Richt is far from perfect; he'd be the first person to tell you so. Some of his recent remarks following the loss to Tennessee, including the "arena speech," are certainly untimely and inappropriate. Richt's personality as a head coach of a major college football program may not be ideal. Personally, I wish he'd be more tenacious and exhibit some intensity, similar to his "controversial" gimmick against Florida two years ago. As then, such a demonstration would likely rub off onto the team.
In my opinion, Richt is still one of the better coaches in football and we are unquestionably lucky to have him on the Bulldogs' sideline and not the opponents'. We could have much worse. Do Georgia fans remember his two predecessors? Remember where this football program was for much of the 1990s?
I do believe Richt needs to "adjust" his staff at the end of this season. However, should the head man himself be let go or even sit on the hot seat? No, not unless Georgia football is in the same state in a year or so as it is currently--an undisciplined team without an identity with only a foreseeable .500 record and minor bowl bid.
At one time I too doubted Mark Richt as Georgia's head coach--just once. Similarly to their current situation, the Bulldogs had fallen on hard times during a 2006 season that was quickly spiraling downward. Nonetheless, I soon discovered that Bulldog fans like myself and the University of Georgia were fortunate and blessed to have Mark Richt as our head football coach.
Below is a piece I wrote on Coach Richt in my second book--About Them Dawgs! (Scarecrow Press, 2008). Please keep in mind it is somewhat dated, written at the conclusion of the 2007 season.
I was in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2006 when Georgia was narrowly defeated by the Kentucky Wildcats. After starting the season with five consecutive victories, the Bulldogs were beaten for the fourth time in five games. Georgia’s record had fallen to a sub-par 6-4 and many Dawg fans were disappointed and frustrated. When Kentucky’s fans stormed onto their field after the 24-20 victory, I remember thinking it had not been this bad since the mid-1990s, when .500 records for Georgia were the norm and getting beat by teams the Bulldogs should defeat occurred often. For the first time in a decade, I began to doubt the Bulldogs’ ability to perform at a high level and for the first time in his six years at the helm, I began to wonder about Mark Richt’s effectiveness as a head coach.
Later that night in Lexington, still discouraged because of the results of the game, my friends and I exited a restaurant. As a group of Wildcat fans brushed by us, one of my friends said to them, “Good game.” (“Maybe for Kentucky,” I thought.) The response by one of the Wildcat fans suddenly changed my negative attitude: “Sure, we might have won,” he said. “But I’ll trade coaches with ya’ in a heart beat.” Then and there I realized, despite any losing streaks the team had and would endure, how fortunate the University of Georgia was to have Mark Richt as their head football coach. This even appeared evident to Georgia’s opposing fans.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Mark Richt played quarterback at the University of Miami (Fla) from 1978-1982. Known more for being the backup to eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelley, Richt did lead the Hurricanes in passing and to a 7-4 record in his senior season, throwing for 838 yards on 71 of 149 passing in 1982. Three years later, he was a graduate and later volunteer assistant coach at Florida State until 1988 before becoming East Carolina’s Offensive Coordinator in 1989. He returned to Florida State the following season where he coached quarterbacks for 11 seasons (1990-2000) and was a highly successful Offensive Coordinator for the Seminoles from 1994-2000. While at Florida State, two of Richt’s quarterbacks received the Heisman Trophy (Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 2000) and six went on to play in the NFL.
In December of 2000, Richt was named the University of Georgia’s 25th head football coach. The Bulldogs began the 2001 season with wins in two of their first three games and traveled to Knoxville to face sixth-ranked and 11-point favorite Tennessee. The Bulldogs rallied from an early 11-point deficit to take a late 20-17 lead, only to allow the Volunteers to score on a long pass play in the game’s final minute. Just as many Georgia fans, including myself, had given up on the possibility of a victory, freshman quarterback David Greene improbably drove the Bulldogs to the winning touchdown in five plays and 37 seconds. Richt had survived his first true test as a head coach and in the process, gave Georgia one of its most memorable victories in its history.
Prior to 2002 and since the Southeastern Conference was divided into divisions in 1992, Georgia was regarded as a second-tier team in the SEC East, behind Florida and Tennessee. This changed in Richt’s second season as the Bulldogs captured their initial divisional title and their first conference championship in 20 years since 1982.
In 2003, Georgia played in the SEC Championship Game for the second consecutive season and in 2004, finished its campaign with a 10-2 record while ranking sixth and seventh respectively in the final Associated Press and Coaches national polls. Coach Richt had help deliver the Bulldogs from a second-rate status in their own division to one of the premier squads in college football in only a few short years.
Georgia won its second SEC title in four years in 2005 and for only the second time in its history, achieved 10 wins or more in four consecutive seasons. As mentioned, the following season got off to a rocky start—the Bulldogs losing four of its first 10 games. At that point, most Georgia followers just hoped for a winning record and a bowl bid. Instead, Richt and his unranked Bulldogs somehow responded by defeating #5 Auburn, #16 Georgia Tech, and #14 Virginia Tech (Chick-fil-A Bowl) consecutively to conclude an outstanding season. Although the 9-4 record was the worst in five years, 2006 was likely Richt’s best coaching effort at Georgia, that is, until the subsequent season.
In October of 2007, Georgia was hammered by Tennessee 35-14, dropping its record to 4-2. The following week, if it was not for a lost fumble by Vanderbilt late in the game, the Bulldogs would have likely been defeated for the third time. After a week off, Georgia made its annual trip to Jacksonville to face the mighty Florida Gators—7½-point favorites and winners of 15 of the previous 17 meetings over the Bulldogs.
After Georgia scored the game’s first touchdown, nearly the entire Bulldog sideline emptied onto the field in celebration, costing the team in penalties. It was later revealed Georgia’s jubilation was premeditated and ordered by Coach Richt of his offense, although he had no idea that nearly the entire team would take part. While some frowned on and disapproved of Richt’s uncharacteristic gimmick, it can be argued that it unified a young team still trying to find its identity. Richt’s controversial maneuver made the highly-favored Gators aware that the 2007 Bulldogs were not the same team Florida had routinely defeated in the past.
In completely turning around its season, Georgia shockingly defeated Florida 42-30 and then were victorious in its final five games, finishing 11-2, including being crowned Sugar Bowl Champions. In 2007, Richt accomplished what Vince Dooley in his final five years, Ray Goff, and Jim Donnan could not achieve as head coaches from 1984 through 2000 (17 seasons), namely, guide the Bulldogs to an upper-tier or BCS bowl game. Richt has now succeeded in doing so three of the last six years.
Richt’s 24-13 career record, including 5-0 in both 2002 and 2007, against Associated Press-ranked opponents is simply remarkable. This success is especially admirable compared to Goff’s 4-21-1 and Donnan’s 7-13 records against ranked opposition. Prior to Richt’s arrival in 2001, Georgia had won less than 38% of its games versus ranked foes in its history. Under Richt’s direction, the Bulldogs have defeated nearly two out of three AP-ranked opponents.
Notwithstanding, and almost certainly as important as his winning percentages, if not more so, Mark Richt possesses a number of stellar personal qualities: few will disagree with the assessment that he is a man of faith, principles, and character. As an example, in a day when many head coaches threaten to leave their school of employment and/or interview with other programs only to leverage their way into signing more lucrative contracts with their current universities, not a word is heard from Coach Richt, although he probably warrants a contract more generous than he currently commands.
It is safe to say there are few doubters among the Bulldog faithful, this writer included, of Mark Richt as a coach and the program he directs. In fact, most of us fully expect that the best is yet to come.