I hold Mark Richt personally responsible for my disillusionment with UGA football. Allow me to explain:
I was raised by the University of Georgia. My grandfather is from Athens, my dad played football there, and I'm a Damn Good Dawg myself. My mother, aunt, uncle, cousin, sister, cat, second-goldfish, and brother all graduated from UGA.
Georgia was never a choice for me. I was born into it, molded by it. Mark Richt, on the other hand... Richt chose UGA. And, in doing so, he nearly ruined it for me.
The former Georgia Bulldogs coach stepped down (got fired) from UGA in 2015. His reputation for losing at the wrong time and in the wrong way (tough crowd, huh?) stewed bitterness amongst many UGA fans.
Richt was a walking contradiction. Richt perennially had a top recruiting class, but only two SEC Championships (plus he whiffed on Trevor Lawrence). He had a winning record, but mostly against weak teams. To many a Georgia faithful, Richt spoke softly but carried a small stick.
Richt's record against top competition was discouraging at best — a fireable offense at worst. Mark Richt-coached teams consistently imploded on the biggest stages. Sure, Richt's Dawgs would crush Vandy or Middle Tennessee most years, but if Notre Dame or Bama comes a-knockin', then call off the band, boys — no Richt team was ever ready for the big dance.
Who remembers when Alabama came to town in 2008? Richt had future top NFL Draft picks Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford in his arsenal, plus a blacked-out stadium full of blacked-out college students ready to go to war. What did Richt do with this massive ammunition? Lay a giant dawg shit, right between the hedges.
Bama embarrassed the Dawgs at home, 38-10, which makes it sound closer than it was. Dawg fans were starting to recognize the pattern. It was another episode of Richt's stage fright.
Season after season, Richt's Bulldogs started high. Season after season, they'd either get upset or blown out by someone somewhere along the way. Season after season, many Georgia fans came to see a national championship as unattainable under Mark Richt.
Mark Richt is undoubtedly a college football great. My opinion of Richt is far from the only one. Many UGA fans still consider Richt to be the best coach Athens ever had, after Dooley. The amount of draft picks Richt sent to the NFL still affects the professional game today. He left UGA in 2015 with the fifth-highest winning percentage amongst his peers.
After his time in Georgia had ended, Richt returned to his roots in Florida.
The Sunshine State isn't just a vacation spot for Richt. He was born into it, molded by it...
Mark Richt in Florida
FOOTBALL THIS MONTH!
Coolest thing Mark Richt has done? Someone?s gotta bring this back this year. @FootballUGA pic.twitter.com/x7QsaxWDSs
— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) August 17, 2018
Mark Richt has been around college football for the better part of half a century. He began tossing pigskin at a South Florida high school in the 1970s. His arm took him to the NCAA on a scholarship to his local University of Miami.
Richt backed up greats during his college career (foreshadowing) and spent a short time in the NFL backing up John Elway. He began coaching at Florida State University, backing up Jimbo Fisher in the 80s.
During the 90s, The Seminoles hummed with Richt as the offensive coordinator. He coached two Florida State University quarterbacks to two Heisman Trophies and two National Championships (pre-College Football Playoff era). Determined not to be a backup again, Richt took head coach interviews as the Millennium closed.
While Florida State thrived in the 90s, their northern neighbors floundered under several failed non-Dooley wannabes. Eager to please a fanbase desperate to return to relevancy, Georgia hired Mark Richt as head coach in 2001.
Mark Richt in Georgia
Richt spent 15 seasons as the head coach in Athens, GA. He coached the Dawgs to five Eastern Conference division titles and two SEC Championships in Atlanta. Georgia fans rejoiced — the Dawgs were relevant again.
Unfortunately for Richt, relevancy didn't produce championships, which is what UGA fans discovered they really wanted. After a lackluster final three seasons, Richt stepped down (was fired) from UGA in 2015. Richt was replaced by his former defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart.
Richt didn't lose yards on the loss (termination). Almost immediately, he accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater Miami. Richt returned to the ACC Coastal Division after 30 years from home.
Mark Richt in Florida: The Return
UGA swapping out Mark Richt for Kirby Smart pic.twitter.com/nB1v5bgIyY
— Billy Bags (@GatorTweets) March 18, 2021
Richt gave the Miami Hurricanes the same treatment he gave the Georgia Bulldogs — overperform early, set high expectations, settle into mediocrity.
The 'Canes blew through their competition during Richt's first two seasons as the Miami head coach. The Hurricanes were winning, nationally ranked, and revitalizing the dried-up U. Richt won the Walter Camp Coach of the Year after his second season in 2017. And then... well, Georgia fans know the story. Miami coach Mark Richt Richt'd it up.
Mark Richt was never able to handle high expectations at Georgia. Anytime the Dawgs entered the season ranked in the Associated Press top five, we (the fans) pretty much knew Richt was going to Richt the season away and then sort of blame it on God. Richt's performance anxiety followed him home to South Florida.
Richt entered the 2018 season reigning Coach of the Year Award and at No. 8 in preseason rankings. He finished the season getting destroyed by Wisconsin (in the Yankee-themed Pinstripe Bowl), with a hard-to-get-excited-about record of 7-5, and unranked by anyone, anywhere.
Georgia fans "I told ya so'd" Miamians everywhere, and Mark Richt retired in shame. Richt was replaced by his former defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz.
Kirby Smart, on the other hand, was able to finally take the Dawgs to two National Championship games, with his second appearance resulting in the first win for Georgia since 1980.
Mark Richt Now
I wrote my first book. It?s been on my heart for years now. It comes out late August. You can pre-order on the https://t.co/vztzjWsMQO website. A lot of great stories about football family and faith! My hope is that it will entertain you and bless you! pic.twitter.com/0KKTWvc2hz
— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) March 13, 2021
The former Georgia football coach currently splits his time between two states. He bought a house in Destin with his wife Katharyn after his last season in 2018. The pair purchased a house in Athens, GA, in 2021 to be close to family.
Richt divides time between the two homes.
Richt followed the path of many football retirees, joining the ranks of television analysts. Richt has a spot on the ACC Network and occasionally on ESPN.
Former coach Mark Richt's legacy will always be up for debate by Georgia fans. Yes, he turned things around from the awful 90s. He sent more players to the NFL Draft than just about anyone, so why did he consistently fall short against top competition in bowl games?
For this Georgia fan, Mark Richt will always be the guy who put Georgia back on the board, but couldn't hit the bullseye. He's also the guy from those incessant Ford Truck commercials they used to run in Athens every Saturday, but that's a different story.
At the end of the day, Mark Richt was a better coach than Jim Donnan and Ray Goff combined. Time will tell if UGA trading Richt for Smart was stupid, but the two coaches' win-loss records are closer than I'd care to admit.
Through their first 62 games as UGA HC??
Kirby Smart: 48-14
Mark Richt: 50-12 pic.twitter.com/opbHTzL6gI
— CFB Home (@CFBHome) November 8, 2020
Maybe Richt is more a victim of UGA's fanhood than vice versa. Maybe he wasn't so bad, after all. Or perhaps, now that Georgia has finally climbed the mountaintop, we can finally give Richt the credit he deserves for bring Georgia football back from the brink.
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