The Richt decision: the past

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.  Mark Richt is an admirable human being who also did a lot for the Georgia football program.

Do not forget where things were when Richt was hired.  Jim Donnan recruited well, but had a poor track record against rivals.  His teams would sparkle on occasion, but flop in the spotlight.  He never took Georgia to an SECCG.

In his second season, Mark Richt changed all that.  Georgia won its first conference title in twenty years.  More than that, Richt raised the program to a level of national success it hadn’t seen since the glory years of 1980-3.

He leaves with an impressive legacy, both on the field and in the way he conducted himself off of it.  And for that, we should all be extremely grateful.  It’s also worth remembering in the mercenary world of D-1 coaching, he meant what he said about wanting to be in Athens, no matter what that might have cost him if he’d had an aggressive agent negotiating for him.

None of which is to say he was perfect.  I got a good tasting of what was in store for the program in his first year.  I remember walking out of Sanford Stadium after the loss to South Carolina thinking it really wasn’t much different than what I’d seen from Donnan.  Then came the incredible win in Knoxville, when I saw that the team had bought into its new head coach.  Even the questionable clock management that I saw in the losses to Auburn and Boston College didn’t make me think Richt didn’t have the program going in the right direction.  And the next few years bore that out.

Through the ups and downs, I remained convinced that Richt was the best man for the job until the bowl game loss to Michigan State.  At that point, after watching the down years of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, when that sense of buying in had worn away, I no longer took it as a given that Georgia was at its best playing under Richt.  That’s not to say I wasn’t incredibly proud of the way the team suddenly regained its confidence in the middle of the next season, or the way that the team tried to fight its way through the injury-plagued 2013 season.  But the emotional attachment to Richt himself was gone.

Richt’s fatal flaw, if you want to call it that, wasn’t about a lack of passion or not being obsessed enough by the job.  It was something more mundane:  an inability to stay on top of details.  We saw that on the field far too regularly in things like clock management.  But it also manifested itself in how he let his coordinators operate.  When he picked good men for those roles, the program thrived, and when he didn’t… well, he came close to losing his job over Willie Martinez and couldn’t survive what his 2015 staff did.

I give Richt credit for being very good about reacting to problems, once he realized he had them.  There are a lot of coaches who wouldn’t have been able to right the ship after 2009.  Georgia wound up playing in two straight SECCGs, and was a heartbreak away from playing for a national title in 2012.  Roster mismanagement, which was the major reason for the program’s recent decline, appeared to be in Georgia’s rear view mirror with the good work last year and this.

There was always that sense of the little boy and the dike, though.  We’d see one problem be addressed, only to see something else pop up.  And that never seemed to end.

Seth Emerson and Chip Towers reported that the decision to start Fauta against Florida was the back breaker for many of the boosters.  As poor a move as that was – and the implementation was even worse than the decision itself – I’m not sure in and of itself it would have been enough to do Richt in.  For that matter, going 19-6 over the last two seasons wouldn’t have been enough to end his career, either.  But as the last misstep in a continuing series, that’s a different story.

It’s sad to see any fifteen-year career end and Richt is a good enough man that I’m genuinely sorry it’s happened to him.  But I can’t deny that it was a decision that couldn’t be justified, even if the people making the call are at least as flawed in their management as Richt was.  When all is said and done, the little details matter.

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39 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football

39 responses to “The Richt decision: the past

  1. IAmAChubbyMan

    Good leaders recognize their flaws and adapt. Richt never was able to. Hence why in the end he failed.

    Now that this is done and we can get someone in here who can steer the ship where we need it to go, it would truly be tragic if Richt is not involved in some way in the program in a capacity that will allow his strengths to shine through.

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  2. The other Doug

    The coaching staff had 2 weeks to prepare for Florida. I expected the coaches to burn the midnight oil and come up with some creative ways to move the chains. Instead they kept the same system that wasn’t working and started the QB with the wrong skill set. Their plan was “maybe he can make something happen”.

    After the loss they woke up and started scheming, but it was too late.

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  3. I certainly don’t mean to pile on, but the failure to recruit and develop a quarterback after Murray left was indicative of what felt to me like a continuous lack of planning on Richt’s part.

    Everyone knew 2015 would be a year where we were again starting a new quarterback. Richt easily could have told Hutson “no thanks”, recruited a couple more qbs in 2013 and 2014, then had a real competition with solid recruits to develop a qb in 2014. Hutson was a DGD and did a fine job, but I won’t ever shake the feeling that Richt went all-in on the Gurley plan and sacrificed 2015 in the hopes we’d pull it off in 2014.

    This pattern of short-shortsightedness wasn’t isolated. There were years when the OL cupboard was bare or laden with seniors, and it wouldn’t get restocked in a timely manner to account for long-term needs. Undersigning. Willie.

    I love Richt as a person and will miss him. I both feel incredibly bad for him and not really sorry for him.

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    • The other Doug

      Lemay, Ramsey, and Park didn’t work out.

