Georgia Football: McGarity’s All In Now that Richt’s Out, Who’s Ready to Gamble With Him?
Greg McGarity did the right thing on Sunday morning. Well, I guess technically he and Mark Richt mutually agreed to do the right thing.
“Coach Richt and I met Sunday morning to discuss the status of our football program,” McGarity said per the official university release. “And we mutually agreed that he would step down as head coach and would have the opportunity to accept other duties and responsibilities at UGA following the bowl game.”
I shouldn’t have to tell you how that meeting really went. As recently as Saturday afternoon, following an uninspiring victory over alleged rival Georgia Tech, Richt had an opportunity to discuss his impending resignation. At the post-game press conference, Richt didn’t even seem sure of when he would meet with McGarity. Instead, he offered generally vague timelines like (paraphrased), “We usually meet sometime after the regular season.”
Richt didn’t initiate the mutual decision, and that’s not surprising. And Richt won’t make a big deal out of it, because as he’s said time and time again:
- He believes matters like this are completely in God’s hands.
- He loves Georgia and is grateful for his time there.
- He’s not going anywhere else.
Even the release alluded to the notion that Richt would remain involved with the Athletics Department and the Paul Oliver Network. Richt has, thus far and likely ad infinitum, handled the matter with class. And that’s not a surprise.
What is surprising, at least to me, is that we’re in this position to begin with. McGarity, so it seems, fancies himself a gambler.
As recently as October I found myself defending Mark Richt after Georgia was brutalized by Alabama at home. A few short weeks later, after an equally embarrassing loss to Florida, my story changed for the first time. I was no longer able to defend Mark Richt’s role as the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. I cited, among other things, the Dawgs’ inability to compete with elite teams and the generally miserable experience of watching Georgia play football as reasons for my waned support of Richt.
Since sharing those thoughts, Georgia has won four consecutive football games. But even those wins showed just how far “off” this program is.
A 27-3 win over Kentucky means very little given the Wildcats’ 5-7 record this season and failure to make a bowl for the fifth straight season. Had it not followed one of the most disgusting losses to Florida in recent history (and that’s saying something), we would have universally agreed that this game was meaningless. But as it stands, Kentucky was the best conference opponent Georgia beat this season. And that’s pathetic.
Georgia’s second win of this streak came in the form of a narrow 20-13 win over an abysmal Auburn team. Auburn lost six times this year. The Tigers’ closest loss came against Georgia.
And then, of course, you had Georgia’s decisive victory over Georgia Southern. You know, the Georgia Southern team that is in its second year as an FBS program. Georgia needed disastrous game-management by the Eagles in overtime to come away with a home victory.
That brings us to yesterday’s win over Georgia Tech. Yes, it was a win. And that’s infinitely better than a loss. But a 13-7 win over the Yellow Jackets doesn’t count for much as evidenced by today’s announcement. And frankly, it shouldn’t.
At the end of the day, wins matter. There’s no doubt about that. But when losses begin to mount up in such meaningful ways then the way in which you win begins to matter also. Put plainly: finishing the year on a 4-0 run was much better than going 3-1 or 2-2, but Georgia didn’t change anybody’s mind with its play in November. Other things mattered more.
It mattered that Georgia lost to Tennessee, but even more so it mattered that Georgia blew a 21-point lead to a Volunteer team that was known for choking in big games. It mattered that Georgia lost to a Tennessee team that finished third in the extremely weak SEC East.
It mattered that Georgia lost to Alabama and Florida. But even more than that, it mattered that the Crimson Tide and the Gators were the only two Power Five Conference teams Georgia played all year with regular season winning records. And it mattered that Georgia lost to Alabama and Florida by a combined score of 65-13.
So narrow wins against really terrible football teams over the last four weeks didn’t qualify as “turning this thing around” as Richt promised to do after the Florida loss.
And the much broader problem for Richt was that this season is a perfect representation of the trajectory of the program. That point will miss the mark if you compare Georgia now to the Georgia program of 2010. But in the grand scheme of Richt’s tenure, 2010’s 6-7 mark was an anomaly.
The reality is Georgia used a weak SEC East to win the division in 2011. The program was a legitimate national threat in 2012. And in 2013, 2014 and 2015 Georgia beat a lot of bad teams and lost to most of the good teams it faced. Over the past three seasons Georgia was 5-7 against ranked opponents. That’s not atrocious, but for a team that has been ranked seventh or better at some point during each of the past three years, 5-7 vs. ranked foes reflects under-performance.
The SEC East has been embarrassingly weak, and yet Georgia has failed to win the division since 2012. The Bulldogs have done everything they can to mimic programs like Alabama (coaches with Saban ties, commitment to spending on coordinators, strength and conditioning program, commitment to build an indoor facility, ramping up recruiting, etc.), and yet Georgia can’t come close to competing with the Tide on the field. If Alabama is the yardstick by which great programs are measured, Georgia isn’t even on the ruler. Georgia is a protractor drawing tiny little circles around the Georgia Southerns and Georgia Techs of the world. It’s cute, and it’s well-intentioned. But it’s not going anywhere.
