In the cutthroat world of the Southeastern Conference, having a coach who is both a proven winner and a gentleman is a rarity. As fans of the University of Georgia, we have been one of the truly blessed groups to have had one of those rarities for the past ten years. Coach Mark Richt is the prime example of a gentleman. He is slow to anger, even-keeled and conducts his business with dignity and class. He is a man who clearly cares about his family; a man who clearly cares about living in accordance with the teachings of his religion; a man who clearly cares about giving the young men he coaches the tools to succeed in life beyond football. He boasts a career winning percentage of just under .750, two SEC titles, and a 7-2 record in bowl games. He is undoubtedly a proven winner and a gentleman—and he should be replaced as head of our football program.
While his character and integrity have never faltered during his tenure at Georgia, it is his ability to consistently win that is the biggest question mark. And this is the dilemma that Bulldog faithful face, and it is not an enviable one: separating Mark Richt the person from Mark Richt the coach. It cannot be overly-stressed that Mark Richt is truly a diamond in the rough as far as men of character go. But he is not employed as the school’s guidance counselor or head role model. He is the head football coach, a position of many responsibilities, chief of which is winning football games—a responsibility that has not been recently fulfilled. While no one can impugn the character of Mark Richt the man, I will attempt to provide you with a look at Mark Richt the coach and allow you to reach your own conclusions.
A Tale of Two Half Decades
From 2001-2005, Coach Richt’s teams boasted an ungodly 52-13 record (.800 winning percentage), racking up two SEC Championships, three SEC East Titles, and two BCS Bowl appearances. His teams finished each of the five seasons ranked in the AP Top 25, with an average ranking of 9.8. From 2006-2010 (assuming the team finishes 6-6 this year), Coach Richt’s teams will have finished a pedestrian 44-20 (.688 winning percentage), winning no SEC Championships, no SEC East Titles, and appearing in only one BCS Bowl. His teams have only finished 3 of 5 seasons ranked in the AP Top 25, with an average ranking (in those years) of a 12.6. If you include the other two unranked seasons and generously assign those two teams a ranking of 26, then Georgia has finished with an average ranking of 18th in the country since the beginning of the 2006 season.
From 2001-2005, Coach Richt sported a 30-10 conference record (.750 winning percentage). From 2006-2010 (assuming the team loses to Auburn), he has fallen to a mediocre 23-17 (.575 winning percentage). Coincidently, Coaches Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, and Nick Saban have taken the helms of Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama, respectively, since 2005. As the better coaches have joined SEC schools, Mark Richt’s performance against the SEC has significantly declined. And while Richt’s winning percentage against the Southeastern Conference has declined significantly since 2005, the conference itself has become the national powerhouse. Since Mark Richt took over in 2001, a team from the Southeastern Conference has won the BCS National Championship five times--LSU in 2003 and 2007, Florida in 2006 and 2008, and Alabama in 2009.
Not a Matter of Talent
Since 2001, Coach Richt has amassed Top 10 quality talent year in and year out. His average recruiting class has ranked 8th (8.2) in the nation. Surprisingly, the numbers are almost mirror images for the two half-decades. From 2001-2005 and from 2006-2010, Coach Richt’s recruiting classes averaged a ranking of 8th (8.2) in the nation. Since 2001, Mark Richt has sent eight first-round draft picks to the NFL, and will likely send another one this year. While, as DawgsOnline points out, having first-round talent on a team does not necessarily lead to titles; titles usually result from teams having a crop of first-round draft picks. Consider the 2008 year. The 2008 football team had Matthew Stafford (NFL), Knowshon Moreno (NFL), Mohammed Massaquoi (NFL), A.J. Green (NFL Caliber), Blair Walsh (All-American), Drew Butler (All-American), Clint Boling (NFL Caliber), Renne Curran (NFL), and Justin Houston (NFL Caliber). A team loaded with NFL talent on both sides of the ball, finishes a season at 10-3 with an uninspiring bowl win against Michigan State. It begs the question, if Mark Richt is doing an outstanding job of bringing top-flight talent into the program while simultaneously doing an outstanding job of preparing that top-flight talent for the NFL, then why is the program in such an obvious state of decline? What has changed since 2005 that Mark Richt cannot seem to overcome?
Regression to the Mean
It is no secret that Senator Blutarsky is a fan of a metric known as “Regression to the Mean”. Regression to the mean is the statistical way of saying that everything averages out overtime. Things are never as good as they seem and they are never as bad as they seem. If a variable is extreme on its first measurement, then it will be closer to its average on its second measurement. It is likely that the first five years of Mark Richt’s tenure at UGA were one extreme, and the past five years have been the opposite extreme bringing us closer to our average. Assuming we finish the season at 6-6, our mean with Mark Richt is 9 wins per season.
I owe all of the lofty expectations I have of Georgia Football to Coach Mark Richt’s first five years. There is no taking away the fact that he reignited a dormant program and turned it once again into a respectable and formidable powerhouse. But if there is another lesson we have learned from his tenure, it is that Mark Richt does have a ceiling. That ceiling is an SEC Championship every five years, winning our division 30 percent of the time, and never competing for a National Championship. Most Division I programs would kill to have a ceiling like that. And Georgia fans owe Mark Richt an eternal debt of gratitude for bringing our program to the level it is today—and that can never be taken away. But Georgia is not most Division I programs. It is a Top 10 Division I program.
Mark Richt the man is the type of person without a ceiling. His character and civility are unrivaled, and his actions are beyond reproach. But Mark Richt the coach has a ceiling. It is a ceiling that should be unacceptable for a Dawg fan. We have to part ways with Mark Richt the coach, and bring in someone with a higher ceiling. It is time to knock the lid off of this program.