Mark Richt and UGA return to Auburn, but nothing is the same

Nov. 16, 2002: Michael Johnson soars, UGA wins. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Michael Johnson soars, UGA wins. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

It was at Auburn in 2002 where Mark Richt lifted the lid, to use to his metaphor of the breathless moment, from the Georgia program by clinching the SEC East. It was at Auburn four years later where Richt broke the first drought of his career as a head coach, upsetting the nation’s No. 5 team. And now, four more years on, it is to Auburn where the Bulldogs go, trying to rise above .500.

Think of the three Auburn games, four years apart, as referendums. In 2002 Richt was the People’s Choice. (Indeed, when he spoke at the Touchdown Club of Atlanta the Monday after the famous victory, the folks there — or at least their caterers — baked him a cake.) In 2006 he was the proven steward of a championship-caliber program. But here it is 2010, and we need ask: What is Mark Richt today?

Seven SEC teams are ranked in this week’s Associated Press poll, the Georgia Bulldogs not among them. The team that under Richt finished in the Top 10 six times in seven seasons didn’t crack the final poll in 2009 and hasn’t been ranked since Week 2 this year. The program this coach restored to eminence has slid back into irrelevance.

The road to Atlanta the first Saturday in December no longer runs through Athens, Ga. It took Richt four seasons and eight games of the fifth to suffer his 11th loss as Georgia’s coach; should the Bulldogs lose in Auburn on Saturday, they’ll have lost 11 times in 15 months.

Once the coach every other SEC school wished it had, Richt is now the coach Georgia fans aren’t sure they want. It’s a disquieting revelation: Nobody dislikes Richt as a person, and even his critics would concede the Richt of 2010 suffers most when viewed alongside the younger Richt. But football, like politics, isn’t a realm for standing still. You move forward or you fall behind.

Georgia has become a laggard. The most frustrating part of this season came not in the early losses, painful as they were, but in the ritual failure in Jacksonville. These Bulldogs could still have played for  the SEC title had they managed to beat the worst of Urban Meyer’s six Florida teams, and they couldn’t. Even with South Carolina looking fully capable of authoring its worst collapse in a century of collapses, Georgia cannot benefit.

And that’s a clear and ominous change. The first years under Richt were festooned with moments seized, the most notable coming on fourth-and-15 that cold day at Auburn when Michael Johnson jumped and the defender Horace Willis did not. For all those saying Richt can’t be faulted for the latest Florida loss because it was a slender thing … let’s say Willis had knocked away David Greene’s pass on Nov. 16, 2002. The Bulldogs wouldn’t have played for and won Georgia’s first SEC title since sugar fell from the sky above Auburn in 1982.

The business Richt has chosen is a business of moments, of plays made and unmade. Time was, Richt’s bold teams made plays. Now they stand around and wonder what just happened. (In none of their four SEC losses this season have the Bulldogs even led.)

In 2002 it was Georgia, in its second year under Richt, that was the rising power. Today other SEC schools have caught and passed the Bulldogs: Mississippi State, in Year 2 under Dan Mullen, beat Georgia and sits in the Top 25; Auburn, in Year 2 under Gene Chizik, is unbeaten and positioned to play for both the SEC and the BCS titles. In a conference that gets only tougher, Georgia under Richt has gotten soft.

It used to be that Richt was at his most resourceful when facing a tough opponent in hostile environs. Over his first eight seasons, the King of the Road was 30-4 in opposing stadiums, but even that pillar has crumbled. Georgia has lost five of its past nine away games. What once worked works no longer. More and more, the 50-year-old Mark Richt seems yesterday’s man.

364 comments Add your comment

Say it.

November 8th, 2010
4:10 pm

You think he should be canned.

Nick

November 8th, 2010
4:10 pm

todd grantham

November 8th, 2010
4:10 pm

2nd on the blog, but first in my own heart.

jasont13

November 8th, 2010
4:13 pm

Mark, just a few weeks ago you were praising the man and now you are doing whatever you can to make sure he is fired. Best think about it is you have zero say so when it comes to the UGA Athletic Department. Too bad people do not do that to you.

Mark Bradley

November 8th, 2010
4:14 pm

If and when I think Mark Richt deserves to be fired, I will write the words: “Mark Richt should be fired.”

Florida Dawg

November 8th, 2010
4:15 pm

Well Mark…can’t argue your points. Your take appears to be factual to me.

Nick

November 8th, 2010
4:16 pm

Sorry Mark, You pretty much said in this column that he should be fired without actually saying it.

xl.dawg

November 8th, 2010
4:17 pm

Coach Richt is ultimately the boss. MIke Bobo and some poor player developement at quarterback, and an injury or two, have hazed the luster of a great football coach. Patience is lost in today’s media what have you done for me now world. A little patience and Richt will still win 200 faster than Dooley and more Championships.

Idiot

November 8th, 2010
4:17 pm

Mark, I read your columns daily…and I have lost a lot of respect for you after reading this one.

