Georgia Football: Average, Mediocre and All Down-Hill – Examining Mark Richt’s Legacy
Jam-packed piece on the Richt Era coming tomorrow. It’s long, so would you all rather not read it as one piece or not read it as a series?
— DudeYouCrazy (@DudeYouCrazy) December 2, 2014
Dude’s note: This post is stat-heavy. I’ve done my best to present statistics within a readable narrative while addressing concerns, but know that none of this touches on the intangible look or feel of an “average” football team, because by definition something average must be measurable and calculable. Of note: all win/loss data prior to this year is courtesy of the Stassen Database. All win/loss data for this year comes from Sports-Reference.com. I assume one future win for Georgia in one particular data set and that is enumerated clearly.
@DudeYouCrazy I don’t know when 9.6 wins per year in the toughest conference became “average” or “mediocre.” Boo facts!
— Josh Thompson (@j_thompson89) December 1, 2014
— Ernest Mciver (@ErnestMcIver30) December 1, 2014
— CMAC (@macdawg22) December 1, 2014
This is the part where I defecate on the notion that Mark Richt has created an “average” or “mediocre” program.
Theory: Mark Richt doesn’t win enough.
That’s a comical observation.
Mark Richt wins at a ridiculously high level much more often than what has been “average” for Georgia football.
I took some liberty here and granted Georgia a bowl victory this year. It may not happen, and if it doesn’t I’ll update this post. But with that assumption, Mark Richt has won more than three-quarters of Georgia’s games at a rate that is 2.5 times higher than every Georgia coach prior to him. Winning more than 75% of one’s contests in a season is stellar. Richt can achieve that feat for the eighth time in 14 years with a bowl victory. Georgia coaches hit that mark just 25 times in 109 years leading up to his arrival.
Theory: Mark Richt did well early in his career, but now he sucks.
It really is.
But if we compare a trailing period of results, Mark Richt’s cumulative winning percentage is still strong. To be fair, if you subscribe to this school of thought, you probably don’t know what I mean by a “trailing period of results,” so I’ll explain.
In the graph below, Richt’s winning percentage for the period “1” on the X-Axis (the line at the bottom, moving left to right) represents one single year and the most recent year—2014. The period labeled “2” represents his cumulative winning percentage over the two most recent years (2013, 2014). The period labeled “3” represents his winning percentage over the three most recent years (2012, 2013, 2014).
Why am I counting backwards? I used this method specifically to evaluate Richt’s most recent years and if they look significantly worse than his early years. After all, he sucks now (in recent years) but didn’t used to suck, right? This should demonstrate that Mark Richt forgot how to coach football.
Alas, that doesn’t happen. As you’ll see in the picture (graph) below, Mark Richt’s trailing winning percentage never dips below 0.670. even when I start with the alleged weaker period of his tenure. The big red line you see is Georgia’s all-time, pre-Richt winning percentage. That line, based on arbitrary components like history and math, is the “average” performance of Georgia football. There is not a context for which Richt can be defined as “average” if we’re looking at silly factors like winning football games.
For comparison’s sake, I included the career winning percentage of every man who ever coached Georgia for more than five years. “But,” you may think, “Mark Richt is so damn volatile.”
No he’s not. His line is a floating winning percentage varying by periods. His career winning percentage is reflected by the last point on the graph—the one at the very top above 14 on the x-axis (which runs at the bottom of the page from left to right). That number is a lot better than anyone else. Don’t believe me? Here it is.
In this graph, Mark Richt’s winning percentage is the big blue line at the top of the page looking down and wondering what it’s like to not kick ass. But hey, I’m a Richt homer. A real fair-weather fan who only likes Richt because he wins games. Wait, Richt doesn’t do that, does he?
You caught me! I hand-picked distorted data by using every single game Mark Richt has ever coached at the University of Georgia. That’s what you call a diluted sample, right?
Theory: Winning games means nothing. Richt doesn’t win National Championships.
Because prior to Mark Richt, Georgia ripped off National Championships all the time, yes? Ignore the fact that Georgia football was established in 1892 and the Bulldogs claim two National Championships outright (1942 and 1980). History and facts be damned!
