So, Georgia decided to fire Mark Richt. Most of the articles you read today are going to be some variation of “how could they?” How could they fire a man who averages 10 wins a season? How could they fire a man of such high character? How do you let a man who has given so much to your program go? This is not that article. This is the answer to those questions. You fire a man who can’t get you where you want to go.
Make no mistake about this decision. It is a gamble for Georgia. With Richt you knew what you had. You had a guy who would routinely turn in 9 and 10 win seasons. Occasionally he would have a dud of a 7 or 8 win season, but occasionally he would win 12 games or so. He never played for a national championship and hadn’t won the SEC in a decade. That’s Mark Richt.
There are other sides to Mark Richt. There are other things he brought to the table, but those are footnotes, details that don’t matter. In the SEC in 2015, if you’re not winning, nothing else matters. If you’re not winning at the level your fans and administration expect, you’re finished.
With Richt’s firing Georgia has rejected this level of success. It’s a level that many, many teams would happily take, but it isn’t enough in Athens. The Bulldogs want titles, and they want to play for national championships. Mark Richt wasn’t getting them there, so they are going to try someone else.
It Doesn’t Get Much Better
The next coach will probably be worse than Mark Richt. He probably won’t win as many games, and it will probably take the Bulldogs a few years to build back to where they want to be. Probably, but maybe not. Maybe, the next guy will do better. He might be able to get over the hump. He might be able to fulfill Georgia’s potential. Most coaches don’t win as much as Richt. Finding one who will win more is not easy.
The only thing we know, and the fact driving the decisions in Athens, is that Mark Richt hasn’t gotten it done. The Bulldogs were tired of waiting, so they are going to try someone else. And that’s what they need to do. If the road you are on isn’t taking you where you want to go, you have to make a turn. That’s the gamble. It probably won’t pay off. There aren’t many coaches out there who are better than Richt. Even if UGa can find one that is better, there is no guarantee it will translate to success. There are so many variables and so many things that must go right.
This is 2015
This is the world in 2015 in the SEC. Teams don’t wait to see how long it will take to get to the top. They don’t wait to see if a fortuitous convergence of talent will happen. They aren’t content with a baseline of success and the hope of a magical season. They want success now. They want their team to be in the title hunt, and they are willing to cast aside anyone who doesn’t get them there.
The impatience is new. Fans have always been short sighted and always want success yesterday. Administrators have historically been more patient. They have taken a longer view and been content with the programs being good, if not demanding great. That seems to be changing, and the Richt firing is the latest in that line.
This wouldn’t be a Mark Richt firing article if we didn’t talk about Phil Fulmer. Tennessee’s handling of the end of the Fulmer era is a cautionary tale that is told every time a longtime, successful coach is forced out. In Knoxville Fulmer ran an elite program. He won a national title. He didn’t win as many SEC Easts as the Vols wanted, and his teams started to wane in the mid 2000s. In 2008, he was fired. Tennessee has wandered the desert of no titles since then.
Three of the last seven years of the Fulmer era, the Vols won the East. In the eight seasons since then, they have won none. They are on their third coach, and none have been able to equal Fulmer’s success, much less surpass it.
This is the dilemma. This is the down side. When you have a coach like Phil Fulmer or Mark Richt, there are few upgrades available. Those guys are about as good as it gets. They aren’t the best, but they are very good. When a school fires them looking for the best, they probably aren’t going to find it.
They probably aren’t going to find it because it is so rare. Even if Georgia were to hire Urban Meyer or Nick Saban, two of the best coaches in the country, there’s no guarantee their success would be repeated in Athens. They might be successful; it might be great; it may not. And, Georgia isn’t hiring one of those guys. They are going to hire someone younger, someone less proven. For that, they will be criticized.
The Only Choice
They really don’t have a choice. Mark Richt was in Athens for 15 years. That’s long enough to know what you are getting. It’s long enough to know who Mark RIcht is and what he does. You either accept that and hope for a magic season, or you find someone else. Georgia will find someone else. It’s a gamble they have to take if they want to be better, but the odds are against them.