Steve

November 8th, 2010
4:18 pm

I’ll say it…Mark Richt should be fired. There….He has lost his heart, his players don’t respect him and he can’t control them on the field of play. Bye coach, it was good while it lasted.

Master of Analysis

November 8th, 2010
4:19 pm

Strange world. Mark, please tell us, in as many words as you care to,
why it is more important that UGA beat Auburn, and go 6-5, than it is that Tech beat Miami, and go 6-4.

rincon dawg

November 8th, 2010
4:20 pm

hey people dont get mad hes just reporting the facts. Say what you want but the truth hurts. Go dawgs

misterwax

November 8th, 2010
4:20 pm

All I can hope for is that it is the first of another 4 game losing streak for the Dogs that goes into next year……

bjohndawg

November 8th, 2010
4:22 pm

Fair analysis. Not sure why you should lose any respect.
I think Richt would even agree that the last few years he and his staff have not gotten the job done.

NEW CARS

November 8th, 2010
4:22 pm

MB,
It seems that just about every great college football coach has went through a down period, but their greatness was confirmed by what happened after that tribulation. Bear Bryant, Vince Dooley, Darrell Royal, Barry Switzer, Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne…all those guys had a period of medicrity during there tenures. The story of Mark Richt will be written 10 years from now, and I’m hoping it’s more like Bear Bryant than Terry Bowden.

jerry

November 8th, 2010
4:23 pm

“The program this coach restored to eminence has slid back into irrelevance.”

Eminence is a little too strong for my taste. But they can beat over rated Auburn.

bjohndawg

November 8th, 2010
4:24 pm

If Richt were in the business community, the BOD would be looking for a new CEO on the QT.

jellybeandawg

November 8th, 2010
4:24 pm

Nice article Mark. You know If I had any feelings whatsoever I would almost feel sorry for Richt, but I don’t so I cannot.

Regardless, Richt made his bed and now he must lie/ die in it. He has no one to blame but himself for the sorry state of affairs the UGA football program is now in. When he is finally gone it will be good riddance and none to soon.

For the sake of the program Lets hope vengeance comes swiftly.

RussDawg

November 8th, 2010
4:25 pm

Richt won with Donnan’s players, awful QB’s at Tenn and Ron Zook.
With anyone else in this business it is “what have you done for me lately”
Why does that not apply to CMR ?

Paul in RDU

November 8th, 2010
4:28 pm

Even if UGA wins out to finish 8-5 this will be a disappointing year for the fans – no Alabama or LSU on the schedule and swapping a bad Big XII team (Colorado) for a good one (OK State) should have resulted in a better record than 2009. Can Richt reinvent the program (and himself) next year? McGarity should give him that opportunity because he has earned it.

todd grantham

November 8th, 2010
4:28 pm

Mark Richt should PROBABLY be fired. Who, other than a couple of assistants at other schools might do any better?

jellybeandawg

November 8th, 2010
4:28 pm

Richt’s 13-12 SEC east record over the last 5 years is the most obvious and damning statistic showing how far the program has fallen under Richts lack of guidance.

jerry

November 8th, 2010
4:28 pm

Next year no excuses for the defense, the quarterback, or Richt.

CoachDawg 2000

November 8th, 2010
4:29 pm

In 2002 the Atlanta Urinal and Constipation Sports dept. still had shred of relevence. Now just a few hacks and a Tony Kornheiser look-a-like. Yall haven’t been any good since Schlabach left.

Mark Bradley

November 8th, 2010
4:29 pm

I’ve never been comfortable with that, “Richt won with Donnan’s players” line of reasoning. The bottom line is that Richt won in 2002.

Bottom line is he’s also 5-5 in 2010.

todd grantham

November 8th, 2010
4:30 pm

“Georgia has become a laggard.” if my supervisor applied that word to me i would be looking for another job.

rincon dawg

November 8th, 2010
4:30 pm

cmr cant even live up to name this year. runner up. he will be third or fourth in his division.

goalinestalker

November 8th, 2010
4:30 pm

Since 05 when UF hired Urban he has gone 2-5 against Bama and Auburn to date. CMR on the other hand has a record of 5-2 to date since 05 against the same teams. CMR also beat #7 ACC champs on the road last year. I still contend Mack Brown can coach however He is headed to 7 loss season with arguably the best D-cord in the nation on his staff. Thoughts on the epic fail in Austin? For the record Gator fans I’m fully aware you have our number.

bjohndawg

November 8th, 2010
4:31 pm

I think the AD should say to Richt….”its been tool long under your watch that the Dawgs have not played for the SEC championship. In 2011 you need to win the EAST and play in Atlanta for the championship, or start your missionary work cause your out of here.”

RussDawg

November 8th, 2010
4:32 pm

Bottom line is in 02 his Seniors and Juniors were brought in by the other guy and he is not meeting expectations. I do not mean unrealistic expectations. I mean minimum expectations. Unless that is we should expect 7-5 and 10 arrest.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley and Debbie Wilkins1, Andrew DeMillo. Andrew DeMillo said: RT @MarkBradleyAJC: Mark Richt returns to #Auburn, site of his greatest #UGA triumph, and nothing is the same. http://bit.ly/aXX08r [...]

rincon dawg

November 8th, 2010
4:33 pm

another alarming stat for ya CMR has made 600,000 per win this year. uga sure is getting their money s worth

todd grantham

November 8th, 2010
4:34 pm

I dont see why. how many players on that 2002 team did Richt recruit?

