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

Earlier, we took a look at Mark Richt’s record against uncommon SEC opponents and minor league rivals in the context of the Georgia Bulldogs’ 120-year gridiron history. Now, we turn our attention to how he has fared against more noteworthy foes.

As always, I am comparing Mark Richt to his Red and Black peers, of whom there now are but two, at the identical juncture in their respective careers. Accordingly, the data detailed below are drawn from the first eleven seasons of the head coaching careers of Wally Butts (1939-1949), Vince Dooley (1964-1974), and Mark Richt (2001-2011). These are they:

v. Alabama:
Butts: 4-4 (.500)
Dooley: 1-3 (.250)
Richt: 3-1 (.750)

Like everyone else in the conference, the ‘Dawgs have struggled with the Tide, with whom the Red and Black crossed paths annually from 1944 to 1965. Georgia has gone 25-36-4 against Alabama all-time, posting a 7-13 record against the Crimson Tide since 1960, the year Mark Richt was born. Coach Richt is the first Bulldog head coach since Herman Stegeman in the early 1920s to boast a career winning record against ‘Bama. He has split his head-to-head meetings with Nick Saban’s Tide teams, and Coach Richt is 2-0 in Tuscaloosa, where all of his predecessors went a combined 0-7. No Red and Black skipper since Alex Cunningham a century ago has enjoyed Mark Richt’s level of success against Alabama.

v. Tennessee:
Butts: 0-0 (.000)
Dooley: 1-2-1 (.375)
Richt: 7-4 (.636)

Coach Richt is 7-4 against three of the Bulldogs’ top six rivals, which, as an historical matter, represents a pretty good record against two of them. Georgia is slightly below .500 against Tennessee all-time (18-21-2), with roughly half of the series meetings having taken place since the 1992 divisional split (20 of 41). This is very much a new rivalry (though not, technically, a young series), and Coach Richt has been especially successful in it, particularly considering the extent to which the Big Orange dominated the Red and Black in the years just prior to our current head coach’s arrival in Athens.

v. South Carolina:
Butts: 3-0 (1.000)
Dooley: 7-0-1 (.938)
Richt: 7-4 (.636)

Unlike his identical records against Auburn and Tennessee, Coach Richt’s 7-4 ledger against the Gamecocks represents a departure from the historical norm. Overall, Georgia has won roughly three-quarters of its games against South Carolina (46-16-2), though the Garnet and Black have won at a more even clip since the late 1980s, and especially since becoming a conference rival in the early 1990s; nine of the East Coast USC’s 16 series wins have come since 1988, Vince Dooley’s final fall on the Sanford Stadium sideline. The Gamecocks have taken three of the last five series meetings from the Bulldogs, including two in a row. This is due chiefly to South Carolina’s marked improvement in coaching, facilities, and recruiting, but the contests typically have remained close, only now the Classic City Canines are losing single-score games they previously almost always won. Now that the Gamecocks consistently are a serious player in the division, it is important to reverse the present downward trend. The rivalry with South Carolina is second only to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party as the series in which Coach Richt’s performance has been the most disappointing.

v. Clemson:
Butts: 4-0 (1.000)
Dooley: 8-1 (.889)
Richt: 2-0 (1.000)

No, I’m not trying to tick anyone off; I’m just commenting on the historical reality, the present relevance of which you are free to dispute, though, if you take issue with my placement of the Tigers, Dabo Swinney would like a word with you. Coach Richt hasn’t faced the Orange and Purple as frequently as his predecessors---prior to the present hiatus, Georgia and Clemson had never in either of their football histories gone more than seven years without facing one another on the gridiron---but he’s done what he had to do when crossing paths with the Country Gentlemen. Hopefully, my postseason review in the spring of 2015 will show a 4-0 record against the Jungaleers, but we shall see.

v. Georgia Tech:
Butts: 6-5 (.545)
Dooley: 8-3 (.727)
Richt: 10-1 (.909)

