The 2007 college football campaign is not yet finished, but the Bulldogs' season is done and Mark Richt now has seven years of service under his belt as Georgia's head coach. This, then, is an appropriate time for us to take a step back and look at Coach Richt's record of achievement in order to gauge how his performance compares to the historical norm in the Classic City.
First, we must look at those of Coach Richt's predecessors who provide a basis for comparison. Mark Richt is just the sixth Bulldog head coach to have held that position for at least seven seasons. Here are the seasons at which we will be looking when analyzing the job Coach Richt is doing:
W.A. Cunningham: 1910-1916
Harry Mehre: 1928-1934
Wally Butts: 1939-1945
Vince Dooley: 1964-1970
Ray Goff: 1989-1995
Mark Richt: 2001-2007
Coach Goff, obviously, did not have an eighth season. (He shouldn't have had a seventh season, or even a sixth one, in my opinion, but that's a separate conversation. Seriously, I look back on Ray Goff's tenure as Georgia's coach the way I look back on Jimmy Carter's term as president of the United States: "Nice guy. Good man. Fine South Georgian. How the heck did we ever think this fellow could do that job?" The wide-eyed naivete of a small child may be an admirable and even inspiring character trait, but it is not a qualification, either for a Division I-A football coach or for a leader of the free world. Sorry, Doug.)
In any case, we are looking at Ray Goff's entire career as Georgia's head coach, but only gazing upon a partial sliver of the careers of W.A. Cunningham, Harry Mehre, Wally Butts, and Vince Dooley when examining the first seven seasons of the Mark Richt era.
We start with the most basic statistic, wins and losses:
Cunningham: 39-16-6 (.689)
Mehre: 42-23-3 (.640)
Butts: 52-21-2 (.707)
Dooley: 48-23-4 (.667)
Goff: 46-34-1 (.574)
Richt: 72-19 (.791)
Obviously, it is exceedingly difficult to draw meaningful year-to-year comparisons in terms of wins and losses, as evidenced by the fact that Vince Dooley had only two more victories in his first seven years than Ray Goff had in his. It is rather telling, though, that, in the era of twelve-game regular seasons, conference championship games, and all but assured bowl berths for seven-win S.E.C. squads, Mark Richt still has fewer losses in his first seven years than any of his predecessors except W.A. Cunningham, who never coached more than nine games in a season.
The better basis for comparison, clearly, is the parenthetical percentage next to each coach's seven-year ledger, which demonstrates decisively that Mark Richt has had the most successful opening run of any Georgia coach, by a large margin. The gap between the second-winningest coach, Wally Butts, and the third-winningest, W.A. Cunningham, is .018, but the gap between the winningest coach, Mark Richt, and the second-winningest, Wally Butts, is .084.
Those, though, are just wins and losses. What did those victories accomplish?
Butts: one S.E.C. championship (1942), one national championship (1942)
Dooley: two S.E.C. championships (1966 and 1968)
Richt: two S.E.C. championships (2002 and 2005)
A trio of caveats ought to be added. First of all, the Bulldogs were declared the 1942 national champions in six of the national polls recognized by the National College Football Hall of Fame and listed in the N.C.A.A.'s official Football Record Book. (So much for the myth of the "mythical" national championship.) Those six polls were the Berryman, DeVold, Houlgate, Litkenhous, Poling, and Williamson polls; both the Associated Press and the coaches voted Ohio State No. 1 that year.
Secondly, Vince Dooley's 1968 squad was declared the national champion by the Litkenhous poll, but, since Southeastern Conference champion Georgia lost to Southwest Conference champion Arkansas by two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl, that No. 1 ranking is dubious, at best. Finally, Mark Richt's 2002 Red and Black unit has as good an argument for the national title as the 2003 Louisiana State Bayou Bengals and the 2006 Florida Gators.
That said, the primary goal of a Georgia coach is to capture Southeastern Conference crowns and, at that objective, Mark Richt has been as successful in his first seven years as any coach in Bulldog history. It took Vince Dooley 17 years to win the Classic City Canines' only unanimous national championship in 1980; unless Mark Richt is a decade away from guiding a Georgia team to a No. 1 final ranking---and I believe Mark Richt is, oh, about fourteen games away from accomplishing that objective---he will be ahead of Coach Dooley's schedule and, otherwise, he is keeping pace with the athletic director who hired him.
For the moment, though, let us move past such regular-season achievements as conference titles and focus instead on postseason play:
Butts: three (one Oil, one Orange, one Rose)
Dooley: five (one Cotton, one Liberty, one Sugar, two Sun)
Goff: four (one Citrus, one Independence, two Peach)
Richt: seven (one Capital One, one Chick-fil-A, one Music City, one Outback, three Sugar)
A gargantuan asterisk must be affixed to those numbers, of course. Coach Cunningham had only one losing season and his 1911 and 1912 teams each finished with a lone loss, but, throughout his career in the Classic City, Pasadena was college football's only postseason destination. Coach Mehre likewise fielded several solid squads in the early 1930s, when bowl berths were significantly less plentiful.
It is, therefore, less impressive than it seems that Coach Richt took each of his first seven teams to bowl games while, say, Coach Butts made it into postseason play just three times. Had there been a Music City Bowl during World War II, the 1944 Bulldogs' 7-3 record certainly would have gotten them into action after Christmas Day and the 1943 Bulldogs' 6-4 record likely would have, as well.
What is meaningful is the fact that Coach Richt's teams have played on New Year's Day or later five times. (The Red and Black took the field after New Year's Eve only four times in the 18 seasons between 1984 and 2001.) In terms of the historic major bowl games, Coach Butts attended two in his first seven years (one Orange Bowl and one Rose Bowl), Coach Dooley attended two (one Cotton Bowl and one Sugar Bowl), and Coach Richt attended three (all of them Sugar Bowls).
Getting there is only half the battle, though. How have these coaches fared upon arriving at their postseason destinations?
Thanks to clock mismanagement against Boston College in 2001 and the 'Dawgs taking the first quarter off against West Virginia in Atlanta two years ago, Coach Richt has not earned the "bowl master" sobriquet with which Coach Butts was tagged. (In retrospect, though, the Sugar Bowl loss to the Mountaineers was not as disastrous as it appeared at the time. The 2005 Big East champions took the field against the Bulldogs as the winners of 25 of their previous 31 contests and, after securing their program-defining win in the City Too Busy to Hate, the Mountain Men proceeded to emerge victorious from 22 of their next 26 outings, registering another B.C.S. bowl win over Oklahoma in the process. What we didn't know two years ago, but know now, is that Pat White and Steve Slaton are great players and Rich Rodriguez is a first-rate coach.)
Aside from suffering slightly in comparison to Coach Butts, though, Coach Richt clearly sets the standard for Georgia coaches in the postseason. Mark Richt is responsible for half of the Sugar Bowl victories in school history, winning by margins of 13 and 31 points in a berth in which the Bulldogs' previous victories were by margins of ten and seven points, and he has never lost a bowl game---or, for that matter, an out-of-conference contest---against a team from a league other than the Big East.
Winning bowl games, though, is just the icing on the cake. Where a coach makes his bones is in rivalry games against teams he faces on a yearly basis. In the next installment of our analysis of the Mark Richt record, therefore, we will be looking at how Georgia coaches have fared against longstanding foes during their first seven seasons on the job.