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Brian VanGorder Returns to S.E.C. East, Mark Richt Stays for the Long Haul

I know I said I'd get to Too Much Information this evening, but I'm afraid that's going to have to wait another day, because a number of other points warrant our attention:

The latest rumor out of Knoxville is that Trooper Taylor will be replaced by Deputy Fife, but no press conference has been scheduled.

Milton Friedman no doubt would have been intrigued by the theory I will offer in the following paragraph.

Jace is a good guy and a smart fellow whose perspective I respect and appreciate. Because The Blogger Who Came In From the Cold entertains similar doubts, I am beginning to formulate a theory that libertarian Bulldog fans have a particular inclination to believe Mark Richt will leave Georgia for another job one day. (This actually makes a great deal of sense, when you think about it, since the conviction that a man will leave one job for another if given sufficient financial incentives is compatible with the faith in the free market which is the bedrock foundation of economic libertarianism.)

I have stated my contrary belief before, but it bears repeating at a time when the evidence for my side of the argument continues to mount. On the day Mark Richt coaches his final game with the Georgia Bulldogs, Vince Dooley will be the second-winningest coach in school history.

I have believed that, quite literally, from the day Mark Richt was hired at Georgia. At the time, my brother-in-law, Travis Rice, and I were co-hosting a local cable T.V. program called "The Dawg Show" and, starting with Coach Richt's first game with the Red and Black in 2001, I began counting down each victory en route to his record-tying 201st win as part of The Mark Richt Victory Watch, which continues to this day here at Dawg Sports.

When interviewed upon this topic by a fellow SB Nation weblog, I had this to say upon the subject:

I understand why this question gets asked and it is perfectly reasonable for folks to ask it. That said, I must confess that I find this question---which I get often---absolutely maddening.

Mark Richt has always said that he and his wife either wanted to move once or not at all; their goal was to stay in Tallahassee, so he could succeed Bobby Bowden, or to take a head coaching job somewhere else and stay there. It was an "or," not an "and," and the Richts made their choice.

Coach Richt certainly has behaved like he meant what he said in this regard. He turned down overtures from other schools, including what appears to have been an outright offer from Virginia, yet he actively pursued the Georgia job, asking both Bobby Bowden and Grant Teaff to intercede with Vince Dooley when he learned there was a vacancy in Athens. His initial contract made no special exceptions for Florida State or Miami to hire him away, the way Urban Meyer's contract at Utah made a special exception for Notre Dame.

Following the Bulldogs' 2002 S.E.C. championship but before the Sugar Bowl showdown with the Seminoles, Coach Richt renegotiated his contract. The deal was done quickly, without the sort of eyebrow-raising delays that preceded Dennis Franchione's defection from Alabama, and Coach Richt's new contract had both the longest term and the largest buyout of any contract in University of Georgia history.

When Coach Richt left Florida State, he remained in Tallahassee an extra few days to say goodbye to his church, lending credence to the notion that he was bidding farewell to a chapter of his life that was closing. By all accounts, Coach Richt, his wife, and their children love Athens. He has been true to his word in every other way, which ought to lead everyone to believe that he is not lying when he says he is staying. By the way, Coach Richt recently signed another post-S.E.C. championship contract extension, once again without delays or evasions.

Moreover, I have seen this movie before and I know how it ends. A rising young coach makes his mark as a coordinator at a Sunshine State school, enabling that institution to win a national title. A traditional powerhouse program fallen on hard times hires him to revive its fading football fortunes, which he does, winning a championship in just his second season. Then the legendary longtime head coach of the school where he made his bones retires and the opportunity is presented for him to succeed his mentor at the helm.

At first, the offer is enticing. Upon further review, though, he realizes that his loyalty was not to the school (which, after all, he did not attend), but to the head coach who is stepping down. It dawns on him that he already has one of the best jobs in coaching and that he will be more likely to compete for conference and national titles in his present post than he would be if he accepted the impossible challenge of replacing a school's greatest coach. He goes to his athletic director, arranges for his own deal to be sweetened, and graciously bows out of the running, preferring to remain where he is.

