Some things in life are predictable. Whether it’s a Nick Saban-coached squad having a solid defense, a Bill Snyder-coached team exceeding expectations, or a rivalry week upset that completely changes the national championship picture, there are some things that you can simply count on every year.
Add Mark Richt’s status at Georgia to that list.
We all know the drill. As soon as the Bulldogs lose a game, the following message (or some variant) shows up in letters to the editor or on message boards:
“Following the recent loss to (opponent), Mark Richt needs to be fired. He’s clearly not the man to lead our program because he’s lost too many big games. We should be able to compete for the national championship every season like we did under Vince Dooley.”
Let’s address these points one by one.
First of all, the comparison with Vince Dooley isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. During his storied tenure in Athens, the Bulldogs played only six conference games until his final campaign in 1988, when league schedule expanded to seven games. With only 10 teams in the conference, it wasn’t uncommon for the best two teams in the league to avoid playing each other. This was the case during several of Georgia’s championship seasons, including 1966 (didn’t play co-champion Alabama), 1980 (didn’t play No. 6 Alabama or No. 19 Mississippi State – the only two teams in the league that finished the season in the rankings), and 1981 (didn’t play co-champion Alabama).
The last sentence makes an important point. In three of the seasons that Dooley’s Dawgs won or shared the SEC title – including the 1980 campaign when they won the national championship – Georgia avoided playing Alabama.
Why is that important? Because the head coach in Tuscaloosa during that span was someone even the most casual college football fan would know: Paul “Bear” Bryant, who as legend had it could “take his’n and beat your’n, or he can take your’n and beat his’n.”
On the other hand, the challenges Mark Richt’s teams face are significantly more difficult. Today, every team in the SEC has to play eight conference games, and might have to pick up a ninth sometime in the future. Unlike Dooley’s squads, there’s no way to win the league championship without playing the other top teams in the league. Whether it was during the regular season or in the league title game, the Dawgs couldn’t hoist the championship trophy without beating the likes of Alabama or LSU.
When viewed in that context, it’s easy to see why the Dooley-Richt comparison isn’t a very accurate one. Richt’s job is way tougher now — especially given the SEC’s rise to prominence over the last 10-15 years — than Dooley’s ever was.
To some the previous point doesn’t matter. They don’t care how tough Richt’s job is; they “want to compete for championships every year like we did under Coach Dooley.”
Actually, Georgia didn’t compete for championships under Dooley every year. In fact, the Dawgs finished fifth or worse in the SEC in 9 of his 25 seasons.
Stated differently, UGA was more likely to finish fifth or worse in the league under Dooley than it was to win a conference championship. Remember, his teams didn’t always have to play the elite squads in the league to win the title.
Despite having a tougher road to hoe than Dooley did, Richt’s teams have been much more consistent. Even during a down year, Georgia finished no lower than third in the East under his watch, which is roughly the equivalent of a fifth-place finish in the SEC Dooley coached in. Richt’s squads have also finished first in the division six times and finished third only four times, meaning that the team was more likely to finish at the top of the division than in the middle of the pack.
Also worth noting: even though he’s been in Athens for 10 fewer years than Dooley was, Richt already has more double-digit winning seasons. He also has the same number of top-ten finishes as Dooley did, guiding the Dawgs to eight.
It’s tough to argue with those results. The fact that Richt has reached some of the same goals as Dooley in ten fewer seasons speaks volumes about how great a coach he is, and how lucky Georgia – or any other school for that matter – is to have him on the sidelines.
Yet, for some fans, having better numbers than Dooley doesn’t mean anything. In their eyes, Richt is a great coach that simply can’t win the big one.
This line of thinking is illogical. After all, people used to say the same thing about Hall-of-Fame coaches Tom Osborne and Bobby Bowden. If Nebraska had fired Osborne after 15 seasons for not “winning the big one” – as Georgia “fans” are suggesting should happen with Richt – he wouldn’t have been around to lead the Huskers to three national championships from 1994 through 1997. Similarly, if Florida State would have dismissed Bowden after 15 years, he wouldn’t have been around for the ‘Noles national championships in 1993 and 1999; nor would he have hired current head coach Jimbo Fisher, who led the FSU to another one in 2013.
To paraphrase Dr. Phil, “who would that have worked out for you?”
It wouldn’t have, which is all the more reason Richt should remain the Bulldogs’ coach until he decides to hang up his whistle. Even though he has a tougher job than his predecessors, he’s compiled the same or better numbers as a Hall-of-Fame coach. Given all the games he’s won at Georgia, it’s only a matter of time before he wins “the big one,” since apparently the 2002 and 2005 SEC Championship Games don’t seem to count to some people (and you know who you are!).
However, the Dawgs have to keep him around in order to make that happen.