Ron Higgins writes, “Mark Richt might be the best football coach in SEC history that has spent the most time on the hot seat.”
I’m of a generation that recalls a time when fifteen and twenty-year head coaching careers at the same school weren’t rare, so on one level, that Mark Richt has survived at Georgia for twelve seasons doesn’t make me sit back and go wow. But when you measure his tenure in Athens by other coaches, as Seth Emerson does here, it’s rather remarkable.
As he summarizes, since Richt’s hire, “the rest of the (pre-expansion) SEC schools have churned through a combined 33 coaches, not counting the four new ones to be hired, or interim coaches.” Thirty three! (Soon to be thirty seven.) Holy moly. The longevity, while remarkable, isn’t what impresses me most about Richt today, though. It’s what he’s done in the last three seasons that does.
As Dan Wetzel puts it,
There are only three coaches still in the hunt for a national title, and Richt is the only one who had significant parts of his fan base either crying for his firing or expecting it to be inevitable just two years ago.
That was December 2010, at the completion of a dreadful 6-7 season, complete with a loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl where the Bulldogs managed a pathetic two field goals against a Conference USA defense. The team was hampered by the suspension of three players, and the program’s first losing season since 1996 came on the heels of an already worrisome 8-5 campaign. Even worse Auburn, coached by Gene Chizik of all people, was about to win a national title starting a superman quarterback from outside Atlanta.
Hey, I plead guilty. And the reality is that you can point to a moment more recent than two years ago if you want. But, perhaps improbably, Richt’s picked himself up, dusted his team off and has the program on the brink of something every Dawg fan has hoped for – maybe even expected – since the 2002 season. That is something to celebrate.
And it’s worth acknowledging how difficult a task it’s been. I’ve written before that I’m a believer in the battleship theory of big college football programs like Georgia’s. They’re hard to turn around quickly. That’s especially true when you’re asking a coach who’s steered the battleship into troubled waters in the first place to be the one to make the course correction. Inertia is a bitch. Yet here we are. Richt’s made an effort to reinvent his approach, often at the cost of affecting personal relationships that matter greatly to him, and it’s made a difference. We can all argue about the timing, but the truth is that there are plenty of coaches who wouldn’t have the humility to admit that what once worked no longer did.
Yes, the header is facetious in a way. The preseason expectations surrounding Georgia were high enough that this 11-win season isn’t as special as what’s gone on at places like Florida, Ole Miss and Texas A&M (although there is this). But as a fan who’s watched this program’s one step forward, two steps back dance for more years than he’s liked, this has turned out to be an exceptional year, one to savor. And that’s why from my selfish standpoint, Mark Richt is my COTY.