To paraphrase Atlanta’s other bunch of blustery little brothers who are boosters of a Bill Curry-coached Division I-A wannabe, this is not your father’s vocational school. Paul Johnson has been a huge success at the Flats, yet Coach Richt has downed the Yellow Jackets ten times in eleven series meetings. Frankly, I’m still bugged (you should excuse the expression) about the one loss, but, historically, this represents a satisfactory winning percentage.

v. Auburn:
Butts: 7-2-1 (.750)
Dooley: 5-6 (.455)
Richt: 7-4 (.636)

I hate Auburn, so those four losses still sting, but Coach Richt’s 7-4 record against the Plainsmen is equivalent to his identical ledger against the Volunteers. Against an orange-clad conference rival against whom the Bulldogs have posted an all-time losing mark by a slim margin (53-54-8), Coach Richt has attained a better than average record of success. Despite facing Auburn during a run of sustained success---Coach Richt has faced two Tiger teams that went undefeated, and Coach Dooley’s 5-6 record against his alma mater during his first eleven years came during the waning days of Shug Jordan’s tenure on the Plains, before Pat Dye went to work in the so-called Loveliest Village---he has outperformed the historic norm, and he has taken five of the last six series meetings from the Tigers. Since 2006, Auburn has either won the national championship or lost to Georgia.

v. Florida:
Butts: 8-2 (.800)
Dooley: 6-4-1 (.591)
Richt: 3-8 (.273)

At the end of the day, this is the source of all frustration for Georgia fans regarding Mark Richt. He came to Athens by way of Tallahassee, where he was the architect of a Seminole offense that helped guide Florida State past the Gators with admirable frequency during the Sunshine State Saurians’ Steve Spurrier-led heyday. All the grousing that Mark Richt hasn’t won a national championship is secondary to his lack of success in Jacksonville; indeed, had he beaten Florida a few more times, the national championship issue might well be moot. (2002, anyone?) Beating the Gators is paramount, historically, psychologically, emotionally, and nationally. Darth Visor’s current club certainly is a better team, and may even be becoming a better program, than his alma mater’s, but the mental block clearly remains the ongoing impediment in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Fortunately, there are signs of hope: Georgia has won three of the last eight series meetings with Florida, including two of the last five; had Aaron Murray thrown one less interception in an overtime loss by the St. John’s River in 2010, the Bulldogs would have posted the same 3-2 record against the Gators since 2007 that the Gamecocks have posted against the Bulldogs. This series has the potential to be for Coach Richt what the Michigan rivalry was for John Cooper, and he simply must turn this series around if the program is to reach its full potential. A second straight win in Jacksonville in 2012 would do wonders for Coach Richt and the Bulldogs, notwithstanding any other considerations.

Conclusion

Against what historically have been the Red and Black’s seven biggest rivals, Coach Richt has outperformed the average against four of them (Auburn, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, and Alabama) while holding serve against a fifth (Clemson). He has been a little worse than average against another (South Carolina) and has been well short of the usual mark against the last (Florida). Obviously, at any given point, the rival you struggle most to beat is, by definition, your biggest rival---Georgia Tech was Public Enemy No. 1 in the 1950s, as was Auburn in the 1980s---so we rightly focus on the need for improvement against the Gators and, to a lesser yet still substantial extent, against the Gamecocks.

Although, on the whole, Mark Richt has been pretty successful, his marked lack of success against Florida and South Carolina---who, between them, account for twelve of Coach Richt’s 22 losses to the above seven rivals---has torpedoed his otherwise strong performance. Against Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee, Mark Richt is 29-10 (.744), whereas Coach Butts went 21-11-1 (.652), and Coach Dooley went 23-15 (.605), against those same five opponents during the comparable periods of their respective careers. Add all three coaches’ eleven-year records against Florida and South Carolina into the mix, though, and Coach Richt falls from first place to last, as Wally Butts was 32-13-1 (.707), Vince Dooley was 36-19-2 (.649), and Mark Richt is 39-22 (.639). Absent our SEC East rivals currently or formerly coached by Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt would receive a blue red ribbon or a gold silver star. With them in the mix, though, his overall grade is satisfactory, but it needs improvement.

Coming Soon: Mark Richt’s records, overall and in conference play.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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