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Grading Mark Richt After Nine Years With the Georgia Bulldogs (Part I)

Georgia has gone 7-6 in the Bulldogs’ last thirteen games. These results keep recurring for reasons that continue to be repeated. This is where we are as a program. There is no explaining this away. . . .

The saddest and most frustrating part of it is that these players have talent to burn, are playing with heart, and want to win, but their gifts are being squandered. A wealth of NFL-caliber ability is going to waste before our very eyes. We have been down this road before and, although everyone agrees we are on this road again, no one seems determined to slam on the brakes, turn the car around, or even make sure the driver has a valid license. . . .

The systemic problems endemic to our program have reached the extreme levels they had reached in 1995, and the solutions to those problems must be as extreme now as they were then. . . .

I do not doubt that Mark Richt can still surpass Vince Dooley to become the most successful coach in University of Georgia history, but today, for the first time, I am no longer sure he will. When my head hit the pillow on the night of December 26, 2000, I was sure Coach Richt would get to 202 victories during his tenure in Athens. When my head hit the pillow on the night of October 30, 2009, I remained sure of the inevitability of that milestone, as I had remained sure each night in between. Tonight, my head will hit the pillow clouded by doubt as to the certainty of that which I have believed without wavering for nearly nine uninterrupted years.

T. Kyle King (October 31, 2009)

On Saturday, I will be taking my son to Sanford Stadium to see Georgia play Tennessee Tech. At some point, I will spot Mark Richt on the sideline and point him out to the six-year-old boy sitting beside me. I know that, by taking my son to college football games, I am sending a signal that he will see there things worthy of emulation. I will feel no twinge of conscience at the thought that I am tacitly endorsing my son’s adoption of Mark Richt as a role model. If my son is going to grow up admiring a football coach, he would be hard-pressed to pick a better one than Mark Richt. Certainly, the man even rival fans call "the nicest human being on the planet" would be far preferable to the man whose supporters describe him as their "prize assassin."

Damn it, Mark, one of us has to make a decision we don’t want to make. . . .

I know he’s your friend. I know he’s a good man. I know he has a wife, Kim, and three children, Christina, Ashley, and William. I take no pleasure in telling them it’s time for them to pull up stakes, find a new job, and start over somewhere else.

It’s not fair, but that’s life. That, as they say, is why you make the big bucks.

T. Kyle King (November 4, 2009)

Since I wrote those words, Mark Richt has led the Bulldogs to a win over their oldest rivals and a win over their in-state rivals (both of whom were bound for January bowl games), fired three members of his coaching staff, won a bowl game over an up-and-coming Big 12 team, hired Todd Grantham at the end of an exhaustive search for a new defensive coordinator, and gone outside his circle of acquaintances to hire Coach Grantham’s preferred secondary coach. Aside from one atrocious senior night between the hedges, it’s been all uphill since we hit rock bottom.

Any fair evaluation of Coach Richt’s record nine years into his tenure, therefore, most begin with an acknowledgment that he has proven his willingness to make the changes that are necessary to restore the Georgia program to prominence. When even guys who hurl toasters off of balconies during Bulldog victories are urging patience, we need to give credit where credit is due. Mark Richt is a fine man, an excellent coach, and a damn good ‘Dawg.

That said, here is the tale of the tape on Coach Richt’s time in the Classic City:

Just three of Coach Richt’s 24 predecessors lasted as long as nine years as the head coach in Athens. (While Alex Cunningham technically was at the Georgia helm from 1910 to 1919, the Red and Black did not field football teams during the war years of 1917 and 1918, so Coach Cunningham oversaw only eight Georgia squads.) For what it’s worth, Coach Richt’s office is located in a building named for two of the three previous coaches who served nine or more years, and that building is the centerpiece of an athletic complex named for the third such skipper. If, at the end of his coaching career, Mark Richt does not have a sports facility on the University of Georgia campus christened in his honor, it literally will be unprecedented in the annals of the nation’s oldest state-chartered university.

We will be looking at the first nine years of service as head coach by Harry Mehre (1928-1936), Wally Butts (1939-1947), and Vince Dooley (1964-1972). Here is how Mark Richt has measured up against the best in Bulldog history from 2001 to 2009, beginning with his records against particular opponents:

Georgia v. Vanderbilt:
Mehre: 1-1
Butts: 0-0
Dooley: 7-0
Richt: 8-1

While that "1" on the right-hand side of Coach Richt’s ledger against the Commodores is as glaring as it is grating, he beat Vandy more times than any of his predecessors in his first nine years and his lone setback is all that separates him from the perfection achieved by Coach Dooley . . . who, by the way, was 8-1 against the ‘Dores in his first nine meetings with the Commies. It happens.

