Take it from me: it’s been a tough year to be a Georgia Bulldog football fan. After some preseason hype — including Heisman Trophy talk for running back Nick Chubb — the tale of the season has become one of lackluster quarterbacks, inconsistent offense, and a knee injury for Chubb. Those factors have spelled losses to Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida, along with noticeable unrest among the Bulldog Nation.
Last week, the center of drama in the world wasn’t the Middle East, but Athens, Georgia. After the loss to Florida, rumors spread like wildfire. One said that athletic director Greg McGarity wanted to get rid of head coach Mark Richt last year — a claim McGarity flat out denied. Another rumor claimed that defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was on his way out, while still another had offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer packing his bags. Richt denied both rumors.
But the most pervasive buzz on the grapevine centered on a certain dissatisfaction that a contingent of spoiled fans (and even former players) have with Richt. In fact, over the last couple of years when anything goes wrong in Athens, for some people the only answer is “Fire Mark Richt!”
Here’s the truth: Mark Richt is an excellent coach who revived a program that had been mired in mediocrity for years before he came on board. That anyone would mention the Georgia Bulldogs as anything remotely resembling a championship contender is amazing in light of how we languished throughout the ’90s.
Yes, he’s been head coach for 15 years and hasn’t led his team to a national title. So what? The legendary Vince Dooley coached the Dawgs for 17 seasons before we won it all. He coached his first SEC championship team in his third season, while Richt won his first SEC title in his second season. The Dawgs won their first SEC championship in 20 years in 2002 under Richt, and we won another one three years later. Additionally, we’ve won another four SEC Eastern Division titles and have never finished in the bottom half of that division during the Mark Richt era.
The dissatisfaction with Mark Richt flies in the face of his impressive record. Before the start of this season, Richt was the 8th winningest coach among current head coaches in terms of winning percentage. This season’s difficulties have only dropped his winning percentage from .739 to .735. With Steve Spurrier’s retirement earlier in the season, Richt is in second place among active SEC coaches in terms of career wins. The “Fire Mark Richt” crowd loves to assert that the coach can’t win against ranked teams. However, over the last ten years, Georgia has the third best winning percentage in the SEC against ranked teams.
Mark Richt is also a man of deep faith and integrity who has made a difference in the lives of his players – and, in some cases, the players of opposing teams. Just this season alone, Coach Richt led the charge in making sure the Bulldog Nation prayed for and supported Devon Gales, a Southern University player who was paralyzed in a game against UGA. He also provided much needed encouragement to struggling placekicker Marshall Morgan in the game against Missouri.
“I told him I love him, no matter what,” Richt said following the game. “There’s so much pressure on these kids. I told him, ‘I believe in you, so relax and focus on your job and your fundamentals and let it rip.’”
Richt’s advice to Marshall Morgan meant so much that the kicker’s mother took to Facebook to express her support for the coach. Clearly, there’s more going on here than a mere win-loss record in the eyes of Mark Richt.
Yet, for these spoiled fans driven by a sense of entitlement, all that matters is the fact that the University of Georgia doesn’t beat every opponent by an ungodly score and that we’re not winning championships year after year after year. Since when is a team with a winning record 13 of the last 14 years a failure? Where does this attitude come from? Is it our culture that builds itself around instant gratification? Is it an impatience that’s somehow pervaded our society?
Whatever is causing it, these childish fans need to simmer down. One friend of mine, writer Darrell Huckaby, claims that the whole situation is ruining college football for him:
But now, because Georgia hasn’t won “enough meaningful games” lately, I have witnessed so much hatred, animosity and acrimony over whether one of the most decent human beings I have ever known, and the second-most-successful football coach in my school’s proud history, should lose his job that it has ruined my disposition and soured me against the whole deal. And it is like this across the country. It is stealing my joy and sapping my energy and ruining the only sport that I any longer pay very much attention to.
The University of Georgia has become an elite program again under Coach Mark Richt. According to Wikipedia, 80 Bulldogs have been drafted into the NFL during Richt’s tenure — ten of them in the first round!
Not only that, but Richt has become a father figure to the young men he has coached — many of whom have wanted for positive role models. When a former player committed suicide at the end of his NFL career, the coach started a program to help ensure that no other former Bulldog player suffers the same fate.
The NCAA even featured the coach in an article about his efforts to lead his players to become “balanced.” Many Dawgs have done some amazing things off the field. David Pollack is an analyst for ESPN, while Ray Drew is an ordained minister. In 2014, Chris Conley wrote, directed, and starred in a Star Wars fan film, and this past summer, Malcolm Mitchell published a children’s book.
When Mark Richt finally leaves the University of Georgia — whether it be this year or another fifteen years down the road — he will have left behind a legacy that transcends his impressive win-loss record. Yet, too many fans can’t see the forest of this legacy for the charred, ugly trees of a lackluster season.
These “fans” who are calling for his head need to pull their heads out of their rear ends and support the best coach this team could ask for at a time like this. I’m standing behind Coach Richt, because I believe that better days are ahead for the Bulldogs, regardless of how this season ends.