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Penn State Coaching Search Targets Mark Richt: Why the Nittany Lions Will Not Poach the Bulldogs' Coach

As NCT noted on Friday, rumors abound regarding Mark Richt and the Penn St. Nittany Lions. Frankly, these rumors are both ignorant and stupid, and anyone who takes these rumors seriously is either ignorant or stupid, but these rumors are out there, nevertheless, so, unfortunately, they warrant discussion, if for no other reason than the fact that Black Shoe Diaries, Off Tackle Empire, and Team Speed Kills all have published postings concerning the purported possibility that Coach Richt might succeed Joe Paterno as the head coach in State College.

Though the three postings cited above are, for the most part, reasonable, some of the comments that followed the ones published at Big Ten weblogs ranged from the idiotic to the uninformed to the thoroughly divorced from reality, so perhaps this would be an opportune time to offer a few reasons why everyone ought to calm down about something that simply is not going to happen.

First, though, I would like to offer a disclaimer. As I pointed out when debunking silly slights from Stewart Mandel, I do not mean to demean Pennsylvania State University, its football program, or its fans. My point is not to disparage PSU, a program and an institution whose strengths are myriad; my point is simply to illustrate that (a) Mark Richt has a good thing going in Athens, and (b) Mark Richt is smart enough to know that. For the sake of my blood pressure this Christmas season, I will refrain from responding to some of the more asinine animadversions cast in the aforementioned comment threads, the perpetrators of which either are too moronic or too mendacious to matter.

Contrary to what the aforementioned Stewart Mandel would tell you, the Georgia and Penn State programs are about as comparable historically as their closely-contested lone series meeting would indicate. The Bulldogs and the Nittany Lions both entered the 2011 season ranked in the top 13 all-time in winning percentage, in the top eleven all-time in total victories, and in the top eight all-time in total bowl appearances. At noon on January 2, Penn State will take the field for its 44th bowl appearance seeking its 28th postseason victory; one hour later, Georgia will take the field for its 47th bowl appearance seeking its 27th postseason victory. Since first taking the field in 1887, the Nittany Lions have posted 21 ten-win seasons and claimed two consensus national championships, most recently in 1986; since first taking the field in 1892, the Bulldogs have posted 19 ten-win seasons and claimed two consensus national championships, most recently in 1980.

Historically, therefore, there is no particularly good reason for preferring Penn State to Georgia, all other things being equal . . . but, even if there were, all other things are not equal. In State College, Coach Richt would face the task of replacing a legend at a program tainted by scandal after the longstanding skipper’s lengthy senescence left the storied team in a state of disarray, if not disrepair. Frankly, if Coach Richt had wanted to undertake such a job, he’d have stayed in Tallahassee in the hope of succeeding Bobby Bowden as the head coach of the Florida St. Seminoles.

Instead of subjecting himself to such a situation, Coach Richt’s other alternative is to stay where he is, where he and his family (including several members of his extended family, as well as his wife and children) have lived for more than a decade, where he faces a future featuring a forthcoming contract extension and the return in 2012 of a defending division championship squad topheavy with talented underclassmen poised for a return run to the Georgia Dome. Mark Richt is about as likely to walk away from that situation as Vince Dooley was liable to leave Athens after Herschel Walker’s freshman year.

Speaking of which, it bears mentioning that Georgia, like Penn State, is a destination job, not a way station to another post. No Georgia coach has exited Athens to accept a coaching job somewhere else since Joel Hunt in 1938, before the ‘Dawgs had either won a Southeastern Conference title or attended a bowl game. Since then, Vince Dooley has been offered a bank-breaking salary to take over at his alma mater . . . and he remained with the Red and Black. Some 17 seasons later, Jim Donnan was afforded the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a head coach in his home state . . . and he stayed with the Bulldogs.

The Classic City, like Happy Valley, is a place head coaches don’t leave after arriving there. It may be difficult for folks in State College to fathom, since the Nittany Lions haven’t had to hire a new head coach since before I was born, but spending more than a decade in the same job counts for quite a lot in college coaching; Mark Richt, the dean of SEC coaches, is the third Georgia skipper to last more than ten years in Athens.

The first of Coach Richt’s predecessors to do so was Wally Butts, who was the head coach of the Bulldogs for 22 seasons. When he left the Sanford Stadium sideline, Coach Butts had more wins than any of his predecessors at Georgia. He thereafter became the Bulldogs’ full-time athletic director. He lived the rest of his life in Athens, and he is buried at Oconee Hill Cemetery, in the shadow of Sanford Stadium. Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, the building in which Mark Richt’s office is located, is named in Wally Butts’s honor.

The second of Coach Richt’s predecessors to last more than a decade in the Classic City was Vince Dooley, who was the head coach of the Bulldogs for 25 seasons. When he left the Sanford Stadium sideline, Coach Dooley had more wins than any of his predecessors at Georgia. He thereafter became the Bulldogs’ full-time athletic director, and he still lives in Athens. The Vince Dooley Athletic Complex, the complex in which Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall is located, is named in Vince Dooley’s honor.

Coach Richt, who is more than halfway to matching Coach Dooley’s school-record win tally, has compiled a better winning percentage than that of either of his long-tenured predecessors in his eleven seasons on the job at Georgia. How likely, then, is Coach Richt to bolt the Peach State for Pennsylvania? Permit me to answer that question with the words of Mark Richt himself:

I got offered the Pittsburgh job about 12 years ago and decided not to go. I asked [my wife] Katharyn, "Do you want to live in Pittsburgh the rest of your life?" She said, "No,"and I said, "Then we’re not going." She asked, "Why not?" I said, "Because I don’t want to go to a school, knowing that I’m just using that as a steppingstone to go somewhere else. I’ll just stay where I’m at." I told her my goal is to stay at Florida State for the rest of our career, and if we do move for a head coaching opportunity, we move only once.

He turned down the Pittsburgh Panthers in the hope of being given a future opportunity to become a head coach at a school at which he would be content to spend the rest of his career. When the possibility of becoming the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs arose, Coach Richt actively pursued the job, and he has never given any indication of an inclination to go elsewhere. Heck, he’s even been known to apologize for innocuous statements that might have been misinterpreted as evincing an intention to leave.

In light of the regrettable scandal engulfing the Penn State program, it makes perfect sense that the Nittany Lions would want a man of Mark Richt’s unimpeachable integrity. Coach Richt has won in the SEC without oversigning, and he has proven to be a strict disciplinarian who is not afraid to kick bad seeds off of his team. In that respect, Coach Richt would be a worthy successor to Joe Paterno, and, besides, Penn State already has been associated with prominent Georgians in the midst of the current crisis.

If Coach Richt were still the offensive coordinator at Florida State and found himself faced with the choice between becoming the head coach in Athens and becoming the head coach in State College, he might well choose the latter over the former. I don’t think he would, but I concede that he reasonably could.

Here and now, though? With all due respect to Penn State, our head coach ain’t leaving. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the way it is, and the way it is, is this: Mark Richt will never leave Georgia to take a head coaching job somewhere else, period.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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