That rising young coordinator turned successful head coach was named Bob Stoops and, when Steve Spurrier stepped down, he told Jeremy Foley to go to the next name on his list. Mark Richt will make the same choice for the same reasons, particularly in light of the fact that the F.S.U. program Bobby Bowden hands off to his successor is apt to be a shadow of its former self. There can be little doubt that, right now, the Bulldogs' long-term prospects look a good deal brighter than the Seminoles'.

Besides, being the head football coach at the University of Georgia is no one's steppingstone job. Since Harry Mehre left Athens and went to Oxford after the 1937 season, no Red and Black coach has jilted Georgia to go coach somewhere else. Vince Dooley considered the Auburn job in 1980 . . . and he decided to stay. Jim Donnan considered the North Carolina job in 1997 . . . and he decided to stay. Mark Richt will consider the Florida State job when it comes open, but he will reach the same conclusion.

Mark Mark's words: Coach Richt will retire as the winningest coach in University of Georgia football history and his gold watch will be presented to him in Athens, not in Tallahassee or Coral Gables. Count on it.

Since I offered those thoughts in March 2006, the world has turned a few times. Coach Richt's alma mater, the University of Miami, fired Larry Coker in November 2006 and, after whiffing on Greg Schiano, hired Randy Shannon. If Coach Richt was even mentioned as a realistic possibility to succeed Coach Coker, it escaped my notice. Why? Surely it couldn't be because Mark Richt, a Miami alum with a successful track record who regularly recruits the Sunshine State, was the Hurricanes' third choice. Could it be that "The U" knew that Coach Richt is a man of his word who plans on staying where he is?

With respect to the Seminoles, for whom Coach Richt was an assistant coach for fifteen of the sixteen years immediately preceding his arrival in Athens, Florida State University president T.K. Wetherell designated offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher "head coach in waiting" just last week. That's the university president saying that, mind you, not the athletic director . . . and the parties to that transaction put their money where their mouths were (literally) by putting pen to paper and crafting a contract that secures Coach Fisher's ongoing loyalty through financial incentives.

If Jace is right "that Richt's contract has an opt-out clause for an undisclosed school," surely that school would be either F.S.U. or Miami, yet we know Coach Richt won't succeed either Larry Coker or Bobby Bowden, because we know already that Randy Shannon has succeeded, and Jimbo Fisher will succeed, those men at those schools. If there is such an opt-out clause in Coach Richt's contract, it is now a moot point (as, by the way, is the question, "What if Bobby Bowden hangs on forever?", as I believe Coach Bowden will retire the minute Joe Paterno steps down---at this point, Bobby can only be sticking around to stay ahead of JoePa on the all-time wins list---and the winds of change are blowing in Happy Valley).

Heck, Florida State even gave Coach Fisher his own comic book, so it's pretty obvious they're serious.

As for the fact that Mark Richt used to be the offensive coordinator in Tallahassee, so what? Coach Richt served as F.S.U.'s O.C. for seven seasons (1994-2000) . . . exactly as long as he has served as Georgia's head coach (2001-2007). While Coach Richt's time with the Seminoles doubtless does, and certainly should, remain an important period in his life and career that he recalls with fondness, his connection to the Classic City waxes, and his bond with the Sunshine State wanes, with each passing day.

Other schools obviously realize that Mark Richt is a fine coach and a good man, which is why fans of Michigan and U.C.L.A.---historically successful programs at institutions with strong academic and athletic reputations to protect---called for Coach Richt to be interviewed for their head coaching openings. Those calls did not come because athletic directors and university presidents know what too many Georgia fans still doubt: Mark Richt ain't going anywhere.

As Paul Westerdawg has noted before, Mark Richt is a family man who has brought a large circle of friends and kin to Clarke County. Those who know him best obviously believe he is committed, or else they would not so clearly have put down roots in a community some among the Bulldog faithful believe is a temporary place of residence for a coach who has shown no signs of transience.

It is difficult to believe that Mark Richt's son, Jon, would have accepted a scholarship offer to play at Clemson---just a short drive up I-85 from Athens---if the young man entertained doubts that his father would remain a citizen of the Peach State for the four or five years of his collegiate eligibility. (By the way . . . Florida State was looking at Jon Richt as a prospect, as well, but he went with a school close to where his dad would be instead of heading to Tallahassee.)