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      • Lemay was gone a long time ago (left Jan 1, 2014) and it was long obvious he wasn’t going to be the guy anyway. Going into 2015 with only 2 questionable qb prospects (Park – who they obviously thought less of than Ramsey, who can’t win the starting job over Bauta or Lambert – and Ramsey) on the roster was a huge mistake. Bama went into 2014 with 4 guys on scholly then went out and got Coker to compete too. We brought in Lambert and ran off Park.

        That we couldn’t pick up at least 1 or two more guys in 2013, 2014, or even a true Frosh in 2015, even three star guys, to compete for the job was a massive failure.

        His plan, and this isn’t debatable, was to start 4 different qbs from 2013-2016, three of which had no starting experience in the SEC. That’s a lack of planning and a recipe for disaster.

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        • rchris

          All true. The biggest mistake was being overconfident about Ramsey’s development.

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        • Mayor

          You are right about the QBs but, to me, the biggest consistent problem has been on STs. Richt’s failure to address that problem which had gone on for YEARS contributed greatly to, if not outright caused, his departure.

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  4. doofusdawg

    I resemble that remark.

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  5. 1979 Dooley

    2 NC’s in 107 years. Unbelievable that Richt couldn’t get at least that many in 15. This will rewind the clock to the 1990’s. Enjoy the lowest form of mediocrity. I hope to God we don’t get a Saban protegè. They’ve all sucked.

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    • anon

      yea…jimbo sux, mcelwain sux, dantonio sux….this type of mentality is why we are where we are….almost like we are scared to succeed. I don’t Kirby will suck either honestly…just a guess

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  6. 1979 Dooley

    This will rewind the clock to the 1990’s. Enjoy the lowest form of mediocrity. I hope to God we don’t get a Saban protegè. They’ve all sucked.

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  7. I give Richt credit for being very good about reacting to problems, once he realized he had them.

    There was always that sense of the little boy and the dike, though. We’d see one problem be addressed, only to see something else pop up. And that never seemed to end.

    This, this, a thousand times this. I would always find myself congratulating Richt for being willing to change and fix problems – then the more I thought about it, would find myself thinking something along the lines of “But why was that allowed to be a problem in the first place?”, or “But why it take so long to realize that it was a problem?”.

    It always felt like we were behind the curve, always chasing the curve but by the time we made the right moves, the curve had already moved again. Meanwhile we rested on our laurels of making the right changes for another season or two before realizing that curve had already left us behind – yet again. Then we’d lather, rinse, and repeat.

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    • Mayor

      Sorry, Rev. Special teams. He ignored that problem for years. His absolute refusal to admit that STs were a problem and then do something about it (either hire a ST Co-ordinator or assume that role himself like Meyer) caused many if not most of the bad failures the Dawgs had during the Richt era. Watch a replay of this season’s Bama game. Score was 7-3 Bama. Georgia gets the ball deep in Georgia territory. O goes nowhere. Punt blocked and recovered for a TD by Bama. Game over right there. Perfect example.

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  8. DC Weez

    Mark Richt = DGD! Greg McGarity = 0

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  9. Bill Glenn

    “Attention to detail” was absolutely the problem. Leaders have to get the big picture, but they must always be vigilant about the little things. As a fan, you could see that rival coaches found ways to exploit the little things that Richt could not get a handle on.

    It is tough to not be a micromanager as a leader, but you need to have the capacity to do it, and ride your lieutenants to be micromanagers while you focus on the big picture. Richt found that with Bobo and Pruitt. He never found it with other coordinators and special teams (no coach). This prevented him from being a championship coach.

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  10. TennesseeDawg

    Who’d a thunk a Albanian boy with a funny name would be the straw that broke the back

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    • Bill Glenn

      Schottenheimer was the coach killer. It was Schotty that did him in.

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      • SAtownDawg

        +1000…that and choosing Ramsey over Watson

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      • Agree. But Richt just had gone through the Grantham to Pruitt transition and had been espousing the wonders of having a guy that could teach and didn’t run a terribly complicated system. So what does he do? He brings in an NFL guy that hasn’t been in college (much less high school) in years that has a long history of not developing players.

        Richt did this to himself.

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  11. I agree with most of this but my issue is that I have zero confidence in the decision makers ability to lead this program to the next level. Some of these boosters have been around, affecting decisions, since Dooley. Since Dooley, we’ve been playing catch up with the big boys. Now we all of sudden have a thirst for greatness?? Lol. Color me skeptical.

    I said yesterday that I’d moved past Richt getting fired but that wasn’t true. I’m actually really sad about the whole thing. The man did a lot for this program, and for me, and I feel like we’re haven’t done right by him just because some folks got a wild hair. I can see arguments for letting him go but the whole thing needs to be blown up.

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  12. sniffer

    My statement about Richt has been that he’s stubborn and too trusting. He trusted those around him to know what to do and do it. His bullheaded stubbornness was what was so maddening to me. I like a coach that intends to impose his will on the other team, but when you can’t, you have to do something else. He didn’t do that. He stuck with his way. That’s why he is gone, IMO.

