In the run-up to Saturday's showdown against Georgia, we have exchanged questions with two Bulldog bloggers. Our first Q&A is with Nathaniel of The Hobnail Boot. Nathaniel was kind enough to share his thoughts on the Mark Richt era as a whole. We send him many thanks for his time and thoughtful answer (and be sure to head over to his site to see our answer to his question). A Q&A with Dawg Sports will be up later. Enjoy ...
Expats: Give us your assessment of the Mark Richt era. Has it met expectations, and do you think he's the coach to bring Georgia a national championship?
Hobnail Boot: Let me preface my assessment of the Mark Richt era as that I am too young to remember any of the glory years of the Dooley era (I'm a child of the early 80s). I was old enough, however, to experience the mistake that was the Ray Goff era and the disappointment that was the Jim Donnan era. Roy Goff was a coach that could recruit fairly well (see the talent from the 1992 team), but couldn't coach his way out of a wet paper sack. Jim Donnan was an excellent recruiter (see all the players on NFL rosters from Georgia that graduated between 1999 and 2004), but was prickly to a fairly sensitive fan base and never beat the big rivals.
Mark Richt came in and did what neither of these two men could do; he continued recruiting NFL caliber talent and he started winning big games and championships. I would argue Bulldog fans consider our five biggest rivals in no particular order to be Florida, Georgia Tech, Auburn, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Coach Goff's record against these five was 1-6, 5-2, 2-3-1 (yes kids, there used to be this thing called the tie), 3-2 (we played South Carolina nearly annually but not in 1990 or 1991), and 0-5 (we didn't begin playing Tennessee annually until 1992), respectively. Coach Donnan's record was 1-4, 2-3, 2-3, 3-2, and 1-4, respectively. His losing records against our three biggest rivals (especially losing three in row to Tech which is just unforgivable) is probably the main reason Coach Donnan was run out of town.
Contrast those to Coach Richt's record against the same teams as follows; 2-6, 7-1, 5-3, 7-2 (updated for the win over South Carolina this past Saturday), and 5-3, respectively. Other than Florida, Coach Richt has a .625 or better winning record against all our biggest rivals. Add to the fact that he's won two SEC Championships and played for three and I believe the man has the best job security in the SEC outside Urban Meyer and maybe Nick Saban (I don't think your job is ever truly safe in Tuscaloosa if your name isn't some variant of Bear or Bryant).
There's a small contingent of the fringe fans that probably think that he's getting too stale and will never be able to compete with guys like Saban and Meyer because he's either "too nice" or doesn't have the "killer instinct" those two possess. The difference between UGA and schools like Tennessee and Auburn is that the vocal base of our fringe fanatics doesn't have the pockets or influence of a Bobby Lowder to force such a change. That, coupled with the fact that our administration absolutely adores the guy and athletic association revenues are at an all-time high due largely to the success of the football program are why I think he's going to exit the sidelines from Athens as the winningest coach in Bulldog history.
So, in a nutshell, having grown up during the miserable 90s and currently going through what I would argue are the glory years of UGA football, I would say that Mark Richt has done a hell of a job and I wouldn't trade him for any other coach out there.
To answer the second part of your question, I do believe Mark Richt will one day lead the Georgia Bulldogs to a national title if given the chance. The stakes have gotten so high in the SEC with the early success of coaches like Meyer and Miles that many are wondering if Richt's chance has passed him by and I just think that's silly talk. Look at Coach Richt's two best teams, 2002 and 2007. In 2002, the Bulldogs finished 13-1 with a single loss to Florida but did not play for the national title because both Miami and Ohio State finished the year undefeated. The following year LSU finished 13-1 with a single loss to Florida, however they played for and won a national title because there were no undefeateds at year end.
Is there any tangible difference between the 2002 Georgia Bulldogs and the 2003 LSU Tigers? Absolutely none. One team caught the breaks of no undefeateds and the other didn't. Look at Florida's 2006 national title. USC had to fall flat on its face against a team it should have killed for Florida to even have a chance. Heck, the 2007 LSU team won a national title with two losses on its slate.
The 2007 Georgia Bulldogs also finished with two losses, but didn't play for the SEC title that year because both losses were in-division. I'm saying all this to point out that I think it's absolutely ridiculous to measure a head coach by national titles because the coach doesn't have any control once you lose a game. All of those teams won national titles with at least one loss on the slate except for the 2002 and 2007 Bulldogs. Some breaks have to fall your way and while Coach Miles and Coach Meyer got theirs when they needed them, Coach Richt has not. That doesn't make Coach Richt any lesser than those guys or his teams any worse than the ones that did win national titles. It just means that at times there is a razor thin margin between 12-0 and 10-2.
It took Tom Osborne, Joe Paterno, and Bobby Bowden over 20 years before either of them won a national title. We never asked the question of them "Are they good enough to win a national title?" but rather "When are they going to win their national title?". I feel the same way about Coach Richt. That's not to say he's on the level of a Paterno/Bowden/Osborne. Heck, he's probably not even on the level of a Meyer or a Caroll. My point is that I certainly feel it's more a question of when rather than if for Coach Richt.