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Would Mark Richt Leave Athens Over an Indoor Practice Facility?

I mentioned last night that August has been another record-setting month here at Dawg Sports and, for that, MaconDawg and I are exceedingly grateful to our regular readers.

In particular, we appreciate the many fine folks who drop by to comment on a regular basis. SB Nation is all about building communities of fans, so that the webloggers associated with the network are not delivering monologues, we are engaging in conversations.

Consequently, I was pleased when, after I good-naturedly poked fun at Mark Richt's recent apology for remarks made in irritation which were quite minor, my good friend the Blogger Who Came In From The Cold revisited an old topic:

I told you so...


I hope you have all the old stuff archived. And I know you and I disagree about this - but this is a window into what he really thinks. Richt is gone when a program he wants (FSU?) opens up. When it happens, I want you to be able to post a link to the several times I have said that.

BWCIFTC may rest assured that all of his previous comments upon this subject (which have been consistent) remain available for retrieval. If his prediction ever comes to pass, as I maintain it will not, I will freely admit that he was right and I was wrong.

Just to be clear, Coach Richt's comments were as follows:

It's just a royal pain to have to deal with this kind of stuff. It would be nice to have a little indoor facility nearby where you wouldn't have to spend your whole life trying to figure out a new plan. It's very frustrating, it gets very old and I'm about tired of it.

Maybe one day we'll get that done.

If we are bound and determined to parse the minutiae of an utterance made in a fit of pique---a practice which would make every one of us look much worse than Mark Richt, by the way---I suppose we could read "I'm about tired of it" to mean that Coach Richt intends to take another job elsewhere if an indoor practice facility is not built in the Classic City.

I do not believe that is what he meant, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he followed up on his original statement by saying, "Maybe one day we'll get that done." We . . . not they. Mark Richt talks like one of us because he is one of us.

If push truly ever did come to shove---if Coach Richt ever delivered an ultimatum to build an indoor practice facility or find another coach---I have not the slightest doubt that he would get an indoor practice facility. This, though, would not be the way to go about drawing such a line in the sand. Making an offhand, oblique remark to a reporter in a moment of anger---as opposed to, say, alluding to the need at a Bulldog Club meeting in the presence of influential boosters---simply wouldn't be the sensible approach to take in getting what he wants, if in fact he wants it as badly as is supposed.

To be fair, BWCIFTC clarified his earlier statement:

Its an accumulation of motivating factors. I think he has interest in going elsewhere...despite what my wise (and FAR better informed) friend Kyle thinks.

Having said that - I don't think that he is eager to leave - he won't take "any ole job" just to get out of Athens- but I don't think Coach Richt is as invested at UGA as he and Kyle would have you believe.

I don't know that I'm either wise or better informed than any other Georgia fan, but here is why I believe what I believe:

Mark Richt had roots in Tallahassee. Other than a year spent at East Carolina, Coach Richt was at Florida State from 1985 to 2000. His wife, Katharyn, is from there. As a family man, Coach Richt committed himself to not moving or moving once, as he has said on many occasions.

The truth of this assertion is reflected in the fact that Coach Richt spurned other offers while serving as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator. He declined to pursue serious opportunities and, evidently, he rejected the Virginia job based on the mere possibility that the Georgia job might be available.

When that prospect became a viable one, Coach Richt asked Bobby Bowden and Grant Teaff to intervene actively with Vince Dooley on his behalf. After years of turning away potential suitors, he doggedly pursued the Georgia job. That the move to Athens was a family decision was made clear by the fact that Mrs. Richt and all four of their children wore red and black to the press conference at which Coach Richt's hiring was announced. That they bid farewell to Tallahassee when they left is attested to by the fact that they delayed their departure to say goodbye to their faith family at the church they attended.

When assembling his staff, Coach Richt hired John Eason, a former Florida State wide receivers coach, and Dave Van Halanger, then the strength and conditioning coach for the Seminoles. At the time, Coach Eason had two teenaged children; Coach Van Halanger is the father of five. Why would these men have uprooted their families to follow Coach Richt to Athens if they believed Georgia would be a stepping stone to their eventual return to Tallahassee to resume jobs they already had held there? Why not simply stay put and wait for Coach Richt's eventual return?

