If the Going Got Tough, Would Mark Richt Get Going . . . to Another Program?

I know better than this. Really, I do. I am fully aware that a shock-jockocracy mentality sometimes forces commentators to write outrageous nonsense solely for the purpose of generating page views. Some foolishness, however, is so preposterous that I find myself constitutionally incapable of keeping silent once it has been purveyed.

Consequently, when I followed a link from David Hale to this outlandish piece purporting to identify the SEC coaches most likely to bail on their respective teams, I simply could not ignore it.

The author claims to identify the top five, which, bafflingly, does not include Bobby Petrino. Houston Nutt, who ought to be as happy in his current billet as any head coach in the league, checks in at fifth, with Nick Saban ranked fourth, Bobby Johnson ranked third, Mark Richt ranked second, and Urban Meyer ranked first.

Once again, I think it’s pretty silly to compile such a list and assert that Coach Petrino isn’t in the top five, and it seems more than a little strange that Coach Johnson is deemed more likely to jump ship than, say, Steve Spurrier is to decide five years of mediocrity are enough after this season. Beyond that, I remain uncertain why so many folks continue to wonder what Coach Meyer would do if faced with a choice between Florida and Notre Dame, given the fact that, at the end of the 2004 season, Coach Meyer was faced with a choice between Florida and Notre Dame . . . and the job he picked then has only gotten more appealing while the job he rejected has only gone downhill.

In other words, no part of this list makes a lick of sense, yet I’m not even going to take the time to address the rest of that absurdity, in light of this comically idiotic placement:

#2 Mark Richt, Georgia Bulldogs
Now wouldn’t that one be a stunner? What if UGA fans get tired of Richt bringing to [sic.] exactly the edge of ultimate success and not beyond? Do you honestly think that Richt would simply sit there in his monotone and take it? Or do you think he would grow tired of listening to it? It isn’t like he does not have the ability to find other gainful employment.

Obviously, Coach Richt would have any number of options at his disposal if he chose to seek employment elsewhere. He would not, however, have many better options from which to pick. Athens is not a steppingstone to bigger and better things because few programs offer the attraction of Georgia.

In 1965, Vince Dooley was offered the chance to take over the storied program at Oklahoma. He stayed in Athens. In 1980, Vince Dooley was offered what was then an eye-popping salary to take over the program at his alma mater. He stayed in Athens. In 1997, Jim Donnan was offered the opportunity to take over a football program in his home state, to which he had said before that he wished one day to return. He stayed in Athens.

Mark Richt has been the Bulldogs’ head coach for 104 games. Only two of his 24 predecessors in the position lasted that long on the Red and Black sideline. The first, James Wallace Butts, coached at Georgia for 23 years (one as an assistant and 22 as head coach) and stepped down to become Georgia’s athletic director full-time. The second, Vincent Joseph Dooley, coached at Georgia for 25 years and stepped down to become Georgia’s athletic director full-time.

Coach Dooley only left the athletic director’s position with great reluctance. He still serves as an unofficial ambassador for Bulldog Nation. Coach Butts remained involved even after entering retirement; he wrote weekly letters to Coach Dooley during football season before "The Little Round Man" passed away in 1973 and was buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery, overlooking Sanford Stadium. There simply is no precedent for a man of Coach Richt’s longevity ever leaving Athens, in a pine box or otherwise.

The manner in which Coach Richt has conducted himself, quite literally from the day his hiring was announced, suggests that he is at Georgia for the long haul. The two programs most often mentioned as the ones to which he might flee---Miami, his alma mater, and Florida State, where he coached for many years---both have named new head coaches since Mark Richt arrived in the Classic City. Neither hired a successor of Coach Richt’s caliber, yet neither made a significant push for Coach Richt, which suggests strongly that the two most likely suitors knew he wouldn’t leave.

Those who decline to take Coach Richt at his word---and there are few more honest men in the college coaching ranks---should look at the buyout clause in his contract, which I have gone over in detail before and with respect to which my points have been confirmed.

I am sure the author of this ridiculous article was posing a rhetorical question when he asked, "Do you honestly think that Richt would simply sit there in his monotone and take it?" I’m pretty sure sitting isn’t an action you can perform in a monotone (and, if you’ve performed it in any other manner, you probably should take something for your stomach), but, if we take that question to mean what I think it means rather than what it says, my answer is: "Uh, yeah, I think Mark Richt will sit there, be respectful and polite, and continue doing his job to the best of his ability."

I’m not particularly worried about Coach Richt taking the Bulldogs to "the edge of ultimate success and not beyond," because I think he’ll take the Red and Black to the Promised Land, but anyone who thinks Mark Richt’s reaction to adversity and criticism would be to cut and run is woefully ignorant of the man and his character.

One person who knows Mark Richt very well is the head coach’s brother-in-law, Kevin "Chappy" Hynes, who accompanied the coach to Athens as his team chaplain in 2001 and who was gracious enough to grant me an interview a couple of years ago. In that interview, Chappy was unequivocal about Coach Richt:

You know, somebody asked me the other day if he was competitive, 'cause I guess they see him on the sidelines. I'm like, "Are you kidding me?" You don't become the head coach at the University of Georgia if you're not competitive. Don't take meekness for weakness. Don't take humility for passivity or good sportsmanship for not being competitive. And please don't take not cheating or not selling out for football as not being competitive or crossing all your T's and dotting all your I's for not being competitive.

We're being competitive and he's being competitive not with man, a benchmark or a bar set by man, but by God. So everything he does, he tries to pray about everything. He's a Christian first and foremost, but he really is a guy that's seeking to please his Father and do the will of God, and you can see that in everything he does. . . .

He loves being the coach at Georgia. He's not going anywhere else unless they, you know, can him, but he loves Georgia. He loves the people, he loves the players, he loves the atmosphere, and he's not looking to move. He's not looking to go anywhere. He believes God brought him here and that's where he's going to stay.

Kevin Hynes is not alone in his assessment of the man we in Bulldog Nation are proud to call our head coach. In his book Top Dawg: Mark Richt and the Revival of Georgia Football, Rob Suggs related this informative anecdote:

[Richt] was so quiet, so polite in all those press conferences. He was a churchgoing man who prayed about every decision. You could imagine him as a Sunday school teacher, but could he be the guy to beat Phil Fulmer or Steve Spurrier? Dooley had wondered about that when he was considering Richt for the job, and he had put the question to Bowden: "Is Mark Richt tough enough?"

Bowden had said, "You just don’t know."

During the winter drills, Dooley stopped in and had a look. Later, during spring practice, he watched Richt crawl all over Fred Gibson, who looked as if his mind were somewhere else. Richt gave it to Gibson pretty good before exiling him to the locker room. Dooley later told writer Terence Moore that he wanted to sprint out onto the field and hug Richt at that moment.

The only way I can see Mark Richt leaving Athens is if he feels led (like Colorado’s Bill McCartney in 1994) to follow his faith out of coaching and into a line of work that he genuinely believes God has called him to do instead. Short of that, I am absolutely convinced that, on the day Mark Richt coaches his last game for the Georgia Bulldogs, Vince Dooley will be the second-winningest head coach in school history.

Mark Richt isn’t the second-most likely SEC head coach to abandon his current team for another coaching job; he’s the twelfth-most likely SEC coach to abandon his current team for another coaching job . . . and he trails the guy in the No. 11 spot by a pretty wide margin.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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