The Fire Mark Richt Debate Verdict

September 29, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

Athens, Georgia is in a state of panic due to the recent struggles of the Georgia Bulldogs. It has been the general consensus, until recently, that while Mark Richt hasn’t been in danger of losing his job, he has definitely been feeling the heat. That’s why he brought in a new defensive coordinator this past off-season in Todd Grantham (after an extended courtship of UGA alum, and current Alabama defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart, who I actually think will make a fine head coach someday). However, a loss last Saturday to Mississippi State dropped the Bulldogs to 1-3 overall and an embarrassing 0-3 in SEC play. What to do with coach Richt?

Bleacher Fan took the route of giving the heav- ho to Richt. While stating Richt’s credentials, which seem to be rather impressive on the surface, Bleacher Fan notes that other coaches in the SEC like Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, and Les Miles have blown his doors off and won at least one national championship since Richt became head coach at the University of Georgia. It’s also stated that Georgia seems to be underachieving given the talent on the roster. The 2008 team, with future first round NFL picks Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, started out the year ranked number one… but ended up the year playing in the Capital One Bowl. It’s a New Year’s Day Bowl, but not a BCS Bowl, which should be the goal at a school like Georgia.

Optimist Prime takes the opposing view, preaching thatUGA fans should remain patient with Mark Richt. Richt is a proven winner in arguably the nation’s best conference, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t be again. Three examples are brought up that I think are relevant, but one really hit me.

Frank Solich was fired after a 9-3 season in 2004 at Nebraska. Keep in mind Nebraska was arguably THE program of the 1990s with two national championships. But Solich’s 58-19 record had been eclipsed by the success at the time by Bob Stoops and Mack Brown. That’s the same kind of success Meyer and Saban are experiencing at Florida and Alabama, respectively, right now. However, we all recall what happened to Nebraska after Solich was fired. Bill Callahan. A West coast offense at Nebraska? They are just now recovering after that disaster.

Back to the situation at hand…

There are definitely some issues in Athens, in addition to the ones on the field, and Richt deserves some responsibility for that. Yet another UGA football player (the tenth this season) was recently arrested for DUI and underage possession (he certainly wasn’t celebrating a UGA victory). He was quickly dismissed from the team as new athletic director Greg McGarity, himself replacing someone arrested for DUI, has indicated this kind of activity won’t be tolerated. And as Bleacher Fan stated, Georgia consistently produces top ten recruiting classes. Where are the kids going? Other than spending time in Clarke County Jail, where are they going? (Note: Former UGA quarterback Zack Mettenberger was arrested in March in Valdosta, Georgia, where Sports Geek and I went to college). I’m on record as saying that recruiting is hit or miss to some extent. But…

Let’s look at the context of this season. As we all know, A.J. Green has missed the first four games of the season due to, quite frankly, poor judgment on his part. Richt had no control over this. He’s playing a redshirt freshman at quarterback in Aaron Murray. He’s going to be a good one, but he still doesn’t have his best weapon at wide receiver. Things look grim right now. And they are grim.

But look at the next four games on the schedule. Starting this weekend the Dawgs go to Colorado, return home to face Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and then travel to Kentucky. All four of those games are winnable. Win those four and all of a sudden Georgia is 5-3 before the trip to Jacksonville to take on the Gators. I just don’t think now is the time to pull the plug on Mark Richt. He hasn’t YET had a losing season, which is quite remarkable if you think about it. If UGA finishes 6-6, or thereabouts, at the end of the season, then some tough decisions may have to be made. But now is not that time. Let’s not panic just yet. Let’s see this thing play out. That’s why I am awarding the verdict to Optimist Prime.

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The Fire Mark Richt Debate

September 28, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

The heat has been turned up in Athens, Georgia!

For the past ten years the Georgia Bulldogs have been one of the top programs in the SEC. Ever since Mark Richt became head coach in 2001 UGA has consistently contended for conference championships, even winning a couple in 2002 and 2005. The program, after going through a lull in the 1990s, had reached the status it once had in the 1980s.

