The University of Georgia football program will honor former head coach Mark Richt in Athens when the Bulldogs welcome Missouri to Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium, and it’s about time.
Mention the name Mark Richt to a Georgia fan and you’re likely to get one of two responses…
Glad he’s gone.
Sure do miss him.
There’s no middle ground when it comes to the former Georgia head coach, but while the fans may be split on whether or not they’re happy to see him gone, one thing is unmistakable.
Mark Richt’s legacy is secure, and the University of Georgia recognizing what he did for the school and the football program are long overdue.
Richt came from Florida State in 2001 where he was the offensive coordinator under the late Bobby Bowden and picked up the pieces of a once powerhouse program that had fallen into ruin under Ray Goff and Jim Donnan. He reshaped the Bulldogs into a team that once again had to be respected.
He won. A lot. Georgia was in the conversation for SEC championships and even national championships nearly every season of his tenure at Georgia, something that hadn’t happened since the 1980s.
While Georgia never quite got it done in terms of winning a national title under Richt (and we have the BCS to thank for that in a couple of instances) his signature on the Georgia football program is indelibly printed and, in many ways, has been carried on by his successor, Kirby Smart.
Mark Richt deserved better from the University of Georgia brass.
After 15 years and some growing futility and restlessness, was it time for Mark Richt to go? Probably. It was obvious even to the most staunch Richt supporter that he’d gone as far as he was going to go in the changing landscape of college football.
It was the way he was shown the door that was not only surprising but downright disrespectful to a man who not only meant so much to a football team and a university, but to parents and colleagues all over the nation. The name of Mark Richt carried respect, and his termination lacked even the slightest bit of it.
He deserved better than a “See ya, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”, better than a blunt firing that shocked even Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
Mark Richt deserved to go out on his terms and to leave Georgia with his head held high, waving a humble farewell to the fans at Sanford Stadium as he walked into the tunnel one final time. But former athletic director Greg McGarity and current university president Jere Morehead never gave Richt that chance.
Now, on Saturday, November 6, 2021, six years after he was so unceremoniously dismissed, the former Bulldog head coach will get his due.
Kirby Smart has built on the foundation that was laid by Mark Richt. He’s enjoying the fruits of new practice facilities, as well as locker rooms and a recruiting lounge at Sanford Stadium. Mark Richt fought tooth-and-nail to get the Unversity to invest in such things but wasn’t here when the checks for over $175 million were finally cut.
"“Well, it just didn’t happen in my time. But I’ve gotten a chance to see most of it, and it’s pretty spectacular, I can say that. It certainly helps in recruiting and people’s impression of how serious is Georgia when it comes to being great to being the best. You can see it.”"
This isn’t to say the improved facilities and all the window dressing would have saved Richt’s job, but it would have been fitting to be able to see him at least enjoy some of it.
So now Richt and his family, who spent the better part of 15 years standing on the sidelines handing out Gatorade and treating the Georgia football team as an extension of their own family — will stand on Dooley Field and feel the love and gratitude of the Bulldog Nation.
It will be a scene that should have happened in 2015. A long-overdue tribute to a man who lives his life in the manner that we wish for all our children.
Humble. Grateful. Forgiving. Blessed.
Our hats will be off for Mark Richt as a Bulldog, and everything he stood for while part of a special place. And if Georgia wins a national championship in 2021, you can bet that Mark Richt will know in his heart that they couldn’t have done it without everything he accomplished while he was there.