We Georgia Bulldog fans don’t deserve our football coach.
After his only losing season in a decade of multiple SEC championships and an incredible overall winning percentage, critical remarks by Internet rabble became more frequent.
Some fans openly called for his firing. They looked at Alabama, Florida and LSU and declared our program could no longer compete.
But now Florida is in decline.
True, Alabama and LSU are about to play for the national championship. LSU beat us for the SEC championship, fair and square.
Well, mostly fair.
Because it’s also true that those two programs are champions of “oversigning“, a legal but highly questionable practice where players awarded scholarships do not have them renewed when better players become available.
By contrast, Mark Richt has a reputation for honoring four year commitments, sometimes to his detriment in the past because his discipline was believed too lax. He gave players more than one chance, even if they weren’t superstars.
I believe it is because the coach takes seriously his responsibility to shape these teenagers into men, not just football players.
That should be to his credit.
The programs at Alabama and LSU are not run like typical college programs. They operate more like minor league NFL teams, complete with roster cuts for under-performing players.
The coaches use more pleasant euphemisms such as “attrition” and “medical hardship” which happens at every school, but a cut is a cut.
And “conveniently” for Saban and Miles, there always happens to be players on campus available to replace those who just left the team for whatever reason.
At Alabama, sometimes the player dismissed from the team didn’t even realize he was injured too severely to compete.
By contrast, Richt honored a scholarship to a player he knew had been severely injured while still in high school. When that same player transferred to Virginia Tech, it was by his own choice, not because he’d been shown the door.
Some might call the practice of oversigning “cheating”, except it’s currently legal. The NCAA hasn’t put a stop to it because they apparently don’t want to do anything that might upset Nick Saban. They should penalize any school who signs more players than their current roster allows.
Who knows? Saban might quit and go back to the NFL again.
Probably not, though. It’s highly unlikely the city of Miami would erect a statue of Saban on South Beach for winning a single championship.
Conversely to the practice of oversigning, Mark Richt has never signed 25 players when he knows only 17 scholarships are available. He has this thing called…integrity.
Yet knowing all of this, and about his overall record and character, I temporarily deserted the coach after the loss to Boise State.
I could no longer muster the energy to defend losing, not when the team appeared to show no heart.
However, by the following week against South Carolina, I saw a different team.
Except for correctable mistakes like turnovers and allowing trick plays to succeed, we should have won that game.
Then for the next ten games, we did win, making for the longest winning streak of Mark Richt’s coaching career.
The Junkyard Dawg defense is fearsome once again.
Even after losing to LSU in a blowout in the championship game, Athletic Director Greg McGarity has appropriately begun negotiations with coach Richt for a long term contract extension.
Coincidentally, or not, the announcement came the same weekend that eleven high profile football recruits targeted for next year’s freshman class are visiting Athens. Sending these young men a strong message that their coach will be there for a long time to come is a very reassuring and timely one.
As well as very self-serving.
The program needs quality players and won’t hesitate to use Richt as the main attraction for them, now that perceptions about the program are again on the rise. So we’re cynically using our coach’s rebirth to talk contract extension for our recruiting advantage.
Fortunately for UGA, Mark Richt remains the same man or an even better one than we thought Vince Dooley brought in to coach more than a decade ago.
In spite of what most people would consider ill treatment by “fair weather” fans, his loyalty to the school remains unquestionable.
According to the AJC, as recently as last week he said,
It’s too hard emotionally for me to recruit guys and look them in the eye and say, ‘I’m going to be your coach,’ and knowing deep down, maybe, if something better comes along I’m leaving. I just didn’t ever want to operate that way. So Georgia’s my home and my family’s home.
I guess those rumors about Texas A&M aren’t even worth mentioning.
Considering our fickle support, Georgia Bulldog fans don’t deserve Mark Richt.
But I’m really glad he’s our coach, and will be for a long time to come.