Top stories of the year: No. 1 is Mark Richt fired at Georgia
The talk had been around for a few years but the voices started to get very loud in October when Mark Richt and his Georgia Bulldogs lost to all three of their biggest rivals, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida.
After 15 years, it was time for Richt to go. Being good – being very good, really – just wasn’t enough for the Bulldog Nation anymore.
RELATED: Stories 50-46 | Stories 45-41 | Stories 40-36 | Stories 35-31 | Stories 30-26 | Stories 25-21 | Stories 20-16 | Stories 15-11 | Stories 10-6 | Story 5: Will Grier | Story 4: Missouri protests | Story 3: Spurrier retires | Story 2: Auburn’s collapse
It wasn’t enough for Richt’s boss, athletic director Greg McGarity, either.
So after Georgia beat Georgia Tech to end the season on a four-game winning streak and finish the year at 9-3, McGarity fired Richt anyway. His 15-year stint at Georgia, just like that, was over.
Richt won 145 games in 15 years, but that wasn’t enough. It was time for a change.
Winning games but not winning titles was an issue.
“I think the expectations have been built to the point where if you don’t win a championship it’s kinda miserable around here,” Richt said after his firing. “When we don’t make it to Atlanta (for the SEC Championship Game), I’m miserable, too.
“I think it got to the point where there wasn’t enough confidence that my leadership could get it done. That’s the prerogative of the people in charge, and I understand that.”
But he didn’t have to like it. Richt won nine or more games in 11 of his 15 seasons. He won two SEC titles (2002, 2005) and five SEC East crowns (2002, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2012) that led to trips to the title game. Eight of his 15 UGA teams finished the season ranked in the top 10 nationally.
And still, it wasn’t good enough. See you, Mark.
The decision actually tore at much of the Georgia faithful, much like years earlier at Tennessee when legendary coach Phillip Fulmer was let go at the end of a career that started trending downward. You won’t find a better man than Mark Richt, who never shies away from his strong Christian beliefs and does tons of charity work behind the scenes.
But in the cut-throat world of college football, it’s mostly all about winning championships now.
And lately, Richt hasn’t been doing it. But he has.
Right from the start.
1. The early years in Athens
Richt actually hit the ground running when he arrived in Athens after a great run as offensive coordinator for Bobby Bowden at Florida State. In his second year, he won an SEC title, crushing Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game 30-3 and finishing 13-1 overall, good for a No. 3 final ranking. The lone loss was to Florida, which probably cost the Bulldogs a shot at a national championship. (Ohio State beat Miami that year.)
Richt won the East again in 2003 and 2005, winning another SEC crown in ’05. During that four-year stretch, Richt was 44-9 and finished in the top 10 in the country all four years.
The ‘Dogs were even better in 2007, bouncing back after two early losses to finish 11-2 and ranked No. 2 in the nation in the final poll. It was the highest a Richt team would be ranked in the final poll.
2. What might have been in 2012
Richt’s best shot at a national championship actually came in 2012. After an early loss to South Carolina, the Bulldogs ran the table and faced Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
It was a de facto national semifinal game, with the winner getting unbeaten Notre Dame in the BCS title game. Alabama scored with 3:15 left to take a 32-28 lead. Georgia’s last play, a fluke tipped pass, ended five yards from the goal line as time ran out.
Had Richt won that game and then beaten Notre Dame to win a national title – which would have been a given, because Alabama proved the Irish were in over their head in the title game – the entire narrative on Richt would have changed.
He probably could have gone 9-3 for a decade after winning a national title, and still been good with the fan base.
3. Just not enough lately
In the last three years, Richt went 8-5, 10-3 and 9-3, with no trips to Atlanta despite the SEC East being way down.
That was unacceptable.
Mark Richt had no greater supporter for going 9-3 most every year than Alabama’s Nick Saban, who hung one of those three losses on Richt and Georgia this year. After Richt was fired, Saban questioned the sanity of an administration that thinks that’s not a successful season in the SEC.
“I don’t know what the world’s coming to in our profession. Mark Richt’s been a really good coach and real positive person in our profession for a long, long time,” Saban said. “I think when you win nine games, that’s a pretty good season, and especially with the body of work that he’s been able to put together there for however (many) years he’s been there.”
Richt fired goes to Miami, Spurrier forced into early retirement, Boosters want Les out…. I'll say it. Saban is murdering the SEC
— Thomas Vickers (@TommyVickas) December 3, 2015
But for Georgia fans, not winning the big games was the problem. Richt lost his last three against Saban. He was only 5-10 record against rival Florida, which was a major problem with boosters and fans. Several of those losses to Florida came in years where Georgia was the better team, too, which really stuck in their craw.
Georgia fans might be a bit delusional in thinking they should be the preeminent team in the SEC. They haven’t been, and they blame Richt for that. A little reality check might be in order.
4. Saying goodbye to a really good man
Maybe Mark Richt didn’t win enough, but no one can even question the impact he’s had on hundreds of lives during his 15 years in the program. He ran a clean program, treated people right, stood up to criticism with constant class, wore his Christianity on his sleeve, and even left Athens with his head held high.
The Bulldogs were fortunate to be able hire one of their own in Kirby Smart, and he may very well have plenty of success there. His hire has softened the blow of UGA fans having to say goodbye to Richt, whom they all have genuine respect for as a person.
My laugh for day from friend and UGA fan: "Richt aligned himself with Jesus while Saban, Myers and Miles are all lieutenants of Lucifer"
— Kevin Casas (@TheKevinCasas) December 4, 2015
Richt won – a lot – but it just wasn’t enough. Only four other active coaches have a better winning percentage than he does. The problem is that three of them – Saban, Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops – have won national titles. Richt didn’t.
richt 5th best winning % active coaches . behind IONLY meyer , saban, stoops and gary patterson.
— Gabriel Morency (@sportsrage) December 5, 2015
Among active coaches, Richt was second to only Saban in getting players drafted by NFL teams. (Saban’s had 89, Richt 80). But that’s both good and bad. His biggest critics site the same stat, and wonder why Richt didn’t win more with so much pro-caliber talent on campus.
Richt won 74 percent of his games. He’s only 55 years old, so there was no doubt that he’d have plenty of suitors once he left Athens.
Within a week, he went home to Miami, his alma mater. He’s a Hurricane once again.
But he was a Bulldog for 15, and he did them proud. He will be missed. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the Hurricanes are thrilled to have him.
— Shivam Patel (@Shivam820) December 16, 2015