Here’s a look at how long Georgia typically goes without a National Championship and how long Mark Richt has been coaching at Georgia.
Why the hell was Richt expected to win a National Championship in 14 years when Georgia—on average—goes more than 61 years without one? “But,” you are already saying, “that’s on average.”
You’re right. After starting the program in 1892, Georgia went 50 years without winning a title. The Bulldogs finally claimed one in 1942. Then, Georgia went 38 years before winning another in 1980. Georgia’s currently stuck in a 34-year drought. But in an odd turn of events, only 14 of those years have been during Richt’s tenure, which means 20 belong to someone else.
Real quick question: Which of these numbers is less than 14?
Theory: Yeah, but Richt doesn’t even win his own conference. How could he win a National Championship?
Apparently, Georgia won conference titles at a higher clip before Richt arrived. That’s true unless you look at trivial things like what actually happened in the real world.
“But Dude,” you cry out like an ignorant child, “It’s been NINE years since Georgia won the SEC!”
That’s true. I’m not sure how a nine year drought (relative to an average 8.8-year lag) is significant given the fact that no conference has ever dominated football the way the SEC has of late. Oh also, with two more competitive teams in the SEC, the conference has become—mathematically—more difficult to win.
Theory: But what’s great historically for Georgia is just average on the national scale. Therefore, the Bulldogs’ football program is mediocre under Mark Richt.
You should host Saturday Night Live. You are that funny. Will this be in your monologue? Will you double as the musical guest? Are any celebrity cameos planned? Can you FaceTime me from backstage? At least during the dress rehearsal? Pleeeeease! When the show is over and everybody comes out on stage, are you going to play it cool like you’ve been there before or are you going to hug everyone in sight as the best week of your life comes to a close?
I’ll start with your own narrow-minded view and give you the data that looks the best when defending your stance that Georgia football is nationally average or mediocre on a national level.
Over the past six years—the trailing period over which Mark Richt’s winning percentage is the lowest—Georgia’s winning percentage ranks 23rd in the nation. So when Richt has been at his worst, he’s racked up a Top 25 winning percentage despite playing in the nation’s most difficult conference.
If one eliminates non-Power Five Conference teams (the likes of Boise State, Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, Central Florida and Brigham Young) Georgia ranks 19th. At his worst, Mark Richt has been a Top 20 coach. Ranking 19th out of 128 teams puts Richt in the 15 percentile. Richt only falls into an “average” band if you equate “average” with the middle 70% of the nation. That seems a bit extreme.
But here’s the kicker that ignorant folks like to ignore. Mark Richt didn’t arrive at the University of Georgia in 2009. He started coaching in 2001. And try as you might, you can’t erase earlier years *[See note at end of section]. They really happened. I saw them with my own eyes.
Since 2001, Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs rank seventh in the nation in winning percentage among teams who have participated in Power-Five Conference competition every year.
And lest you think I’ve manipulated the data unfairly, know that only two teams (Boise State and TCU) in the country were eliminated from the data above due to conference affiliation. Work them back in and Georgia ranks 9th in the nation in winning percentage during the Richt Era.
Not only is that nowhere close to “average” or “mediocre,” it’s also a marked improvement—as measured by winning percentage and national ranking—relative to the Pre-Richt Era at Georgia.
- Georgia Winning Percentage Under Richt: 0.738
- Georgia Winning Percentage Prior to Richt: 0.632
- Georgia Winning Percentage National Rank Under Richt: 9
- Georgia Winning Percentage National Rank Prior to Richt: 14
*Ignorant Georgia fans love the “What have you done for me lately?” narrative. I was going to spend time rejecting that like Mutumbo, but there wasn’t even a compelling case to start with. Put bluntly, Mark Richt’s .750 winning percentage this season (2014, pre-bowl game) has raised his already Georgia-best career winning percentage. So you can’t sell me on the idea that he’s hurt his own legacy recently. Take your cereal and go back to SNL.
Theory: But Georgia isn’t winning the right games.
What the hell are the “right” games? I’ve already addressed Championships, so I can only assume “right” is being defined by opposition.
This year Georgia beat three ranked teams (Clemson, Missouri and Auburn) by a combined score of 113-28. Georgia lost to two other ranked teams (South Carolina, Georgia Tech) by a combined margin of nine points (with one game in overtime).
