Mark Richt Reprieve: Why It Is Actually Good To Bring Back Richt for 2011!

Gerald BallCorrespondent IJanuary 3, 2011

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 13:  Head coach Mark Richt of the Georgia Bulldogs against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Georgia fans are probably upset that Mark Richt is getting yet another shot to lead a Georgia program that has been performing horribly on and off the field. And that is understandable. As a matter of fact, had previous Georgia athletics director Damon Evans not been fired for breaking the seventh commandment (or something like that) Richt certainly would have been fired after this season, as Evans and Richt never saw eye to eye even when Richt was winning. Richt was basically protected (both publicly and behind the scenes) by university president Michael Adams, and when Evans was fired, Adams used "a guy who will stand behind Richt" as a key criteria in finding a replacement AD. So, the combination of a supportive president and a supportive AD barely a few months in the job acted to save Richt's job. For now.

As strange as it sounds, this is actually a good thing, and the reason for this is the lack of good candidates to replace Richt this season. Similar to my statements defending the Will Muschamp Hire for Florida, the fact is that there really is no one out there. Or should I ask of UGA fans ... if you fire Richt, who do you get to replace him? Normally that is a dishonest question asked as part of making excuses for retaining a pedestrian coach, but in this case, this year, it is actually an honest question ... there really is no one out there. It is a horrible year for identifying and bringing in realistic head coaching candidates. (Yes, I said realistic ... not nonsense like "hey, let's hire Jim Harbaugh/Bill Cowher/Jon Gruden! Sure, he'd choose coaching UGA over the San Francisco 49ers/Denver Broncos/Cleveland Browns!")

Let's look at where the coaching hires for a job like UGA would come from. The first choice: successful head coach at a second or third tier program from an AQ (BCS) conference; guys like Nick Saban and Les Miles. The problem: none of those guys stand out. All of them have been in their jobs forever without taking their schools to the next level (and yes, Mike Leach fans, this includes him, who spent ten years at Texas Tech without a single top 10 finish or Big 12 South title ... why Leach has such a huge fan club is amazing ... ten years without a running game, defense, or top 25 recruiting class). The second choice: vagabonds who have had some success in the NFL or college like Bobby Petrino, Pete Carroll and Nick Saban or strong ties to the UGA program. Really, there is no one matching that description this year but Brian VanGorder, but he will be with the Atlanta Falcons for their playoff run, plus he is a top NFL head coaching candidate himself.

After that, you have top non-AQ coaches. However, forget the guys at Utah, TCU and Boise ... they have either turned everybody down (Utah and TCU) or have unreasonable requirements like huge salary demands and insisting on taking most of their current staff (Boise). Beyond those fellows, there is no one who has won big enough or long enough to be a viable candidate. And finally, there is the hotshot exprienced coordinator for a top program. But who is that guy? Because of a hiring/firing binge at the top programs, unless the defensive coordinators at Oklahoma and Ohio State strike your fancy, there isn't anyone out there (no UGA fans, 34 year old Kirby Smart, who has been a defensive coordinator for all of 3 years, isn't a viable option to run a major SEC program, and at this time neither is Gus Malzahn, who 4 years ago was a high school coach and 2 years ago was a Conference USA co-coordinator).

Now of course, there may be some guys who aren't big names or obvious choices. However, it is the job of the university president and/or the AD to identify guys like that. The university president, again, is a Richt loyalist, and Damon Evans' replacement hasn't been around long enough to consider potential diamonds in the rough like the offensive line coach of the Miami Dolphins or the defensive coordinator for Missouri or some FCS coach.

This isn't an issue unique to UGA. Look at some of the hires this season. Miami, arguably the top job in the country, had to settle for a MAC coach with a losing record in Al Golden (whose achievements at Temple in taking a former Big East program with national name recognition to a 17-8 record the past 2 years in the MAC, which is probably the weakest FBS conference, has been greatly overstated). Also, Maryland fired their most successful coach in 50 years in order to hire a guy who finished with a worse record this season against an easier schedule. Colorado hired an NFL position coach whose primary qualification seems to be his previous ties to the school, and his being willing to have a school legend - who everyone knows is slated to be his eventual replacement - as his offensive coordinator. Minnesota hired someone whose name - Jerry Kill - is far cooler than is his resume.

So, in this depressing environment, far better to bring Mark Richt back next season, fire him about halfway through (after the annual loss to Florida would be the best time) and then begin looking for replacements, both big names and under the radar types. There may be some bigger name coaches to be had next season. For AQ coaches, Doug Marrone at Syracuse, Skip Holtz at South Florida, Charlie Strong at Louisville, and Dan Mullen at Mississippi State would be compelling choices if they can compile better records in 2011 than in 2010, and if Mark Stoops can rebound with a strong year at Arizona, he will be looking for a better situation, as would Butch Davis at North Carolina and possibly Gary Pinkel of Missouri.

For mid-major coaches, if San Diego State builds on their success from this season, Brady Hoke would make a great hire. Recall that he led Ball State to their great season a couple of years ago. The same could be said about Kevin Sumlin at Houston, and Chris Ault of Nevada. These AQ and mid-major guys are all candidates who aren't proven enough yet to justify offering the UGA job, but big years next season after would change things. As for assistant coaches, there still won't be that many candidates. However, similar to the head coaching candidates, there are two guys in particular who could leapfrog to be strong candidates if they have big years, and both are in the SEC West: Gary Crowton of LSU and Gus Malzahn of Auburn. But recall: the primary advantage to waiting a year is to give UGA's new AD more time to identify a lesser known candidate like Tennessee's Derek Dooley if they strike out on all the big games (as Tennessee did).

What if Richt rebounds next season? It isn't going to happen. UGA is going to lose several quality players on offense that helped them win what few games that they did win this season, and the bowl loss to UCF has shown that Richt and Bobo are as stubborn as ever. And because of the horrible decision to move from a 4-6 defense based on speed to a 3-4 defense based on power, UGA still won't have the big DLs and LBs required to run that scheme effectively against anyone with a decent offensive line because Richt hasn't had the good sense to target JUCOs on that side of the ball for the immediate help that he needs. Plus, the SEC East will be better next season ... look for South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky to improve. Further, the nonconference schedule will include Boise and a Georgia Tech team ready to bounce back, and the SEC West schedule includes Auburn as always plus a trip to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. Georgia won't win more than 8 games.

So, even if UGA does make a rebound of sorts next season (i.e. going from 6 to 8 wins) it will be perfectly reasonable to make the statement that the #1 athletics team for the #1 athletics program for one of the top 4 talent markets in the nation has no business not winning the SEC East since 2005. That plus the terrible graduation rate and the horrible off the field scandals - and UGA's recruiting has really been off the past few years - is more than enough to pull the trigger.

So, UGA fans, keeping Mark Richt this year helps get a better coach next year.