Upon Mark Richt stepping down as Georgia’s head football coach, the Bulldog nation remembers a man that did just as much on the field as off it.
I am forever grateful as a Bulldog that Mark Richt chose to come to Athens on December 26, 2000. I had just graduated from the University of Georgia as a proud Grady grad, and was living in Washington D.C., watching every game of Jim Donnan’s last year between the hedges on my tiny 16 inch tube TV in my tiny studio apartment in Alexandria, Virginia.
My freshman year started with Jim Donnan as the head coach, losing to Southern Miss. His final year was, as you may well remember, the team he had waited 55 years to coach. While he fared better than Ray Goff did at the helm, he couldn’t get us over the hump to the next level, and he couldn’t beat hated rivals year after year. So started the Mark Richt era after the Oahu Bowl.Coach Richt and I at the April 2008 Touchdown Club of Athens meeting.
With Mark Richt, we went to our first-ever SEC Championship game, and won the SEC title for the first time since 1982. The Dawgs won another SEC title in 2005, and played in the SEC Championship game a total of five times. The Richt-led Bulldogs compiled a 145-51 during his 15-year tenure.
In his first eight years at Georgia, Mark Richt had a winning record vs top-15 teams (12-10). In the past seven, Richt-led teams are 5-16 against top-15 teams, and had nine losses against unranked teams.
The hiring of Brian Schottenheimer was a head-scratcher last year. I would have loved to keep Mike Bobo in Athens, but I knew that if we wanted him back in Athens as a head coach in the future, he had to get head coaching experience elsewhere first. Also, his entire collegiate and professional career has been in Athens except for one year at Jacksonville State as the quarterback coach, and some variety on the resume is always advised in coaching.
With Schottenheimer at the helm, I questioned many of the moves made on offense. The most notable was the starting of Faton Bauta against Florida without employing his most useful asset: his legs. That was the nail in the coffin for me. In my Florida game column, I mentioned that Bauta would have been a good fit against the Alabama defense, which had problems defending a mobile QB in the Ole Miss game. If Richt couldn’t step in and put in his word, where I am sure he still has influence in the offensive playbook, what is he doing as the head coach?
While the offense flourished from 2010-2014, the defense was the weakness of the team. Now that Pruitt has turned the defense around, the offense is sputtering. I take that back, it ran out of gas after pouring it on the hapless Gamecocks.
You can only change coordinators and assistant coaches so many times before the head coach has to take some blame. Was that the case in Athens?
Richt has done his job of taking Georgia to the next level, where three losses are unacceptable. Under Donnan, we considered that a successful year. There would be dancing on the streets on North Avenue with three losses. But we don’t want to compare ourselves to Georgia Tech or South Carolina. We want to be mentioned in the same sentence as Alabama.
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It’s not just that there are three losses, but it is how the losses happened moreso. If we want to take this team to the next level, the time has come. I will always be a fan of Mark Richt as a person, but even as one of his most devoted fans, I knew the time had come for a change to get to the next level.
Is it possible to run a program with integrity AND win championships? Richt fit the requirements on the first part, but Georgia never got past the SEC championships in the trophy case. Are the two requirements at Georgia, integrity and championships, mutually exclusive? Can we have both?
When you look at it with your head, it makes sense. When you look at it with your heart, it doesn’t.
The most important thing that Mark Richt did was as a man, not as a coach. His ability to mentor, be a father and turn young men around is what will be remembered by his players, coaches and fans far longer than the games that he coached while in Athens.
Without Mark Richt, we may not have the two SEC titles in 2002 and 2005. We may not have won the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 2003 and January 1, 2008.
Without Mark Richt, we may not have the Paul Oliver Network. His players, coaches, staff and many fans have grown to love the man and his family over the last 15 years. He will always be a Bulldog to me.
From former players:
Chad Gloer, 2006-2010
Ken Veal, 1999-2003
Des Williams, 2003-2007
Des Williams, 2003-2007