“Yes,” I hear you saying, “But Georgia always loses to crappy teams.”
Is that true, though? This year, Georgia lost to a downtrodden but supremely talented Florida team. Last year, Georgia was upset by Vanderbilt. Those two teams were unranked but ended each respective season with winning records and boasted a combined overall record of 15-9. That 0.625 winning percentage isn’t super incredibly fantastic, but it’s close to Georgia’s pre-Richt figure (0.632). Also, Vanderbilt finished the 2013 season ranked by both the AP and the Coaches.
In 2012, Georgia lost on the road to No. 6 South Carolina and at a neutral site to eventual National Champion (and then No. 2) Alabama. The Bulldogs didn’t lose any other games. Nobody likes a loss, but were those opponents so egregious?
In 2011 Georgia’s season was book-ended by two opening losses and two defeats to close the year. Those four teams were ranked 5, 12, 1 and 11.
Perhaps there’s a pattern of losing to inexcusable opposition, but it’s not evident.
Top 25 teams are good teams. Good teams win football games. When good teams win football games, someone else has to lose. Sometimes the losing team is also a good team and sometimes the good losing team is Georgia.
Ten of Georgia’s last twelve non-Bowl losses have come to ranked opponents. The average ranking of those 10 teams at kickoff: 8.1. Seven of those losses came away from home. So a program that has ranked ninth in the nation in winning percentage under Mark Richt has lost some games to teams with an average ranking of 8.1. Is that so insane?
But if you want to talk more about losing to bad teams, let’s do that.
Mathematically speaking an “average” team puts up a .500 winning percentage. Above that rate of success indicates a “winning” record, below that rate represents a “losing” record. So .500 is average. Mark Richt has coached 183 games at Georgia. He’s lost 48 games. Two of those 48 losses, a 2010 setback to 5-7 Colorado and a loss to 4-8 Vandy in 2006, came to teams that finished the season with a losing record. Mark Richt doesn’t always lose to “bad” teams. He loses to bad teams in about 1.093% of his games. Further, only about 4.166% of his losses come to sub-.500 teams. That’s not a pattern. Those losses were anomalies.
As for the notion that Georgia “beats up” on crappy opposition in general and struggles at a higher rate than normal against Top 25 opposition, that’s simply not true. But fittingly, most who make this claim also assert that Georgia is losing too many games to inferior competition.
Those two concepts—losing too much to good teams and losing too much to bad teams—are independently and congruently at odds with the fact that even within his worst retro-active time frame, Richt is a Top 20 coach. In other words, if Georgia is losing more than peers against good teams and losing more than peers against bad teams, how are the Bulldogs in the nation’s Top 10 in winning percentage since 2001? Georgia hasn’t registered the nation’s ninth-best winning percentage over a 14 year period by losing “too often” to any subset of teams. Georgia has reached such success thanks to consistency and a ton of wins.
Disagree? Holler at me. I’m not too blind to learn.
I welcome rebuttals to this post, but I don’t really care to hear about the following topics:
- Attrition via dismissal, transfer, etc. Let’s talk wins and losses not personnel management. Wins and losses are more significant than roster spots.
- Georgia having “too much talent” to be this “average.” I wrote about that already here. Four teams have had more success in the SEC than Georgia over the past five years; those four teams have also recruited slightly better.
- Georgia not beating rivals. Defining rivals is difficult. Richt lost to three rivals this year (South Carolina, Florida, Tech), but he swept them last year. There’s no concrete pattern of him struggling against rivals. Just ask Tennessee and GT.
- Georgia should be competing with the likes of Alabama. Why do people say that? Alabama has traditionally won games at a higher rate and won a ton more National Championships. On top of that, Alabama football has never been stronger than it is now. Further, the last time Alabama won a Conference Championship, it was by five yards against Georgia. That seems pretty competitive.