Things began to go downhill last season. An 8-5 finish last season capped off with an Independence Bowl win isn’t exactly what Bulldog Nation wants to see. The fans want bowl games in New Orleans and, at the very least, in Florida on New Years… not in Shreveport in late December. All could have been smoothed over with a solid start to the 2010 campaign.

That simply hasn’t happened

After Saturday night’s embarrassing loss to Mississippi State in Starkville, the Bulldogs are 1-3 overall and 0-3 in conference play, with games remaining against Florida and Auburn, among others. The Bulldogs lost three games in a row for the first time in twenty years. What once was one of the marquee SEC programs has now slipped into mediocrity.

That brings us to today’s debate. Should UGA cut ties with Mark Richt and fire him?

Optimist Prime believes that Richt has earned the benefit of the doubt in his tenure and deserves a chance to turn things around. Bleacher Fan, on the other hand, believes that the program has slipped far enough that Richt needs to be fired so UGA can begin the rebuilding process immediately.

This is sure to be a passionate debate so have at it!

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The Fire Mark Richt Debate… Patience Leads to Stable Success

September 28, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

It’s often said that the grass is greener on the other side. Nowhere is this statement taken more to heart than fan bases of big-time college football programs. As soon as the starting quarterback throws a bad pass, they want the back-up to play. As soon as the kicker shanks a field goal they want open tryouts so the student body can come try its hand at kicking. Last but not least, as soon as the head coach loses a couple games in a row they are calling for his head, putting for sale signs in his yard, and announcing on message boards that their sister’s lawn guy’s cousin just saw Bill Cowher at the local Wendy’s with his real estate agent.

Exhibit A for this behavior right now is the Dawg fans of the University of Georgia. After a brutal 1-3 start (0-3 in the SEC) many to most of them would gladly buy Mark Richt’s bus ticket out of Athens. The question they should ask themselves, however, is what exactly will that accomplish?

Currently in his tenth season at UGA, Richt owns an overall record of 91-30, a record of 50-25 in the Southeastern Conference, and a bowl record of 7-2. In four of his first nine complete seasons at the helm of the Bulldogs, he won all or part of the SEC Eastern Division title. The Bulldogs also finished six of those nine seasons ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll. Many fans reading this article would love to be able to spout these stats off and would gladly sing Richt’s praises before and after their weekly tailgate.

While I was reading through these stats while researching this post, it boggled my mind that firing Richt is even a discussion at this point, but it most certainly is. He seems to be a favorite “hot seat” mention, and while I’m sure the media is drumming this up a bit to give themselves something to talk about, a quick perusal of UGA fan sites and blogs (such as the AJC blog and comments page here) show that this is not merely a media-generated controversy.

While some fans will point to UGA’s rising ranking in the Fulmer Cup standings as the reason they’d like to see Coach Richt gone, let’s be serious here and point out that if the Bulldogs were 4-0 at this point in the season, the level of moral outrage among a lot of the fans would be significantly diminished. Pure and simple, the reason that some UGA fans are looking toward making a change is because of the perception that the program is slipping after an 8-5 record last season and a 1-3 start this season.

While many fans are more than happy to throw the aforementioned statistics out the window in a situation like this, that can be a dangerous thing. Nebraska fans were eager to get rid of Frank Solich, Texas A&M fans eventually ran R.C. Slocum off, and in the not too distant past the University of Michigan ran off the successful, respected Lloyd Carr. How has that worked out for the three schools? Nebraska seems to be on the road to recovery, but it’s taken a few years and a disastrous coaching hire before the current one. Texas A&M has struggled, and often failed, to attain the level of respect and relevance the program once had. Michigan, this year’s start notwithstanding, has been far, far below their standards the past two years and without Denard Robinson this season, one could argue they’d again be an average to below-average football team.

What’s my point here? My point is that the grass is not always greener on the other side. A poisonous fan culture can sometimes poison the team and the program. My advice to the UGA fans now dedicated to “not accepting mediocrity” – crack a cold one, enjoy your tailgate, and cheer on your Dawgs. Evaluate the program after the season just like the Athletic Director will, and speak your piece then. History says that Mark Richt is a good coach and he likely will be again (perhaps even this year). History also says that these trigger-happy fans should be careful what they wish for because they just might get it.