On the day the hiring was announced, Coach Dooley and Coach Richt were asked directly whether the buyout clause in the new coach's contract would contain exceptions for Florida State or Miami. The direct answer was that it would not.

It is worth noting that, last year, Coach Richt's alma mater hired a new head coach. If Coach Richt's name came up in the conversation, it was not mentioned seriously enough to warrant any coverage in the Atlanta media market or any concern in Bulldog Nation. Likewise, the most recent speculation regarding Bobby Bowden's eventual successor at Florida State did not even mention Coach Richt as a possibility. Apparently, Miami got the message and Florida State is getting the message, even if not all of the Georgia faithful yet realize it.

After taking the Bulldogs to their first Southeastern Conference championship in 20 years, Coach Richt renegotiated his contract in 2002. If memory serves, the details were agreed to between Damon Evans and Coach Richt before the Sugar Bowl. (Compare that to Dennis Franchione's deliberate delays in signing his new contract at Alabama during that same period, when he was preparing to bolt for Texas A&M.) Coach Richt signed what was then the longest-term coaching contract in school history, which contained the largest buyout in school history. That's not a move a man in a strong negotiating position makes unless he means it.

In the years since Coach Richt's arrival in Athens, numerous friends and family members of his, many of whom have small children of their own, have made the move to the Classic City, as well. Coach Richt's sister and brother-in-law, Kevin Hynes, accompanied him to Georgia as the team chaplain, along with their children. When Chappy gave my son, Thomas, and me a tour of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, he pointed out the tangible ways in which Coach Richt had attempted to instill school-specific pride and stated unequivocally:

He loves being the coach at Georgia. He's not going anywhere else unless they, you know, can him, but he loves Georgia. He loves the people, he loves the players, he loves the atmosphere, and he's not looking to move. He's not looking to go anywhere. He believes God brought him here and that's where he's going to stay.

Precisely that same sentiment was expressed by Coach Richt when issuing his apology:
I am very proud to be at the University of Georgia. I have poured a lot of my life and energy into this program and I'm thankful every day for where God has placed me.

Either this is the most orchestrated campaign of misinformation ever implemented by the least devious man alive or Mark Richt is an honest man. Knowing what we know about Coach Richt's strong personal religious faith, can we sincerely suppose that Coach Richt would ever invoke the name of the Almighty in the course of making a public statement that he knew to be a lie? We are, after all, talking about a man who explained his decision to turn the play-calling duties over to Mike Bobo like so:
I knew I wasn't really being obedient like I should be and by the time I went to the week of the Georgia Tech game, I was trying to pray one morning and I couldn't even pray. I . . . did a devotion with my kids about being obedient. About being obedient now, not delayed obedience.

So, I gave this real nice little devotion to my kids and I was feeling pretty good about life and I began to pray on my way to work and I said, "Lord, I really want to obey you and I just really want to obey you now." And my spirit just kind of said, "Well, why don't you obey me?" I knew exactly what God was talking about. So I knew if I didn't do it now, I'm really going to find myself in a real heap of trouble.

I called Mike in on the Thursday of the game and he had to call the game on Saturday. I told him, "I don't care what happens in the game, but all I know is if I don't have you take over, I'm in direct disobedience to the Lord."

Even if you think that's a guy who would tell a flat-out lie, you can't possibly believe that's a guy who would tell a flat-out lie while invoking the name of the Lord, particularly when delivering a prepared (read: premeditated) statement. That simply isn't who Mark Richt is.

Leave all that aside, though, and there remains the fact that we have seen this movie before, so we know how it ends.

A Sunshine State school has been led to the pinnacle of college football by the man who undeniably is the institution's greatest coach. A rising young coordinator helps to provide the final piece of the puzzle that enables the beloved head coach to capture the national championship. Shortly thereafter, the coordinator is hired to be the head coach at a traditional power in another conference that has fallen on hard times.

The new head coach, removed from his mentor's shadow, flourishes, restoring the old glory of his new school and leading it to a championship in just his second season. Contract extensions, successful seasons, and additional titles follow as 10-win campaigns become the rule rather than the exception.

The old head coach under whom he learned his craft retires and the school calls upon the former coordinator to replace the departing legend. He thinks about it . . . then realizes that his ties were to the coach, not to the school (which he did not attend), and that his prospects for winning championships are better where he is than where he once may have believed he wanted to be. He turns down the job.

