and was loved by his players. I wish him the best of success in whatever he does in the future.
Make no mistake though; change was needed in my opinion. I have not always agreed with UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity in the past, but I think he made the right decision this time. There were reports that McGarity wanted Mark Richt fired last year but was overruled by current UGA President Jere Morehead. He wasn't overruled this time.
Although he wasn't a bad coach, Mark Richt had a history of underachieving at Georgia. The Bulldogs have had amazing talent and a slew of NFL prospects during his tenure. They have had eleven first round draft picks under his watch. With all the talent Richt has had, Georgia should have won more. Richt won two SEC Championships in 2002 and 2005. However, they haven't won a title since. In case your math skills are as bad as mine, that's been ten years.
Greg McGarity's New Hire Will Define Him
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Most schools would've been content with Mark Richt. Heck, you could be certain he would win 9-10 games every year. Georgia didn't pull the trigger sooner I believe for two reasons. For one, Mark Richt was such a good guy, and the program seemed to be content as they were making boatloads of money every year. I think 2015 helped finalize McGarity's decision in his mind.
The 2015 Georgia Bulldogs finished the regular season with a 9-3 record. That doesn't look bad on paper. It's who they lost to and how they lost. The Bulldogs were yet again the favorite to win the currently down SEC Eastern Division, and they again disappointed. The Bulldogs didn't beat a single team with a winning record in the 2015 regular season. The wins they did get were not the prettiest a lot of the time. The Georgia offense struggled mightily due in large part to the bad offseason hiring of Brian Schottenhiemer as offensive coordinator by Richt.
Georgia's first loss came to a historically good Alabama team in Athens. While I can't fault the Bulldogs for that one, they at least should have been competitive. The Tide exposed the Dawgs again. UGA was seeking revenge from the 2012 SEC Championship game and the blackout loss in 2008. To add insult to injury, Georgia lost the next week to a reeling Tennessee team in a game that they were up, 21-3, at one point and should have won. The Volunteers rallied and came back to win, 38-31.
The third loss for Georgia was an all-time low. Georgia could still win the division with a win over the Gators. It didn't matter. UGA had dealt with inconsistent QB play all season, and Mark Richt decided to roll the dice and start third-string quarterback Faton Bauta. Bauta threw four interceptions as the Bulldogs were embarrassed, 27-3, by a Florida team under a first year head coach in Jim McElwaine. The Georgia fan base was understandably upset after their team got absolutely manhandled by their biggest and most hated rival in Florida.
Wait a second, you say. The Bulldogs finished the season with four straight wins. That's good right? Not so fast, the Bulldogs beat a bad Kentucky team, barely beat a 5-7 Auburn squad, squeaked by Georgia Southern in OT (team played on the FCS level in 2013), and defeated a now 3-9 Georgia Tech team, 13-7, in which the Bulldogs clinched with a fourth quarter interception. They are still somehow on track to win ten games with a bowl victory this year and remain "status quo."
The 27-3 Loss to Florida on Halloween Was an All-Time Low for Richt
McGarity was fed up after the Tech game and knew a change had to be made. He came out with a statement on Sunday.
"Coach Richt and I met Sunday to discuss the status of our football program, and we mutually agreed that he would step down as head coach and would have the opportunity to accept other duties and responsibilities following the bowl game."
There was nothing mutual about this. Let's be honest here. McGarity fired him. Georgia handled this situation the best way they could, but there would still be those who would not be happy. The Richt supporters in the divided Georgia fan base argued to keep Mark Richt by pointing out what a great guy he is, and he does things the right way. They point out his winning records and his history against bitter, in-state rival Georgia Tech. That's all well and good, but the Georgia football program's measuring stick is not mediocre Tech teams; it's their record against Florida. Richt has gone 5-10 against the Gators and obviously couldn't figure out how to beat them more often than not.
I'm not even going to bring up the bad coaching decisions, head-scratching losses to less talented teams, and choking in the clutch that Georgia has endured multiple times under Richt. Ultimately, Georgia fired Mark Richt because he could never deliver a national title to UGA, and for all the good he did at the coaching helm, he seemed to have hit his ceiling in Athens. I felt it was time, but I was kind of hoping for Richt's sake that he would see the light, make the decision himself, and leave on his own terms.
After all, Georgia deserves better. It's one of the best jobs in college football. Besides a rabid fan base, the Bulldogs are obviously located in one of the riches recruiting states in college football. They can get all the talent they want year in and year out. The job is made easier as the Bulldogs don't have a strong in-state rival they have to compete with in recruiting. It has to be frustrating for the folks in Athens to see the many teams around them with titles, but they don't have one despite having top talent with guys like Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, A.J. Green, Justin Houston, Todd Gurley, etc.
To sum things up, I agree with McGarity's decision to fire Mark Richt. As much as I liked and respected the guy, it was a needed change. With the firing of Richt, McGarity made the biggest decision he has ever made as athletic director at the University of Georgia. He better get the right man to replace him (reports say that UGA is getting Kirby Smart), or the AD will get some major heat. I don't envy the position he is in at all. You got to respect McGarity for having the guts to make the move. He and Georgia made a statement that ten win seasons aren't enough; only championships will do at a place like the University of Georgia. As NFL Hall of Fame Head Coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."