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The Fire Mark Richt Debate… Expectations Outpace Mark Richt

September 28, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

Mark Richt is no longer able to compete in the SEC.

Yes, he HAS led the Georgia Bulldogs to nine consecutive bowl appearances, and boasts a bowl record of 7-2 in those nine games. He has maintained exceptionally strong recruiting classes during his tenure, and has twice been named the SEC Coach of the Year. And if he were head coach of a Big East or ACC program, that would be considered a wildly successful performance, and Richt would be at the front of the line for the next “elite” coaching job in college football.

The only problem is he already HAS that elite coaching job in the nation’s top football conference. And when you look at his performance, specifically over the past four years as the SEC has completely dominated college football, Richt has actually UNDER-performed.

BCS Shortcomings

In the nine full seasons since Richt became head coach at Georgia, he has coached his squad to a 2-1 BCS record, with no national championship game appearances.

Now, let’s compare that to some of his SEC colleagues:

Les Miles is 2-0 in BCS games since 2005, including a national championship with LSU.

Nick Saban is 3-1 in BCS games, with two national championships for two different SEC programs (LSU and Alabama).

Urban Meyer is 3-0 in BCS games, with two national championships.

Pop quiz, what is Mark Richt lacking? That’s right! A national championship, DESPITE being at the head of one of the supposed powerhouses in the SEC.

As for those two BCS wins, one came in 2002, back before the SEC had really developed into the conference powerhouse it is today, and the other came in 2007 against a Hawaii team that had no business being in the BCS, DESPITE an undefeated regular season record (don’t forget that Hawaii earned their record by playing the WAC, two different FCS teams, and the only team they played from a BCS-caliber conference was the 4-8 Washington Huskies).

While the SEC has improved, Georgia has declined

There is clearly a gap in talent between Mark Richt and the other premier coaches of the SEC. And with each passing year the irrefutable evidence indicates that the gap is widening.

Since Georgia’s last BCS win in 2007, while the SEC has improved as a conference, the Bulldogs have been on a steady and sharp decline.

Entering into the 2008 season Georgia was ranked as the top team in the country. How did Richt respond to that ranking? By losing not once, but THREE times that season.

Again, a 10-3 record (with a win in the Capital One Bowl) is not bad, but as the pre-season favorite to win the national championship, three losses equals to a HUGE disappointment.

Then in 2009, Georgia (who still managed a top-ten recruiting class) was ranked in the pre-season as the 13th best team in the nation, and they played on to a record of only 8-5… falling COMPLETELY out of the top-25 by season’s end.

Somehow, despite that slide even deeper out of SEC relevance, Georgia managed ANOTHER solid recruiting class and found itself once more ranked in the 2010 pre-season as one of the 25 best teams in the country.

And once again, Richt has failed.

So far this season he has managed to win only one game (against Louisiana-Lafayette), and his three losses (all of which have come against SEC competition) have him sitting in dead last as the worst team in the conference.

It is time for Richt to go

During his tenure, Richt’s performance at the University of Georgia has been good, but as far as the University of Georgia’s expectations are concerned, “good” in the SEC simply isn’t good enough. This is a program that has recruited some of the top talent in the country, but has failed miserably on the field.

Since 2007, Mark Richt has had top-ten caliber talent coming into each season, and has progressively dropped further and further out of contention. He has lost 11 times in the SEC during that time (compared to only four losses each by Florida and Alabama during that same period). This season, he has the Bulldogs off to their worst start in 20 years (they also started at 1-3 during the 1993 season).

The SEC has progressed to a level at which Mark Richt can no longer compete.

Three different head coaches have won national championships in the SEC over the last four years. Each one has progressively improved their program’s stature, elevating the conference in the process. All the while Georgia fans have been left on the sidelines with nothing but disappointment.

Mark Richt has had all the tools, and every opportunity, to improve his program right alongside the likes of Saban, Miles, and Meyer. But unlike those three, Richt has failed to capitalize on his opportunities.

While the SEC has gotten better, Mark Richt has gotten worse. The only way that Georgia can progress as a football program is if they leave Richt behind.

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