GT Dude

November 8th, 2010
4:36 pm

Maybe all of Richt’s early success has come with a price that now has to be paid.

If he wasn’t such a saint you might think it has something to to do with “When the devil comes to collect….”

jerry

November 8th, 2010
4:36 pm

They should fire Richt and hire Chris Petersen of Boise State who is 57-4 and has beat Oklahoma WITH Boise State……..but they won’t.

GT-Hammer

November 8th, 2010
4:37 pm

Georgia will lose it’s final two games this season.

WesDawg

November 8th, 2010
4:38 pm

Eat it Bradley. You are no longer the man you used to be.

todd grantham

November 8th, 2010
4:38 pm

the first few years CMR had holdover players and gimmicks that won. He was also lucky. The players are not as good, the gimmicks have been caught, and he never seems to get a break.

Huh

November 8th, 2010
4:39 pm

GT…no they won’t. They will beat themselves. If you don’t believe me, just ask them.

reebok

November 8th, 2010
4:40 pm

Why are you people ragging on Schultz for pointing out the facts?

MURPHY

November 8th, 2010
4:40 pm

We just cant find anything this year to say: Yes Richt is the man to lead our program out of this mess.The mess has amassed on his watch. There were days when the Auburn clan would cringe cause it was the week to play the Dawgs.Now they just lick thier chops and see it as an easy victory or tune up to the Bama game. I have said this many times before: I dont think Richt has the heart and determination to lead this program out of the cellar we are in at this time.I sure miss the old Richt day’s and wish they would return.Man it was fun to be a Dawg fan in those day’s.

Abnerish

November 8th, 2010
4:41 pm

The years Richt had a solid, experienced QB, he’s won (2002-04 Greene, 2005 Shockley, 2007-08 Stafford). Years he either had a rookie QB or an inadequate one, he’s not done so well (2001 Greene, 2006 JT/Stafford, 2009 Cox, 2010 Murray). As we are seeing in Texas and elsewhere, college football teams and their coaches live and die with QB play. Richt is no different.

MURPHY

November 8th, 2010
4:43 pm

Abnerish,

Doesnt matter to me.I dont give my money to Texas or elsewhere.Just because it’s happening elswhere doesnt mean it should happen everywhere.

reebok

November 8th, 2010
4:43 pm

Sorry – I am an idiot. Thought this was a Schultz column. Altho my point still stands…

OkefenokeeDawg

November 8th, 2010
4:44 pm

“Time was, Richt’s bold teams made plays”
*********************************
That is so true! Mark, do you remember that ‘02 team running the hurry up offense, many times in their first possession? They were so good at it, I remember many times they went 80 yards in less than a minute.

When is the last time UGA’s offense has attempted it, other when they have to? When they have to, the offense is terrible at it. Why?

UGA is no longer bold. Who is to blame for that, other than the head coach?

SECWasteManagement

November 8th, 2010
4:44 pm

2006 Sugar Bowl was not a fun time to be a Dawg fan haha. I got thrown out in the 2nd quarter for being “unruly.” I got to come back in after half-time though.

That being said I think MURPHY has got it right. Hell, Bradley has it right too!

MURPHY

November 8th, 2010
4:48 pm

Abernish,

Miss St breaking in a new Q.B.

Florida playing 3 new Q.B’s

Auburn-new Q.B

LSU-2 q.b’s performing much worse than Murray untill this past Sat nite

Outsider

November 8th, 2010
4:49 pm

“Restored to eminence”? There are at least two blatant inaccuracies in that quote.

Dave

November 8th, 2010
4:49 pm

For one, Thomas Brown should never get the ball unless it’s a screen pass. 2) UGA should go man on AU’s receivers and jam the box to stop Cam from running…and you know he’ll run. 3) If they beat us with the pass, so be it. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain in this game.

I don’t necessarily fault Richt. It seems that whenever a team doesn’t do well, it’s fire the head coach. many top flight coaches have gone through down times and then they rise back up. I still support the dogs and look forward to each game. Do I think we’ll beat AU? Nope….we’ll probably lose by double digits. Auburn (Cam) is a scoring machine and no one….NO ONE…has come close to stopping them. Even in the two close games, Newton just told the boys to file in and follow him…and they did. Sometimes teams have better players and sometimes, heralded recruiting classes just don’t pan out. It’s the nature of the beast. It just seems funny how a coach can be heralded as KING one year and two years later it’s “He couldn’t coach himself out of a paper sack”. It makes us, the fan, seem like a bunch of fickle, gold digging retards just looking for each week as the end all beat all of “what have you done for me today”. I’m still behind the dogs and Richt.

rincon dawg

November 8th, 2010
4:51 pm

CMR 600,000 dollars per win. way to go coach.