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  13. JT (the other one)

    Wow. This why you have a very successful blog and I read it. You captured my sentiments perfectly.

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  14. paul

    Senator, I think this may be the most honest and clear headed description of Richt and the issues that led to his dismissal as I have yet read. I too wish we had someone other than McGarity and company making the decision on his replacement. No matter how much we might like Kriby Smart, I don’t think bringing in a coordinator with no head coaching experience can be described as an upgrade. It sounds a whole lot more like a decision based on economics. Which, unfortunately, has been one of our biggest problems for many years. In retrospect, the opening of the checkbook last year looks a whole lot more like ‘give him enough rope’ than any real desire to improve the program.

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  15. Semper Fi Dawg

    Yup, I liked Richt. Was a little sad with the news, but all good things must come to an end. I do think he just got passed by his completion and couldn’t make changes quick enough to catch up. Hiring JP was the first step, but Schotty set him back 3 steps. Hope he sticks around to head up some type of mentoring program for all teams on campus. He can be the UGA czar of mentorship!

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  16. @gatriguy

    15 years with the same employer is a long time in 2015. If continuous improvement is not in your DNA, then it’s almost impossible not to wear out your welcome.

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  17. Bright Idea

    Richt’s biggest mistake was not fighting for the program while he had the capital to do so. He too easily accepted “no” from Adams because he simply did not want to leave Athens so he wouldn’t bluff the administration. That turned into complacency for the whole operation and was a big part of the undersigning problem, IMO.

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  18. Jeff

    Senator-one of your finest and most insightful posts ever. It is a bittersweet and sad day for the Uga family. To think otherwise is foolish. I admit I have been in the Richt corner from day 1, and am truly saddened to see him not go out the way he would have wanted. Change is inevitable- I’d just hoped against hope it would be on his terms.

    That said, I’m reminded of the old adage, the enemy of the great is the good, not the bad. Richt excelled in adversity, and proved time & again he could rally the boys when all looked lost. What he never managed to do, (and this became his downfall, if you will) was thrive in prosperity when he need led to manage those “little details” the most.
    I am terribly disappointed to see him go…a finer man will never walk that sideline. But ultimately, his failure to stay on top of the details cost his opportunity to continue to lead these young men. That said, I’m reminded that growth always comes with discomfort or pain. Change isn’t easy, and success is even harder. My biggest concern is those fans just assuming that we’ll get the new hire right the first time around. Notwithstanding the hiring record at B-M, P5 history tells us the odds are against replacing a winning coach with one that wins at an even higher level. That should be the real concern now for us all.

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  19. UGA85

    Truly, 15 years in one place seems like an eternity. It takes a very special, adaptable person to be a successful coach in one place for 15 years. CMR did it for about half of that, which is better than most. He will be fine, and UGA will be fine. It was time.

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  20. There was always that sense of the little boy and the dike, though. We’d see one problem be addressed, only to see something else pop up. And that never seemed to end.

    Thank you. That feeling of always playing whack-a-mole was one of the things I was trying to convey (much less succinctly, alas) in my big long Tumblr post from a few weeks back. And just like you, while I kept rooting for the guy, I stopped living/dying with him, because I knew it just wasn’t healthy.

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  21. W Cobb Dawg

    As I’ve said from time to time, it comes down to opportunities squandered.

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  22. CannonDawg

    “Richt’s fatal flaw, if you want to call it that, wasn’t about a lack of passion or not being obsessed enough by the job. It was something more mundane: an inability to stay on top of details.”

    I agree completely. I often wondered what it was about Mark Richt that was so confounding. With all the things Georgia did so well, why did his teams seem so soft or confused or unprepared more times than an elite program should show, and often at the worst possible times? And I finally concluded last year that it had to be in the details—the sort of ingrained, across-the-board attentiveness to the little things that separate the good from the great—only to have that sense validated this year. I don’t believe the flaw would have been self-correcting, even given additional seasons and a better and deeper roster.

    I hate losing Richt. I hate losing a man who has represented my school with class and dignity. And success. I hope Mark finds something he can be passionate about, something that will allow him to influence other people in a positive way, which is one of his great gifts, if not his greatest. Thanks, Coach, for fifteen years of good and honorable service.

    We move on, with fingers crossed and the eternal hope of a Bulldog. May we all look back on this as the start of something bigger and bolder.

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  23. Athens Townie

    Great post.

    Totally agree with the sentiment and the primary diagnosis.

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  24. south fl dawg

    You are on to something with details but there’s got to be more.

    Some details were never a problem while others just wouldn’t be addressed. I think the success Richt had early on led him to some wrong conclusions about what worked (and what coaches were up to the job). Then he was slow to make changes. By the time he did, a lot of goodwill had eroded.

    The administration above him created plenty of obstacles too. I would have been exasperated. This is why I think Richt looked worn out, not because of long hours.

    I don’t pretend to know how to fix it but you can see it.

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