I am referring, of course, to Steve Spurrier, Bob Stoops, and the Florida Gators. Why wouldn't that same script play out exactly in the same manner for Bobby Bowden, Mark Richt, and the Florida State Seminoles? Haven't the Richts demonstrated their commitment? They spurned earlier offers, said heartfelt farewells, moved numerous friends and family members with them to Athens, put down roots in the community, signed long-term deals with high-dollar buyouts, and behaved in every respect as though they meant what they said. Does one irked outburst, vaguely stated and quickly recanted, even begin to undermine that?

The Georgia job is no man's stepping stone. Vince Dooley was offered a huge contract to return to his alma mater . . . and he stayed. Jim Donnan was offered the opportunity to return to his home state . . . and he stayed. Not since Harry Mehre lit out for Oxford after the 1937 season has a Bulldog head football coach left the Classic City to take the same job at another university.

Why would Mark Richt do that at a point when Georgia's glory has been fully restored? Anyone who says Coach Richt would leave is, in effect, calling Mark Richt a liar. Has Mark Richt ever said or done anything to give anyone a reason to believe that he is not an honest man? Indeed, has he ever said or done anything to give anyone a reason to believe that he is not one of the most respectable men in his entire profession?

Does anyone doubt what awaits Bobby Bowden's successor in Tallahassee? Let me run down a list of names and see if you can figure out what they all have in common:

  • Gomer Jones
  • Doug Barfield
  • Ray Perkins
  • Ray Goff
  • Ron Zook
Those are the coaches who succeeded Bud Wilkinson, Shug Jordan, Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley, and Steve Spurrier, respectively. Note the use of the word "succeeded," for they in no sense replaced the legends whose jobs they took.

Coach Jones lasted two seasons in Norman. Coach Perkins lasted four in Tuscaloosa. Coach Barfield lasted five in the Loveliest Village, Coach Zook lasted three in the Swamp, and, because he was a Georgia alumnus, Coach Goff managed to stick around for seven in the Classic City. A head coach with Ray's record who was not a former Georgia quarterback would have been gone after five years.

The man who is coaching the Florida State Seminoles the year after the Bobby Bowden era ends will not be coaching the Florida State Seminoles in the sixth year after the Bobby Bowden era ends. I defy anyone to deny that this statement is a fact. If we take it as a given---and history certainly suggests that we should---Mark Richt would be foolish to surrender security in Athens for jeopardy in Tallahassee. Does anyone believe Coach Richt is both a liar and a fool? Either one is a stretch; for him to be both is beyond the bounds of plausibility.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that this is Coach Bowden's last season with the 'Noles. Let's suppose that Coach Richt shrewdly allows the job to go to someone else and that person is fired five years later. That puts us at the end of the 2012 season. Mark Richt will have been in Athens for a dozen years. His youngest child will turn 16 the following February; Coach Richt will celebrate his 53rd birthday five days later. Will he really want to uproot his family again after more than a decade of stability with two of his four children then nearing the end of their high school careers? Knowing what I know about Coach Richt, I simply don't see the sense of it.

I believe Coach Richt's roots in Athens are deeper than we give them credit for being. Mark Richt is the 25th head football coach in University of Georgia history and, of his 24 predecessors, only four coached more than the 78 games Coach Richt already has lasted on the Sanford Stadium sideline.

By the end of the 2007 regular season, he will have coached 90 games for the Bulldogs. The only three fellows who coached more games at Georgia than that are the two guys whose names are on the building in which Coach Richt works and the former head coach who hired him. If Coach Richt remains in Athens through the end of the 2008 season---and would you leave Matthew Stafford on the eve of his junior year behind a seasoned offensive line?---he will have coached more than 100 games at Georgia. The only two of his predecessors to have reached the century mark served 22 and 25 years, respectively, as Georgia's head coach, retiring from that post to become athletic director.

Mark Richt says he's staying. I believe him, for two reasons: (1) everything he's ever said and (2) everything he's ever done. On the day Mark Richt coaches his last game as the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, Vince Dooley will be the second-winningest coach in school history. Count on it.

Go 'Dawgs!