The problem with Richt (and the problem that didn’t quite get the best of Les Miles) is that I don’t know how you can defend the status quo. I know how you’ll try to defend it, but I think you’re wrong.
“Mark Richt has the highest winning percentage of any long-tenure Georgia coach in history,” you’ll say. And I agree. But in the present, were you pleased with the wins over Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Auburn this year? Because those counted in the win column. Were those games indicative of a future winning in Athens under Richt? I don’t see how Georgia is better than .500 next year against good teams like North Carolina, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida and Auburn next year with Richt. Who knows how the other guy will do next year, but I know Georgia loses at least three of those with Richt. And he could win 10 games next year and show a strong winning percentage. But is that all you want?
“But it took Vince Dooley even longer to win a National Championship,” you’ll say. I want a national championship as much as the next Georgia fan, but I don’t think parting ways with Richt was legitimized purely by a void of check marks in the championship column. I’d be on board with Richt if Georgia was even close to competing with programs like Alabama and Florida on the field. Georgia was there in 2012. Georgia was there in 2007. That’s twice out of the last ten years. And as demonstrated by the Bama and Florida games this year, the Dawgs are not close.
“But what about Jacob Eason?” you’ll ask. I’m actually pretty damn pleased that Greg McGarity has not chosen to tie his job security and therefore the prosperity of the Georgia athletics department to the arm of an 18-year old kid. I’m sure Eason is great. But Georgia football was in a better spot in 2006 when Matthew Stafford arrived, and he didn’t take us to the top of the mountain, either. Why does Eason equate to a championship and why does the absence of Richt (who may still work for the University come 2016) equate to the loss of Eason directly? I love Eason and I think he’ll be great and I hope he’s great in Athens. But I think he could still come to town and I think Georgia needs a change at head coach either way.
“But Mark Richt does things the right way,” you’ll point out. He absolutely does. You can’t find anyone who disagrees. But to argue that Georgia can’t find any one as “Christian” as Mark Richt is ludicrous and to imply that this is an either/or scenario is an insult to the very God that Richt believes in. I’m being serious here. To argue that a life dedicated to a walk with Jesus Christ is in conflict with being the very best at one’s calling (be it coaching football, teachings children or putting out fires) is to say that a Christian’s vocational calling and the call to discipline, hard work, preparedness and dedication are unimportant. Richt doesn’t believe that. Why do you? Why can’t a Christian be the best coach in college football? If you can give a legitimate answer to that, then we can have a “Which do you want the Christian or the Winner?” debate as it relates to Mark Richt and his faith. But until then, I’ll just know that I’m right.
“But Georgia was so close,” you’ll assert. Really? By what measure? Was it Georgia’s narrow victories over poor opponents or Georgia’s lopsided defeats to good teams that gave you the impression that Georgia was one [insert missing piece here] away from contending for a national title? Georgia’s special teams are a disaster that Richt has refused to address. Georgia has whiffed on a handful of big-recruit quarterback prospects and there’s no guarantee that won’t happen again. Georgia’s veteran offensive line was terrible this season but will be wrecked by attrition next year. Richt’s answer for replacing Mike Bobo was a dumpster fire. By many accounts Richt has lost control (I needed at least one) of Pruitt, his most valuable assistant.
“But Richt was here for so long,” you’ll ponder aloud. Why does that matter? I don’t know that we’ll ever see another SEC coach at one school for 15 years. I think those days are over. I don’t think I like the extinction of long coaching tenures, but nobody asked me.
I love Mark Richt. I loved watching his teams play (prior to this season). I love what he did for the program, the university, the city, the state and the sport. There’s not a “but” here. I’m truly grateful for all that he accomplished and I know he will continue to do great things.
And now, more than ever, I know that Greg McGarity and the University of Georgia is committed to doing whatever it takes to be the very best football program in the nation. And as a fan, how can I not be excited about that? That doesn’t mean that I’m happy Richt was pushed out. It doesn’t mean that I’m glad the Richt Era is over.
It means that being a Georgia fan is no longer to about Mark Richt.
That’s a weird thing to think about and there’s no way to say it without sounding bitter. But this is not a bad thing in and of itself. At worst, it’s a very curious sentiment and at best it’s one defined by rampant optimism. So enjoy this for a little while.
In a few days we’ll know who will be the next head coach at the University of Georgia. Along with that announcement will come support and opposition and comparisons to Mark Richt. And before that guy even coaches a single game for the red and black part of his story will be written. But for now, we don’t know who that guy is. He could be absolutely anyone.
And anyone could become the best head coach in the country. And for McGarity and the rest of the higher-ups at Georgia, that’s a gamble worth taking.
I’m all in for that bet. This sounds kind of fun.
That’s all I got/