Recently, and not for the first time, I criticized Jim Donnan for the manner in which he handled the Georgia quarterbacking situation in 1998.
Our old friend 82 from Football Huddle 3.0 took issue with my position, contending that Coach Donnan's "decision to pick QC as the starter was [the] right one" and defending his won-lost record, which was amassed against stiff competition and included more bowl victories than Mark Richt's.
82 is a fine fellow and he makes some valid points regarding repetitions in practice, fairness to the other contenders, and the difficulty of Georgia's schedule. I do not discount these points and I do not wish to kick Coach Donnan unfairly now that he is gone. However, I believe at least a partial retort is warranted, lest allowing past perceptions to be softened by sentiment lead our program to forget lessons learned previously and repeat errors best not duplicated.
I strongly disagree with the argument that Coach Donnan was right to name Quincy Carter as the Bulldogs' starter. Daniel Cobb's success at Auburn and (particularly) Nate Hybl's success at Oklahoma cast Coach Donnan's decision greatly into doubt and it seems undeniable that he made his choice far too quickly, given the checkered record compiled by Carter and the subsequent achievements of the other contenders after they transferred.
Additional questions about the propriety of Coach Donnan's decision are raised by the simple and obvious fact that Coach Richt's predecessor was a poor evaluator of talent. His multiple recruiting miscues (e.g., Jasper Sanks) attest to this and Coach Richt rather clearly has the better eye for assessing quality. Remember the widespread criticism that accompanied his decision to extend a scholarship offer to Thomas Brown but not to Darius Walker? Does anyone now regret that choice?
It is true that Coach Donnan won more bowl games, going 4-0 in postseason play, as compared to Coach Richt's 3-2 ledger. However, four of Coach Richt's five bowl games were played on or after New Year's Day; Coach Donnan played after New Year's Eve just twice and his team was in action as early as Christmas Eve on one occasion.
Many exemplary coaches have had less than stellar bowl records. Tom Osborne's Nebraska squads lost seven straight bowl games from 1987 to 1993, all of them against speedy Southern teams. Bear Bryant was 0-7-1 in postseason play between 1967 and 1974, but six of those setbacks came in Dallas, Jacksonville, Miami, or New Orleans. In his head coaching career at the Division I-A level, Steve Spurrier has compiled a postseason ledger of 6-7 to go with his sparkling regular-season record. Vince Dooley was 8-10-2 in bowl games, but half of his postseason losses were in Cotton or Sugar Bowls.
I would rather see my team lose a Sugar Bowl than win a Peach Bowl. Coach Donnan's teams emerged victorious from bowl games so frequently because those squads underachieved in the regular season so consistently. Had the 1997 Bulldogs beaten Auburn, they would have been in contention for a major bowl berth, not an Outback Bowl bid. Had the 1998 Georgia team not squandered a fourth-quarter lead at home against Georgia Tech, the Red and Black would not have been consigned to the Peach Bowl. Had the 1999 'Dawgs played even a modicum of defense against Auburn, a better postseason destination than Tampa would have come Georgia's way.
Coach Donnan's unblemished bowl record is a testament to his lack of success during the regular season, as he got winnable bowl berths by losing rivalry games. Is anyone really proud of that 2000 Oahu Bowl championship? Coach Richt's teams, by contrast, routinely have met expectations and often have exceeded them.
82 makes a fair point that Coach Donnan's teams faced Florida and Tennessee squads that won national championships. What must not be forgotten, though, is that the Volunteers, who largely lucked into the 1998 national title, came into Sanford Stadium as the underdog and soundly thrashed a Georgia squad that was expected to beat them. Coach Donnan doesn't deserve credit for his failure to defeat teams that accomplished great things only because his Bulldogs fell short.
Besides, but for an upset in the 2001 S.E.C. championship game, Coach Richt's first Georgia squad might well have beaten a national title-winning Tennessee squad that year. As it stands, both coaches were 0-2 against eventual national champions: Coach Donnan, against Florida in 1996 and Tennessee in 1998; Coach Richt, against L.S.U. in the regular season and in the conference championship game in 2003.
I will, however, concede the point that Coach Donnan faced better Florida and Tennessee teams than Coach Richt has faced. Last season aside, though, the Volunteers have not fallen so far that this alone can account for the disparity between Coach Donnan's 1-4 record against the Big Orange and Coach Richt's 4-1 ledger against U.T.
Moreover, there are other teams Coach Richt has faced, as well. For instance, Coach Donnan never had to play Alabama or Clemson, making him the first Georgia coach since Joel Hunt never to have taken on the Tide or tangled with the Tigers. Coach Richt has faced both longstanding rivals twice each . . . and he is 4-0 against them.
Coach Donnan was 2-0 against L.S.U., beating by back-to-back one-point margins a pair of Bayou Bengal squads that would go a cumulative 7-15 in 1998 and 1999. Coach Richt is 2-2 against Louisiana State after having faced a trio of Tiger teams that posted a collective 33-6 ledger from 2003 to 2005. Both losses came to the eventual national champion.
Finally, it is true that Coach Donnan and Coach Richt have compiled identical 2-3 records against Auburn. Coach Donnan's teams faced War Eagle squads that went 35-25, had two losing seasons, and won no S.E.C. titles. Coach Richt's teams faced Plainsmen units that went 46-17, went undefeated in 2004, and captured an S.E.C. crown. Could it even seriously be argued that Coach Donnan faced Auburn teams remotely as tough as those Coach Richt has encountered?
As long as we're comparing the difficulty of the schedules faced by Georgia's most recent two head coaches, it should also be noted that Coach Donnan was 1-5 against ranked opponents between the hedges, whereas Coach Richt is 7-2 against ranked opponents on the road. Unless anyone would care to argue that it's easier to beat a top 25 team in its house than it is to beat one in your house, Coach Donnan's record isn't at all comparable to Coach Richt's.
This is why, although I agree with 82 that Coach Donnan "did much to turn the Ga program around from sub .500 seasons," I do not share his view that Coach Richt "wouldnt be here if it werent for him." Premiere coaching jobs do not cease to be premiere coaching jobs just because the team has endured a lengthy downcycle.
Yes, the 'Dawgs were 17-16-1 in Ray Goff's final three seasons at the helm, but the Georgia head coaching job was not made less attractive by that fact . . . not any more than three straight five-loss seasons made the Florida job unappealing to Urban Meyer or five seasons of six or more setbacks in the previous eight years made the Notre Dame job less enticing to Charlie Weis or five straight years of five or more losses deterred Pete Carroll from taking the Southern California job or consecutive losing seasons scared Nick Saban away from L.S.U. or a dozen losses in the Plainsmen's previous 24 games prevented Terry Bowden from taking up the reins at Auburn or an 8-29-4 run from 1954 to 1957 stopped Bear Bryant from accepting the Alabama job in 1958.
I will allow that, in many respects, Coach Donnan left the Georgia program stronger than he found it. However, his hamhanded mismanagement of everything from recruiting relationships to talent evaluation, from public relations to coaching decisions, cannot be gainsaid and, at a bare minimum, it must be acknowledged in all candor that his successor, who has coached two Heisman Trophy-winning signal-callers and the winningest Q.B. in N.C.A.A. history, knows more about coaching quarterbacks than Jim Donnan ever did.
As I have demonstrated before, Coach Richt is far and away the better coach and between him and Coach Donnan there simply is no comparison.