Mark Richt's First Eleven Years with the Georgia Bulldogs: An Assessment (Part One)

I’m pretty sure I know what everyone in Bulldog Nation will be discussing today, but, because (a) I annually look back at Mark Richt’s job performance in the context of the Georgia Bulldogs’ entire football history and (b) my timing is terrible, this is what we have on the docket at the moment. Think of it as my effort to improve the mood of the room.

This yearly enterprise is becoming tougher, because Coach Richt has few peers among his predecessors on the Sanford Stadium sideline; in fact, he is one of just three coaches to have served as the Red and Black’s skipper for more than ten years, so our basis for comparison continues to shrink. Still, since I had grave doubts a year ago whether I’d be providing a performance review, rather than a postmortem, on the Mark Richt era right about now, I’m not complaining.

A quick overview of the ground rules is in order: I look at Mark Richt’s tenure at Georgia (2001-2011) and set those seasons alongside the comparable periods in the careers of his predecessors. Accordingly, I will be looking at the first eleven years of the head coaching tenures of Wally Butts (1939-1949) and Vince Dooley (1964-1974). I would look at other guys, as well, but Coach Butts, Coach Dooley, and Coach Richt are the only head coaches in Georgia history to have been in charge of the Bulldog football program for more than ten years. Here is how Coach Richt’s first eleven years in Athens stack up against the first eleven years of the careers of our second-winningest and winningest head coaches, beginning with some SEC opponents we either play infrequently or do not regard as major rivals:

v. Vanderbilt:
Butts: 0-0 (.000)
Dooley: 8-1 (.889)
Richt: 10-1 (.909)

Georgia and Vanderbilt met in 1932, the last year before the founding of the Southeastern Conference, but they did not meet again for two decades, so Coach Butts didn’t cross paths with the Commodores until his 14th year at the Bulldog helm. Coach Dooley and Coach Richt have comparable records against the Music City Mariners, as both beat Vandy every year but one. Coach Dooley’s lone loss to the Commies (18-14 in 1973) largely mirrored Coach Richt’s (24-22 in 2006).

v. Kentucky:
Butts: 5-3-1 (.611)
Dooley: 9-2 (.818)
Richt: 9-2 (.818)

Coach Butts faced the Wildcats infrequently and struggled with them initially, but Coach Dooley and Coach Richt marched lockstep with one another. Both coaches faced Kentucky in each of their first eleven seasons, posting identical records in the process. Oddly enough, one of Coach Dooley’s early losses to the Bluegrass State Bobcats came in the same year that he sustained the only loss to Vanderbilt of his first eleven seasons, as did one of Coach Richt’s losses to the ‘Cats.

v. Mississippi State:
Butts: 0-0 (.000)
Dooley: 3-2 (.600)
Richt: 3-1 (.750)

Coach Butts didn’t face the SEC’s other set of Bulldogs in his first eleven years. Coach Dooley beat the Magnolia State Mongrels in three of his first five games against them; Coach Richt got the better of Mississippi State in three of his first four meetings with the Western Division Bulldogs. As before, Coach Richt is right there with, or slightly ahead of, Coach Dooley.

v. Ole Miss:
Butts: 1-1-1 (.500)
Dooley: 6-3 (.667)
Richt: 5-0 (1.000)

Clearly, Coach Butts and Coach Dooley struggled with the Rebels. Coach Richt hasn’t; he is the only Georgia coach to have started out 2-0 against Mississippi, and one of only two to have started out 1-0 against the Rebs. Last autumn, Coach Richt became the first Bulldog skipper to emerge victorious from each of his first three trips to Oxford, and only one of his wins over Ole Miss was close. There is no fault to be found with Coach Richt’s record against the Rebels.

v. Arkansas:
Butts: 0-0 (.000)
Dooley: 0-1 (.000)
Richt: 5-1 (.833)

At the eleven-year mark, Coach Butts had never faced the Razorbacks and Coach Dooley had never beaten them, but Coach Richt has taken five of six from the Hogs. More than half of Georgia’s all-time wins over Arkansas, and only one-fourth of Georgia’s all-time losses to Arkansas, have come on Coach Richt’s watch.

v. LSU:
Butts: 3-4 (.429)
Dooley: 0-0 (.000)
Richt: 3-4 (.429)

Coach Dooley did not tangle with the Bayou Bengals until his 15th season in the Classic City, but Coach Butts and Coach Richt had weirdly parallel experiences with Louisiana State. Coach Butts’s first two meetings with the Pelican State Panthers occurred in the same season, as the Bulldogs met LSU twice in 1943, first losing by seven (34-27) in Baton Rouge, then losing by 21 (27-6) at a neutral site in the Peach State (Columbus); likewise, Coach Richt’s first two meetings with the Tigers took place in the same autumn, as the Red and Black met LSU twice in 2003, first losing by seven (17-10) in Baton Rouge, then losing by 21 (34-13) at a neutral site in the Peach State (Atlanta). Each coach met Louisiana State seven times in eleven years, winning three and losing four. Obviously, we’d like to see that ledger tilted more favorably in Georgia’s direction, but, historically, it’s hard to argue with Coach Richt’s results, particularly given LSU’s level of success in the last decade.

On the whole, Mark Richt compares somewhere between pretty favorably and very favorably with Wally Butts and Vince Dooley against SEC teams Georgia either faces infrequently or has not historically regarded as major rivals. That, though, is just the icing on the cake. Next, we will take a look at the opponents with whom the Bulldogs boast more storied series, before turning our attention to Coach Richt’s overall records.

Coming Soon: Mark Richt’s records against Georgia’s major rivals.

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