Additionally, while I sincerely welcome disagreeing opinions, know that if you use the word “average” to describe Georgia football I’m going to assume that you mean “average” in a numerical sense and I’m going to expect you to have data implying that Georgia is at or near the mathematical mean of football programs. If you think I’m being a stickler, head over to Dictionary.com and tell me which of the leading definitions for “average” implies something intangible or immeasurable. Similarly, if you choose to use a word like “mediocre” to describe Georgia football under Mark Richt, please do so by using logical standards for what is satisfactory and defining how Georgia has come up short.
In closing, you can spare me the assertion that I manipulated statistics or otherwise altered reality to support an opinion. First and foremost, I used every single bit of win/loss data available on Richt. There is no better representation of what Richt has done as a football coach than the outcome of every single game he has coached. It’s really sexy right now to use five-year data to incorporate the 2010 campaign. That’s not more accurate than what I’ve done here and I guarandamntee if you are using five-year numbers now, you were using four-year numbers last year and three-year numbers the year before that. That is manipulating data.
Secondly, I’m not a blind Richt supporter. Following a 6-7 campaign in 2010 and an embarrassing loss to Boise State in 2011, I wrote the following words:
You may recall that on Friday I made the assertion that Georgia would enter this game as an underdog and play with the intensity that such a situation mandates and the competency that is intrinsic to the amount of talent wearing all red. I was very, very mistaken.
In my observations (both at the game and on replay) none of the problems that have plagued the Bulldogs for the past few seasons were mended over the offseason. We brought in another stellar recruiting class, Richt acted tough at a few press conferences and in the end Georgia opened the game with a false start.
I later concluded the same article with:
Mark Richt had over eight months to get ready for this game and failed to do so. I think we now have four months to get ready for the next coach in Athens. Yes, it’s awfully early in the season but it’s hard to anticipate this team turning things around for a victory against South Carolina this week. It’s hard to picture this team defeating Mississippi State, Florida or Auburn; and Tennessee and Georgia Tech are becoming increasingly frightening.
I sure hope I’m wrong. I guess I should actually be hoping that Boise State really is as good as the Bulldogs made them look on Saturday. If that’s the case maybe Georgia can make a run at the Gamecocks, the SEC East and the Conference Championship Game.
What happened next is history.
Georgia did lose to South Carolina the following week. But then much to my surprise, the Bulldogs rallied to beat every other team on their regular-season slate. Georgia improved in 2011 and the state of the program has continued to improve. If you don’t believe me, look at what Georgia accomplished this year despite a coaching staff overhaul, mass attrition on defense, a plethora of injuries on offense and the suspension of the best player in the country. Then look at how many freshmen contributed in major spots and how much talent (coaching and playing) will be back next season. You can’t look at those two sets of information and tell me with any ounce of integrity that Georgia football is not better off than it was in September of 2011. You’d be equally hard-pressed to credit that turnaround to anyone other than Richt.
My point is this: If there was ever a time that justified a change in coaching it was after the first two games of 2011. Mathematically speaking, winning just five of fourteen football games from September 11, 2010 through September 10, 2012 was hard to ignore and that stretch could have been enough to negate Richt’s early-tenure good will. That stretch was bad. Really bad. But if you’re going to include that data set when evaluating Mark Richt today (and I think we should, in a fair and complete way) we need to recognize what came before and after.
Most notably, we need to recognize that over the past fourteen seasons there’s only been one stretch that legitimized a “Fire Richt” movement. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself. And since that time, here’s what Georgia has done:
- Overall Record: 39-12
- Winning Percentage: 0.765
- SEC East Titles: 2
- Record vs. Five Biggest Rivals (Florida, Georgia Tech, Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee as defined by 247Sports): 14-5
- Winning Percentage vs. Rivals: 0.737
Don’t tell me I’ve distorted reality. This is reality. If you disagree, you should adjust the lens of your Georgia Football World View accordingly. For once, it’s not me; it’s you. Your expectations, your understanding or your interpretation is wrong.
By any measure within any context—his entire career, since his rough patch in 2010/2011, this season, etc.—Richt is winning games at a higher rate than any coach before him at Georgia and competing for (and winning) Championships at a more than acceptable clip relative to program precedents. Oh and along the way, Richt has out-paced nearly 93% of the nation in winning percentage.
Mark Richt is not average. Mark Richt is not mediocre. Mark Richt is not declining.
That’s not debatable.
That’s all I got/