ATHENS – When Missouri was seeking a football coach in November 2000, athletic director Mike Alden flew to Tallahassee to interview Florida State’s offensive coordinator.
Mark Richt and his wife were intrigued.
“Katharyn and I heard [Columbia, Mo.] was a great town for family. Just everything we heard about it was positive,” Richt recalled this week. “There were a lot of other things that seemed to be simmering at that time in my life as far as job opportunities, but Missouri is one we thought might be a special place to be.”
It wasn’t to be, of course. Missouri instead hired Toledo coach Gary Pinkel. Several weeks later, after also interviewing with Virginia, Richt was hired by Georgia.
The surprising part, given the turnover rate among college football coaches, is that both Richt and Pinkel remain in the jobs they landed almost 12 years ago. They’ll coach against each other for the first time Saturday night, when Georgia plays at Missouri in the Tigers’ first SEC game.
Only five head coaches in major-college football, none at SEC schools, have been in their current jobs longer continuously than Richt and Pinkel.
“It’s not shocking to me that I’m still here in that I know in my heart this is where I want to be,” Richt said. “But we know it’s a rough business, too.”
Richt has a 107-38 record at Georgia, while Pinkel is 86-54 at Missouri. Pinkel, who took over a program that had experienced 15 losing seasons in the previous 17 years, posted losing records in three of his first four seasons but has gone 64-28 since.
The man who interviewed for the job 12 years ago has taken note of Missouri’s run.
“Ever since then, I’ve kind of kept an eye on them and have been really impressed,” Richt said.
And the man who interviewed Richt has kept an eye on Georgia.
“Mark Richt has done such a great job with that program,” Alden, still Missouri’s athletic director, said at this summer’s SEC meetings.
At the time of Richt’s interview with Missouri, Florida State had completed its 2000 regular season and was headed toward a third consecutive national championship game berth, making Richt a hot commodity.
“It wasn’t like [I] interviewed and they said, ‘We don’t want you,’” Richt recalled. “They were continuing to interview. But I enjoyed the conversation and had other interviews going on, too.”
On Nov. 30, 2000, Missouri hired Pinkel. On Dec. 26, 2000, then-Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley hired Richt.
“I think Missouri found their man in Coach Pinkel,” Richt said when the topic of the long-ago interview came up at SEC Media Days this summer. “It wasn’t a decision that I turned down Missouri. It was a decision that Missouri [believed] Coach Pinkel was the best man for the job. Obviously, they were correct.”
Missouri’s success under Pinkel, including three seasons of 10-plus wins in the past five years, helped position the school for the offer to join the SEC. Seven of Pinkel’s nine assistants have been at Missouri since his first season there, continuity that he appreciates amid the change of leagues.
“Staying at one school for 12 years, then all of a sudden switching leagues, that’s probably historic in itself,” Pinkel said.
The tenures of Richt and Pinkel reflect rare stability in a nomadic profession — stability that Richt said he was determined to find.
Several years before taking the Georgia job, Richt interviewed at Pittsburgh and “realized I wasn’t ready to be a head coach,” he said this week. “I did feel like the Lord was telling me, ‘Get ready because it’s coming.’ So from that moment on, I began to pay a little more attention to what [Florida State] coach [Bobby] Bowden was doing and thinking in terms of what I might be doing if I was a head coach.
“I also knew after that Pittsburgh interview that if we ever did leave [FSU], we wanted to move only once. I enjoyed the stability of being in one place for a long time for my family. … When the Georgia job came, Katharyn and I just had a peace [about it]. And even though I about chickened out the night before, when Coach Dooley offered me the job I knew in my heart that this was the one.”
The FBS head coaches with the most tenure, consecutively, in their current jobs:
Coach School First season
1. Frank Beamer Virginia Tech 1987
2. Larry Blakeney Troy 1991
3. Mack Brown Texas 1998
4. Kirk Ferentz Iowa 1999
4. Bob Stoops Oklahoma 1999
6. Mark Richt Georgia 2001
6. Gary Pinkel Missouri 2001
6. Gary Patterson TCU 2001
6. Jim Grobe Wake Forest 2001
10. Jeff Tedford California 2002
THIS WEEK’S UGA COVERAGE: