I was there that night at the then-Pro Player Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida when Mark Richt worked his last game as offensive coordinator for Florida State.
Richt and Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles had just been embarrassed 13-2 by Oklahoma for the national championship in the 2001 Orange Bowl, as Noles Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Chris Weinke – Richt’s prized pupil – was rendered rather useless by the Sooners swarming defense.READ MORE: Americans Are Quitting At Record Rates. Georgia Leads The Pack.
It was a precursor for what Weinke’s NFL career would become.
And in many ways, the same can be said for Richt’s tenure at Georgia.
He was a good but not great head coach.
You all know the script: No national championship. Two SEC titles – but none in the last 10 years. So rarely the winner in the big games. So many players sent to the NFL with so little to show for it. Again…no national championship. Didn’t take advantage of a mundane SEC East the last several years when it was ripe for the picking.
Mark Richt was Bobby Cox without 1995.
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Richt was also never Greg McGarity’s guy. But he has no one to blame but himself for what ended up happening. The 2015 season could still produce 10 wins, but it was nonetheless an utter disaster in so many ways. And it ultimately opened the door for Richt to be directed out of it for good.
The Alabama drubbing provided the initial nudge, and the collapse at Tennessee pushed it further ajar. Of course, The Faton Bauta Florida Fiasco busted it wide open – and in retrospect, that’s when the die may truly have been cast.
Even with this four-game winning streak since Jacksonville, it’s hardly been impressive. Surviving overtime with Georgia Southern couldn’t have helped matters, and there was really nothing of substance to be taken out of barely beating a Georgia Tech team that once again shot itself in the foot with multiple turnovers and mistakes.READ MORE: Actor, Comedian Louie Anderson Dies At 68
Unlike what LSU did after the Tigers beat Texas A&M – which was to officially announce that all the rumor and innuendo involving Les Miles was false – Mark Richt was handed his pink slip less than 24 hours after improving to 13-2 against the University of Georgia’s greatest rival.
And, not surprisngly, Richt will coach his Bulldogs one final time in a bowl game. In most situations like this, the coach is gone, goodbye, good riddance. Not Mark Richt. His class and grace supersede all. Unfortunately, the fact he’ll be bringing the curtain down on his 15 years at UGA’s helm in a place like Orlando or Nashville is quite apropos. Those places aren’t Jerry’s World, Rose Bowl Stadium, or the Superdome.
Close but no cigar.
But back to Richt and that night in South Florida. I got down quick from the press box to the FSU locker room to try and get Richt, the man who was about to leave Tallahassee and embark upon his first head coaching job with the Bulldogs. It turned out I was the first Atlanta-area reporter to talk to him, and I immediately became aware of his soft, laid back demeanor.
I couldn’t help thinking to myself, what a nice and genuine person he was. And unequivocally not like any other head coach I had ever talked to before. The kids at Georgia were going to like playing for this guy, I thought.
And there was one other thing that stuck in my head about Mark Richt after speaking with him: I wonder if he can coach?
Yes he could. But not as well as he could recruit. And that in turn became Richt’s Achilles heel.
For all of his success in drawing great talent to Athens, he never could put it all together on the field. Meanwhile, at fellow SEC schools, there were other coaches – not nearly as nice human beings – who nurtured and coached up their talented players to deliver championships. Mark Richt couldn’t do what Nick Saban did at LSU and Alabama, or Urban Meyer did at Florida, let alone Les Miles in Baton Rouge, and even Gene Chizek at Auburn.
But Richt will certainly get a chance somewhere else, and lickity split if he wants to. Who knows – a change of scenery might end up being the best thing that ever happens to him.
Richt’s alma mater needs a new coach who’s capable of restoring that once great football program to prominence.MORE NEWS: Peloton Shares Fall After Report It Is Pausing Production Of Fitness Equipment
Who knows, all these years later, maybe Miami is where Mark Richt was meant to be all along.