Only a couple years ago Richt was considered one of College Football's Best Coaches
Richt Deserves More Time
For the past year Georgia's Mark Richt has been pressured by those in Georgia to produce better results. Richt suffered his first losing season in 2010 with a 6-7 record and entering this season and many believe 2011 could be Richt's last. Saturday's 45-42 loss to South Carolina gives Georgia their first 0-2 start since Jim Donnan's first season in 1996 and the seat has gotten hotter. Still, Georgia Fans need to be patient and allow Richt to dig the program out of this hole.
When Georgia hired Mark Richt following the 2000 season they hired the hottest assistant coach in America. As offensive coordinator at Florida State, Richt had assisted the Seminoles in getting to two straight BCS Championship Games. Other than Nebraska, there wasn't a better program in the 90s than Florida State. Georgia on the other hand was winning more than they lost under Jim Donnan, but the program was failing to compete with Tennessee and Florida in the East. Prior to Richt the Bulldogs had gone almost 20 years without a SEC Championship. It was 1982, Herschel Walker's junior season, when Georgia last won the SEC Championship. From 1983-2000 Georgia had only 8 top 25 finishes and were far from the nation's elite. This was a Bulldog program that needed a spark.
Richt's first season was nothing special, but in 2002 he put together the best team Georgia had seen since the 1980 National Championship Season. With a dominating defense and an exciting offense, the Bulldogs put together an 11-1 regular season and Richt earned the program their first ever trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Georgia whipped Arkansas in the 2002 SEC Championship game 30-3 and then Richt went on to beat his mentor Bobby Bowden in the Sugar Bowl 26-13. That 2002 Georgia team finished the year #3 in the BCS Standings behind Ohio State and Miami.
Richt would continue his winning ways for the next several seasons. From 2002-2008 Richt had a 74-18 record, averaging nearly 11 wins a season! In that 7 year span, the Dogs would finished ranked in the top 25 every year and had 6 top 10 finishes. Georgia had taken over Florida's spot as the dominating team in the SEC East.
Critics of Richt stated that despite the great run from 2002-2008, he failed to produce a National Championship. These same critics ignore the fact that Richt's 2002 team had a better SEC record and better overall record than the 2007 LSU Football team that won the National Championship. Richt just didn't have the luck Les Miles had since 2002 didn't produce anywhere near the number of upsets that the crazy 2007 season did. Plus, in 2007 Georgia actually finished #2 in the AP behind LSU. The Tigers and Bulldogs both finished the year with 2 losses, but the two teams never met that season. Had Richt's team gotten the nod over Miles' team then there is little doubt that UGA would've whipped Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game as well.
Following the departures of Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford, it was accepted that the 09 season would be a rebuilding one for Georgia. The Dogs finished 8-5 and for the first time in his head coaching career, Richt's team failed to finish in the top 25. The Dogs followed up 2009 with a disappointing 2010 season that saw Georgia suffer its first losing season in 15 years. Now the Dogs are 0-2 and despite Richt's amazing success, fans are ready to jump ship.
Younger Georgia fans will forget that prior to Walker, Vince Dooley struggled a bit in the late 70s. When Georgia won the National Championship in 1980, Dooley's Dogs had only gone 6-5 the season prior and actually had a losing season in 1977. Every coach in the history of the SEC that has coached more than a decade in the league(like Richt) has been through these type of growing pains. Prior to a 10-1 season in 1959 Wallace Butts had 4 losing seasons in 5 years for Georgia. Bear Bryant only won 6 games in 69 and 70, prior to becoming the coach of the decade in College Football in the 70s. Every coach suffers through growing pains, but when given a chance to build off these growing pains the ones who proved they are great in the past typically win big in the future.
The foundation for a great team in the future is there for Georgia. The Dogs have the nation's best freshman running back in Isaiah Crowell and a future NFL QB in Aaron Murray. There is enough talent surrounding these two players to get the Dogs back to the top of the SEC East sooner rather than later. With Tennessee and Florida both having recent coaching turnover there is no reason to thing Georgia can't get ahead of those two programs. Garcia graduates from South Carolina this season and will start 2012 with an unproven QB that isn't likely to have Alshon Jeffery to throw to. There is a great chance UGA enters 2012 as the team to beat. We don't even need to look that far into the future though. 2011 is far from over as the toughest part of Georgia's schedule is over. Unless Florida or Tennessee go beyond 2011 expectations the Dogs won't face a team better than Boise State or South Carolina the rest of the year. The chance to finish 10-2 is a real possibility.
If a change is made then who do the Dogs get that has a strong resume than Richt? How many guys out there are going to come to Georgia that have won two SEC Championships and multiple division titles? How many guys with multiple BCS Appearances are available? Sure, you can take your chance on a hot assistant like Gus Malzahn, but what kind of defensive staff can he bring in? You could go with a young up and coming head coach like Dan Mullen, but his resume isn't as strong as Richt and Mullen has yet to beat the top teams in the SEC West. Georgia is a fantastic job, but the fact is that the elite coaches nationally aren't leaving their current jobs for any other position. This was proven during Florida's coaching search last season and in Tennessee's 2 seasons ago. You also have to factor in that Ohio State, a top 5 College Football job, is open this year and will get most attention from any elite coaches who could jump.
Richt has also remained loyal to Georgia. He could've easily jumped ship last year and went back to Miami, his alma mater. Miami would've loved to have landed a big name SEC coach that one played QB for the Canes. It would've been an easy way out for Richt, but he never even flirted with the idea to head to Miami and chose to stay a Dog.
Georgia is a great College Football program and certainly has all it takes to be a championship program, but now is not the time to make a head coaching chance. Richt is a proven winner in the SEC, still very young, and is one of the most respected men in the game. Coaching changes always brings instant happiness, but firing a proven winner in the SEC can prove to be dangerous. After all, how has Tennessee's firing of Phil Fulmer worked out?