Go ahead. Doubt this man. I dare you. I double-'Dawg dare you.

Consider these facts: Mark Richt is the 25th head football coach in University of Georgia history. Mark Richt has strolled the sidelines for more games as the head coach of the Red and Black than all but three of his predecessors. Of the three men who coached more games at Georgia than Coach Richt has thus far, two are the namesakes of the building in which Coach Richt's office is located and one was the athletic director who hired him.

On New Year's Day 2008, Mark Richt will coach his 91st game at Georgia. Harry Mehre, the last man to abandon the Bulldogs for the opportunity to coach elsewhere, coached 99 games with the Bulldogs during his ten-year tenure in Athens (1928-1937). Barring unforeseen tragedy or the most stunning coaching move of a shocking season, Coach Richt will be back in Athens next autumn and will coach his 100th game at Georgia in November 1's clash with Florida.

Only two men have coached as many as 100 football games for the Red and Black. The first, James Wallace Butts, spent 22 seasons on the Sanford Stadium sideline (1939-1960) and retired to become Georgia's full-time athletic director. The second, Vincent Joseph Dooley, spent 25 seasons on the Sanford Stadium sideline (1964-1988) and retired to become Georgia's full-time athletic director. In less than eleven months, Mark Richt will join that elite company. Anyone who doubts the man's loyalty at that point simply lacks faith in 115 years of Georgia football tradition; when that time comes, any such naysayers who yet persist in their negativity should know that the fault lies not in Coach Richt, but in themselves.

I mean no disrespect to Jace Walden or to The Blogger Who Came In From the Cold, both of whom are loyal Georgia fans whose love for the 'Dawgs does not blind them to the reality to which SkiDawg1985 astutely alerted us: "No coach loves your team as much as you do." As a general proposition, they are right to doubt the sorts of men who become college head coaches, in much the same way they are right to doubt the sorts of men and women who become successful politicians. However, some men and women represent a better class of public servant and Mark Richt represents a better class of head coach.

Trust me . . . we in Bulldog Nation are going to get to enjoy seeing this for a long time.

Mark Richt knows what too many Georgia fans are too hesitant to recognize. He won't be leaving Athens to go coach somewhere else for the same reason George W. Bush won't be resigning the presidency of the United States in order to become the chief of state for another country: when you already have the best job in your profession, any job switch is a bad career move.

On January 1, the Bulldogs will play in their third Sugar Bowl in a six-year period. The Classic City Canines, who came into this season as the only S.E.C. team to have won at least nine games in each of the previous five years, have one game remaining in their fifth ten-win season in a six-year period, in which they finished no worse than tied for first place in the Eastern Division for the fourth time in a six-season span.

These are Georgia's glory days and, having come from a program that won at least ten games in each of the fourteen seasons immediately preceding his departure for Athens, Mark Richt knows that the lid has been knocked off, has fallen to the floor, and has rolled behind the refrigerator, never to be clamped down atop the jar again.

Let me state it plainly: Georgia is about to go on a run that will demonstrate to every college football fan in the country that the 'Dawgs are Southern Cal with a Southern accent. Yes, even mythical Montanans soon will recognize the Red and Black's elite status.

If Stewart Mandel doubts the Bulldogs now, what has he been smoking?

Knowshon Moreno is a redshirt freshman. Matthew Stafford is a sophomore. If you think Mark Richt would be dumb enough to leave those two stellar talents as underclassmen just because a school to which he had ties years ago threw a boatload of money at him, you probably thought Vince Dooley would be dumb enough to leave Herschel Walker as a freshman just because a school to which he had ties years before threw a boatload of money at him.

If you thought that about Vince Dooley, you were stone cold flat dead wrong about Georgia's current all-time winningest head football coach then.

If you think that about Mark Richt, you are stone cold flat dead wrong about Georgia's future all-time winningest head football coach now. Quarrel with that position if you like; I'll look forward to spending the next 20 years asserting the correct perspective until the math plays out exactly like I've told you from the get-go that it will.

Enough of this. We've got a Sugar Bowl to go win. Let's get to it.

Go 'Dawgs!