Let me start by saying in no way am I proposing that UGA has defeated a daunting schedule this year, will beat LSU in the Dome, or will win a National Championship during Mark Richt's tenure, but I'm pretty certain any doubt can be cast aside that he deserves to coach the Georgia Bulldogs. I'll admit, I've been pretty Disney and way too optimistic when it comes to Richt, always finding a way to defend the guy who has been the coach for the greater portion of my college football fandom. However after the UCF game last year, I put out the ultimatum (which carries oh so much weight) that Richt either needed to win the East, or have a season in which we didn't win the East but somehow convinced us he deserved to be our coach which would have been a greater task. After the South Carolina game and an 0-2 start this shifted to having to win the East. It was a tough shift for me as I've erred on the side of always defending Richt amidst the hundreds of arguments we have as Dawg fans as we know people fall on either side of the Richt debate. I won't dive into the obvious arguments that have been stated over and over again in his favor, but we'll run over some quick stats to start my case.
His overall record is 105-36 (74% WP) in the toughest conference in the country, including the last 5 (probably 6) national champions. He has a 7-3 bowl record including 2 BCS victories. He has won the East 4 times in 11 years. He has won the SEC title twice. His record on the road is even better. These stats are obvious to the casual observer but let's delve a little deeper into some other factors.
Mark Richt has won the East 4 times in 11 years, meaning that over 1
/3 of the time UGA has reached the SEC title game. Right now if you reach this game and win, you pretty much guarantee yourself a shot at the National Championship. Since his tenure began, Richt has reached the game that puts you in the all evasive National Championship 4 times, and 4 times he will have not had the chance to reach the title game. There have been 6 SEC National Champions in his tenure, probably a 7th this year. This means that he's put the team in the game that gets you in to position 2 out of the 4 years that the SEC Champion didn't reach the National Title. He's having his best years in the years that don't accommodate it. If you keep knocking on the door, eventually good things will come. Obviously the easy solution is win all your games, which would be great. We have seen National Champs with losses before however. Keep in mind all of Florida and LSU's recent national titles featured teams with either one or two losses. Even a team like Auburn went undefeated in 2004 and missed out. If Shockley had stayed healthy in 2005 and we hypothetically won versus Florida and Auburn we still would have been snubbed because of USC and Texas. Reaching the title game is part controlling your own destiny, and part having the right year in the "right year".
Mark Richt is not the coach with the X-Factor that will win a national championship. He's not a guy who is an X's and O's schemer that will consistently beat you with lesser talent such as Petrino at Arkansas or Peterson at Boise State. He wasn't hired as this guy. He's more of a CEO than a CFO as I've argued. Georgia isn't a place where you need seven kinds of smoke to beat teams, you need a guy who can manage a program. Last year, he pulled in the guy who provides this X factor in Todd Grantham. As a compliment to Richt, Grantham provides the emotion and defensive scheme that the team has been lacking amidst other coaches absences. He also allowed Joe T2 to be hired as his strength coach, a controversial move that was scoured over by outsiders due to the inside hire of a struggling program. However, this hire has proved to be monumental in bringing back the toughness to a team that was lacking it. He's proving to be the man needed to put the pieces in place.
Many people will knock Mark Richt for only winning when other teams are down. Guess what, when teams are down other teams are better. Same goes for Georgia appearing better when other teams appear weaker. If you lose games you appear weaker, and when you win, you appear better. Sure he's struggled against Florida, but most years I really feel the Gators were a better team, and in other years the ball didn't bounce our way. Four of these years they featured maybe one of the best football players we will ever see in the SEC. Let's look at how Mark Richt has done when he's had a better team, focusing on the QB position. Many would argue that returning a starting QB is essential to a teams success. You're going to have down years when you insert a new quarterback, and these have been the years Richt has seen his biggest struggles in. Give him a battle tested QB, and the results are proven. Thanks to ROEDawg for easily compiling the analysis.
New Starting QB:
2001 /8-4/ David Greene (R-Fr) / Tied for 3rd in the East
2005 /10-3/ DJ Shockley (5th year Sr)/ SEC Champion
2006 /9-4/ Multi- Stafford (Fr)/ Tied for 3rd in the East
2009 /8-5/ Cox (5th year Sr)/ Tied for 2nd in the East
2010/6-7 /Murray (R-Fr)/ Tied for 3rd in the East
Returning Starting QB:
2002 /13-1/ Greene (R-So)/ SEC champion
2003 /11-3/ Greene (R-Jr) SEC East Champs
2004 /10-2/ Greene (R-Sr) 2nd in the East
2007 /11-2/ Stafford (So)/ Tied for 1st in the East, arguably top 2 team in country
2008 /10-3/ Stafford (Jr)/ 2nd in the East
2011 /9-2/ Murray (R-So)/ SECE champs, TBD in SECCG
In years where he has returned a QB, he's on pace to not win less than 10 games, and has reached the SEC Championship game 50% of the time. Not a bad showing. He's also faired extremely well versus defending National Champions, proving that there is a fall off of other teams when their QB departs.
The 2011 Season. Every chip was stacked against him after the first 2 losses. The schedule certainly wasn't daunting from that point on and the East wasn't strong, but the man did what was in front of him, which is all that we can ask of any team. Victories like Vandy and Kentucky weren't pretty, but the job was done. Ask and SEC Championship caliber team, you will hit bumps in the road. Look at Auburn's struggles versus Clemson, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Kentucky, and others last year. For the first time in his career he beat Tennessee and Florida in the same season. He also has the chance to go 4-0 against UGA's biggest rivals. The bottom line is he put the pieces in place to get the job done, and no matter how that job was done, the Dawgs are in the Dome.
Richt has character. I'm not arguing that nice guys win championships because that certainly isn't true, but nice guys also don't run your program into the ground. Sure Ohio State, USC, and Miami has won championships, but their programs are now faced with huge setbacks.
Richt may never win a championship at UGA, but he certainly will put us in contention. Consistent top 10 and even top 5 finishes look to be potentially returning, and haven't seen a decline in the East such as a program like Tennessee faced turmoil and fired their long tenured coach. He's beating Auburn at a 64% clip. He has dominated Tech. He's struggled against Florida but the corner may have been turned this year. He's at least earned the rite to quell the arguments against him, and proved that UGA's decline has subsided for the time being. He'll return a great team next year, and the future is beginning to look brighter again. Amidst all the controversy and pressure surrounding his program in 2011, he's done what he's needed to do. For me, that's enough. Let's see just how far he can take this thing.