Since 2017, UGA football has finished no lower than No. 3 in the recruiting rankings and has signed two consensus No. 1 classes.
Under head coach Kirby Smart, UGA football has become a recruiting juggernaut. In four seasons, Georgia has signed 19 five-star and 39 top-100 recruits. This kind of prolonged success on the recruiting trail is unprecedented at Georgia and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Why couldn’t this success come sooner, during Mark Richt’s tenure? Richt had some outstanding recruiting classes here and there, most notably in 2006 and 2009. But while Richt’s classes rarely dropped out of the top 10, that’s not saying much in the SEC where four or five schools crack the top 10 each year.
Georgia routinely finished with the third, fourth or fifth-best class in the SEC and that’s around where it routinely finished in the final SEC standings. Even the ultra-hyped “Dream Team” (2011) and “Ring Team (2012) classes were only third-best in the conference.
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What about Richt’s recruiting style kept him from signing the best class in the SEC. Lack of recent championships clearly wasn’t a factor, Smart signed a No. 1 class following a 12-year SEC Championship drought. How was Richt beaten in recruiting by Georgia’s closest rivals so often?
The game changed
In many ways, Mark Richt was the right coach at the wrong time. He was a fantastic coach for an era of the sport which had already passed. In the 1980s and 90s, college football was arguably at its most diverse schematically.
The best teams of this era included Miami and Florida State with their pro-style, balanced attacks; Nebraska with its I-bone option; Oklahoma with the wishbone option; Notre Dame running the split-back veer; and many others centering their offense either around a downhill rushing attack or an early spread passing game.
his diversity was reflected in recruiting. Teams recruited players to fit their systems. There’s no point in signing a big arm pocket passer when you run the wishbone. Why sign a fleet-footed fullback when most of your calls are passing plays out of an ace formation?
As college football entered the mid-2000s, elite teams began abandoning single-scheme offenses in favor of offenses that blended multiple schemes. Again, this change was reflected in recruiting. Teams no longer tailored recruiting around their offenses, rather, teams began tailoring their offenses to the skillset of their roster. This concept has even spread to the defense.
Nick Saban and Urban Meyer spearheaded this change at the highest level, with more coaches adopting this new style as years went on. Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo dabbled with some of these changes, but they never went all in.
When Bobo left Georgia, instead of hiring a new offensive coordinator who would keep Georgia’s offense progressing, Richt chose Brian Schottenheimer. Georgia’s offense actually regressed in 2015 and Mark Richt was fired after the season.
Today, recruiting is all about talent hoarding. That’s why there’s usually such a substantial gap between the top two or three classes and the rest. In 2020, the top three schools (Georgia, Alabama and Clemson) were separated by just 3.61 points in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. LSU was over nine points behind in fourth place and Tennessee was 51.84 points behind in 10th place. Each conference has similar gaps in their respective rankings.
Mark Richt couldn’t keep up with change, it cost Georgia championships and it eventually cost Richt his job. Kirby Smart has brought those changes and he continues to bring those changes to UGA football. He already had the recruiting part down, but the hiring of Todd Monken is a large step towards getting the schematic part figured out.