Kevin C. Cox
Mark Richt's twelfth season as the Georgia head coach saw the Bulldogs fall just five yards short of an SEC title and a probable national championship. How does the Red and Black skipper compare to Wally Butts and Vince Dooley at the same point in their careers?
We have looked at how Mark Richt has fared against minor and infrequent foes, as well as against major rivals, but now we take a step back to look at the big picture. As before, we will be comparing the first twelve years in the respective careers of Wally Butts (1939-1950), Vince Dooley (1964-1975), and Mark Richt (2001-2012). The usual caveats apply regarding longer regular seasons, expanded league slates, newfangled conference championship games, and the proliferation of bowls, so attention will be paid to winning percentage as a more accurate gauge of performance for comparative purposes.
Butts: 89-36-7 (.701)
Dooley: 88-41-5 (.675)
Richt: 118-40 (.747)
If you follow the Mark Richt Victory Watch, these numbers are not news to you: Coach Richt has the best record any Georgia Bulldogs football coach has ever compiled at this point in his career, which has been true throughout most of his tenure in Athens. With a dozen seasons under their belts, Coach Dooley had won two-thirds of his games, Coach Butts had won seven-tenths of his games, and Coach Richt has won three-fourths of his games. Note also the numbers in the loss column: Coach Butts averaged 3.0 losses per annum for his first twelve years; Coach Dooley, 3.4; Coach Richt, 3.3. Coach Richt is coaching a lot more games---158, as compared to 132 for Coach Butts and 134 for Coach Dooley---but he isn’t losing appreciably more frequently. The extra games almost all are going in the win column.
Butts: 38-24-4 (.606)
Dooley: 47-24-2 (.658)
Richt: 69-32 (.683)
Now we get down to the heart of the matter; a Southeastern Conference coach makes his bones against his league coevals, and, to no one’s surprise, we find the Bulldogs’ three longest-tenured and winningest coaches bunched together fairly tightly, within eight percentage points of one another when it comes to SEC contests. Coach Richt is out in front, though only by a little when we factor in three SEC Championship Game losses (which were suffered at the hands of teams that all would go on to play in a BCS Championship Game won by Nick Saban’s team). Proponents of the nine-game conference schedule are reminded how much the league slate has grown already---Coach Butts played 66 SEC games in his first twelve years; Coach Dooley, 73; and Coach Richt, 101---but the explosive growth of the conference schedule makes Coach Richt’s achievements even more noteworthy: Coach Richt has led the Bulldogs into battle against SEC opposition 35 more times than Coach Butts and 28 more times than Coach Dooley at the same juncture, yet he has just eight more league losses than either of them.
Butts: 51-12-3 (.796)
Dooley: 41-17-3 (.697)
Richt: 49-8 (.860)
We can attach all the qualifiers that we like, but the fact remains that beating 86 per cent of the non-conference opponents you face is pretty good. For what it’s worth, though, Coach Richt is the only one of the three Georgia coaches in question to have faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets as a non-conference rival in every year of his tenure, he has been to bowl games in each season, and he has opened six of his twelve campaigns against legitimate out-of-conference opponents. Moreover, Coach Richt has taken his team on the road to Arizona, Colorado,
Missouri, and Oklahoma for non-league outings, while Coach Dooley left the South just once in the regular season in his first twelve years. Coach Butts was more ambitious, carrying the Bulldogs to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, but, on the whole, I believe you have to give the nod to Coach Richt for winning 49 of 57 outings outside the SEC, as compared to Coach Butts’s 51 of 66.
Butts: 4-2-1 (.643)
Dooley: 4-5 (.444)
Richt: 8-4 (.667)
Obviously, a rather large asterisk must be attached to the fact that Coach Richt won exactly as many bowl games in his first twelve years as Coach Butts and Coach Dooley combined, given the number of postseason tilts sanctioned by the NCAA today. (For what it’s worth, though, eight of Coach Richt’s dozen bowls have been January affairs.) Let’s just go with the basics, though: Coach Richt has won two-thirds of his bowl appearances, giving him a better winning clip than either Coach Butts or Coach Dooley, though Coach Butts is close behind him.
What ultimate judgments are we to draw from these numbers, other than an appreciation for the fact that Wally Butts actually was a better coach than we presently give him credit for being? Just this: Mark Richt isn’t head and shoulders above the only other two head football coaches to have lasted as long in Athens as he has, but he is out in front of them by most measures, despite competing in a tougher Southeastern Conference on a larger stage. Though that elusive crystal football remains out of reach, Coach Richt is closer to it than ever before---five yards, to be precise---and, if his Bulldogs finish a season ranked No. 1 prior to 2017, he will have claimed a national championship more quickly than Coach Dooley did. On the whole, the only reasonable numerical conclusion to be drawn is that no head football coach in University of Georgia history has been as good for as long as Mark Richt.