In my time as a Georgia Bulldog football fan, since 1980, Mark Richt is my favorite of all Georgia's head coaches, past and present. While at Georgia, he stood for what was right, even if it meant his team suffered, a rare quality in a leader today. The primary thing which set Mark apart from many, is the fact that he is a Christian, led to the Lord by former Florida State
head coach, the late Bobby Bowden. Richt accepted Christ as his Savior while he served as Offensive Coordinator for Florida State, where he admitted he needed Jesus following the death of one of FSU's players.
This past Saturday, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, at halftime of the Georgia/Missouri game, Richt was recognized and honored. It was great to see someone of true character, honored on such a large public stage. To me, Mark, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease earlier this year, epitomized what a head coach should be. He cared more for the players' character development than he cared about winning championship rings. He valued the impact he could have on a 20 year old man, more than he valued any performance achievement. It wasn't that he didn't want to win, he simply knew that it wasn't the most important thing in life.
When Georgia chose to part ways with Richt after the 2015 season, I thought it was one of the biggest mistakes in the history of college football. He was winning consistently, averaging 10 wins per year. He led the program with the utmost integrity, recruited at a high level, and helped bring the kind of on the field and off the field success to UGA that hadn't been there seen since the 80's. He was being fired, however, because he hadn't won an SEC title in recent years, and hadn't played for a national title since he took the job in 2001.
Richt's replacement was Kirby Smart, a UGA alum and player, and the 9-year defensive coordinator for Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide
. Nothing against Kirby, and many won't agree with me, but I'm one of those few who still think it was a mistake firing Mark Richt. When you replace a successful coach like Richt, a man of real and rare character, you send a huge message to your program and to your players, that winning the championship is the only thing that matters. The message I got, was that the leadership at Georgia cared more about winning than they did about the character of the program and of their head coach.
In my narrow opinion, Mark Richt is the greatest coach in Georgia history. Not because of how many games he won or lost... not because of how many conference championships he won... not because of how many players he sent to the 1st round of the NFL draft
. Mark Richt is and was the greatest head coach in Georgia football history, because he coached with character, walked with integrity, led by example, and he wasn't afraid to be himself.
Richt was a man's man. A real man. A straight shooter who didn't bend to the potential pressures of expressing, in a very respectful way, the importance of Jesus Christ. He would take players on missions trips, discipline star players the same as rookies, and moved the schedule of his morning coaches meeting to a time that allowed those coaches who were fathers, to have devotions with their families in the mornings, and make sure their kids got off to school first. It was things like this that made Coach Richt respected and admired, so much so, that among other head coaches around the nation, Richt was once chosen as the head coach most coaches would pick to coach their son. Sure, Richt wanted to win, and he did win, a lot. He was a competitor, but not at all costs. And that's what set him apart from many.
Don't get me wrong. I like Kirby Smart, and other than an occasional "F" bomb, there's nothing that indicates the man doesn't coach with integrity and have values and priorities. But I'm partial to Richt because he was such an example and a great leader to young men, aside from their performance. Most players don't advance to the NFL. The overwhelming majority of players go into the workforce in some fashion. Richt realized this and wanted to impact each player's character and integrity, so they would be good husbands, good fathers, good employees, good people.
I guess here's the bottom line. After you win that elusive championship, what then? They want you to win another one right? And then when you win that one, they want another one right? There never becomes that moment when you're finally satisfied. Mark knows that the highest achievement can't satisfy. It takes something more, and that's what he tried to instill in his players, and that's why he's the greatest. Do I wish he's been able to win a National Title? I sure do. But not winning it makes him no less great. There'll likely never be another guy quite like Mark Richt. He's truly one of a kind in my book.
Thank you UGA for recognizing a true man of character, and my personal favorite head coach of all-time, Coach Mark Richt. And there's not a close second place.
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