Georgia v. Kentucky:
Mehre: 0-0
Butts: 4-2-1
Dooley: 8-1
Richt: 7-2

This one is a tad more troubling, inasmuch as the Bulldogs have lost to the Wildcats twice in the last four years. Under Rich Brooks, Kentucky never beat Florida, Tennessee, or even South Carolina, making Georgia the only SEC East opponent the recently-retired Blue and White coach’s ‘Cats beat aside from Vanderbilt. Even so, though, Coach Richt is just one game off of Coach Dooley’s pace, and he clearly responded to the ignominy of falling to Kentucky on the gridiron: Mark Richt followed up both losses to the Bluegrass State Felines by changing coordinators.

Georgia v. Alabama:
Mehre: 1-4
Butts: 3-3
Dooley: 1-2
Richt: 3-1

Though undoubtedly aided by the turmoil in Tuscaloosa during much of the 2000s, Coach Richt still can say that he is the only Georgia coach to have made it through nine seasons at the Red and Black helm with a winning record over the Crimson Tide. He is 2-0 in Bryant-Denny Stadium, a venue in which the Red and Black had never won prior to his arrival.

Georgia v. LSU:
Mehre: 0-3
Butts: 1-4
Dooley: 0-0
Richt: 3-3

As disheartened as we all were by last year’s last-second loss to the Fighting Tigers, Coach Richt’s record against Louisiana State surely counts as one of the feathers in his cap. During one of the most dominant periods in the Bayou Bengals’ history, Mark Richt has held his own against LSU, going .500 against the Tigers both overall and in the Georgia Dome.

Georgia v. Ole Miss:
Mehre: 0-0
Butts: 1-1-1
Dooley: 4-3
Richt: 4-0

You can’t get much better than perfection, particularly when your predecessors all achieved mediocrity against that same opponent in the same span.

Georgia v. South Carolina:
Mehre: 0-0
Butts: 3-0
Dooley: 6-0-1
Richt: 7-2

There may be no more frustrating series for the Bulldogs than their annual affray with the Gamecocks. The Palmetto State Poultry have a long history of playing Georgia close and periodically pulling off the upset, but Coach Butts and Coach Dooley managed to keep the Roosters caged during their first nine years on the job. Coach Richt generally has kept the Carolinians under control, but he’s been nicked by the spurs a couple of times and he has beaten them convincingly just once.

Georgia v. Tennessee:
Mehre: 0-1
Butts: 0-0
Dooley: 0-2-1
Richt: 5-4

While, obviously, the Volunteers were not an annual rival of Georgia’s until the fourth season of the Ray Goff era, the fact is that Harry Mehre and Vince Dooley between them failed in all four of their attempts to conquer the Big Orange during the opening nine years of their respective stays in Athens. Mark Richt has a winning record against Tennessee (albeit only barely) and nearly one-third of all the Bulldogs’ series victories over the Vols (5 of 16) have occurred on Coach Richt’s watch.

Georgia v. Georgia Tech:
Mehre: 6-2-1
Butts: 5-4
Dooley: 7-2
Richt: 8-1

It’s Mark Richt’s state. Paul Johnson is only living in it. Even Vince Dooley didn’t beat the Yellow Jackets at that torrid pace, and, after Bobby Dodd left the Grant Field sideline, he faced some Ramblin’ Wreck coaches a good deal worse than Chan Gailey.

Georgia v. Auburn:
Mehre: 5-4
Butts: 6-2
Dooley: 4-5
Richt: 6-3

The Plainsmen lead the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry with an overall 53-52-8 series record, so it is not surprising that no Georgia coach has put together a truly dominant record over Auburn. Nevertheless, Coach Richt has won two-thirds of his meetings with the Tigers and has taken six of the last eight games, including each of the last four, from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, despite overlapping with the extremely successful Tommy Tuberville for much of his tenure. Coach Richt simply does not get enough credit for his achievements against the Plainsmen. I hate Auburn.

Georgia v. Florida:
Mehre: 6-2-1
Butts: 7-1
Dooley: 5-3-1
Richt: 2-7

Many critics claim that the major blemish on Coach Richt’s record is his lack of a national championship, but this is not the case. By far the worst deficiency to be found in Coach Richt’s resume is his singular lack of success against the Sunshine State Saurians. Where Georgia’s championship chances are concerned, the road from Athens to Atlanta (and beyond) runs through Jacksonville.

When, and only when, balance is restored to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will higher achievements become possible; the days are gone when the Red and Black can lose to the Gators yet still win the East. Division, conference, and national championships will remain unattainable dreams as long as Florida occupies the upper hand in the rivalry. If this problem continues to remain uncorrected, it could overwhelm Mark Richt’s otherwise very successful career in the same way the inability to beat Michigan overshadowed every other achievement of John Cooper’s stewardship of the Ohio State program.

Coming Soon: How Mark Richt Stacks Up in Wins, Winning Percentage, Bowl Appearances, SEC Outings, Non-Conference Contests, and Championships.

Go ‘Dawgs!