December 27, 2000 was the year the Georgia Bulldogs picked up one of their biggest prospects of the decade.
It was an inconspicuous choice. One that at the time, didn't appear to have as much validity as it did potential, but with Georgia legend Vince Dooley sitting stage left to champion the pick, it was hard to be too disappointed.
He was a young man from Florida who had come from a great program and worked under a phenomenal coach.
He was touted as an offensive powerhouse and was said to know a thing or two about playing quarterback in a pressure cooker. He was cool, calm, and collected under pressure, but wasn't afraid to put his name on the line if need be.
For Georgia fans, we only needed to know one thing: "Can he win?" The rest of the information was irrelevant—fodder for the media guide.
So, who was this guy from Florida by way of Nebraska? Well, his name was Mark Richt and he was to become the new head coach at the University of Georgia.
Nearly 10 years ago, Georgia found itself at a coaching crossroads after the firing of Jim Donnan.
Donnan, was let go after heading up too many undisciplined and underachieving Bulldog teams was 39-19. Some might say that was a pretty good record considering the stranglehold both Tennessee and Florida had at that time.
However, a program of Georgia's caliber can never be satisfied with being third every season and the perception was that Donnan was becoming content with being just that— his 6-14 record against rivals such as Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, and Georgia Tech. didn't win him any friends. Particularly since his final season saw Georgia Tech winning their third straight;enter Mark Richt.
He was sold to us as the one who would bring the program back into the limelight and restore the luster that was beginning to fade. In the prior three years under Donnan, the Dawgs started with a bang, but ended with a whimper—losing three of their last four games in as many seasons.
Not to mention the numerous disciplinary issues that had the team spending more time in the police blotter than in the sports page.
Did Richt deliver on those promises? Absolutely.
However, in a conference where success is measured in national championships as much as in conference crowns, Richt has continually fallen short. This inability to capture the big have many now labeling Richt as "soft" or "underachieving" and plain unqualified to lead us to a title.
It's an unfair distinction that won't likely dissipate until Richt actually wins a national championship.
And in defense of the fans and those outside of the Bulldog Nation who think Richt isn't making the most of his wealth at Georgia, I can say that I see the angle they are coming from. After all, Urban Meyer, Les Miles, and now Nick Saban have all had early success.
It's easy to look at Florida and LSU and say, "Wow, look at what those guys did, what's up with Georgia?" or "It must be coaching because our talent-pool is no less than any of those other teams." It's definitely a fair question to ask—I'd be lying if I didn't say it has crossed my mind a time or two.
However, that said, Georgia has had its opportunities. During Richt's tenure thus far, there were no less than three opportunities for the Dawgs to contend for a national title—2002, 2004, and 2005.
In 2002, a win over Florida would have given the Dawgs an undefeated season and possibly, a shared title with Ohio State.
In 2004, the Dawgs entered the season at No. 4, but a heartbreaking loss to the Vols ended any hopes of a title and gave Tennessee the SEC East's berth in the championship game.
The 2005 season saw a killer offense led by D.J. Shockley, but his injury prior to the match-up with Florida all but diminished the hope of Georgia making a run as his backup, Joe Tereshinski, failed to get the job done in his place.
We were preseason No. 1 in 2008, but a brutal schedule and collapses against Alabama and Florida stopped us cold.
Richt has delivered on the chances, but we haven't been able to get over the proverbial hump and I don't know if it's fair to attribute all those failures to him alone.
December 27, 2000, brought the Bulldog Nation a coach who has the integrity and the ability to take his team to new heights. Some forget that fact in the "What have you done for me lately?" atmosphere of college football, particularly in the SEC where winning seems to be all around you.
However, for those who have taken the "grass is greener" notion where Richt is concerned, I have this to say and only one question to follow it:
Since coach Richt came to Athens, he has led the Dawgs to six seasons with 10 or more wins, five seasons ending with a ranking in the Top 10 or better and two SEC Championships.
Georgia has never been outside of the Top 25 nationally under him, the recruiting of top tier talent has never been better, the Dawgs are consistently producing NFL level talent, and the integrity and class that Mark Richt has put on the face of the University of Georgia continues to draw the top prospects here.
So, I don't know which stars have to align for the "nice guy" to suddenly win the big one, but I do know this, Richt hasn't been chopped liver at the University of Georgia.
That said, I only have this to ask: if you are one of those fans/followers who think that Richt will NEVER be the guy to lead us back to a championship, tell me who can? Who, out there right now, is THAT guy?
The comment section is open. Tell me, realistically, who you think is the man for the job if it isn't Richt.
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