Georgia Football: Perception, Reality and Unfair Criticism of Mark Richt

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJuly 8, 2015

Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Georgia head coach Mark RichtKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There's a coach in the nation's most difficult conference who boasts a .739 career winning percentage, has had his team in the division-title conversation in mid-November in each of the last four years, won two of those titles and came within one tipped pass of playing for a national title.

There's a coach in the nation's most difficult conference who has won two conference titles, played in three Sugar Bowls and hasn't missed the postseason in 14 years. 

There's a coach in the nation's most difficult conference who has won 10 or more games nine times, is 7-1 in the regular season against the mighty SEC West over the last four years and who brought stability to a program that had been spinning its wheels for two decades prior to his arrival.

That coach, Georgia's Mark Richt, is apparently viewed as "underachieving."

At least, that's what Bo Bounds of WRKS The Zone 105.9 in Jackson, Mississippi, told SEC Network's Paul Finebaum this offseason.

It's not just from analysts. 

Richt's former quarterback Hutson Mason made it a point to defend his head coach for the criticism he takes from fans.

Perception is not always reality, because Richt has proven over time that he has the ability to lead his teams to near the top of the mountain and simply hasn't received the luck that other "great" SEC teams and coaches have benefited from.

Take 2012, for example. 

Georgia and Alabama played a classic SEC Championship Game that came down to the wire. Had it not been for a phenomenal play by Crimson Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley to tip Aaron Murray's final pass of the game, the Bulldogs would either have won the SEC title on that play or at least had one more shot at a five-yard, game-winning touchdown. Had that ball been tipped in a slightly different way, and not fallen directly into the arms of Chris Conley, they'd have one more play with a little more time to think it over.

Great teams don't always win titles, and that was a great team that fell just short.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Georgia head coach Mark RichtScott Cunningham/Getty Images

In 2002, Georgia had one of the best teams in the country, dominated Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game and would likely have been in the title picture had Ohio State and Miami not run the table.

The 2007 season was one of the quirkiest in recent memory, and the "weird football" bug bit Georgia that year as it lost to a 6-6 South Carolina team at home. They were still in position to be in the title discussion during the final weekend of the regular season and even beyond, as even more dominoes fell on the first week of December while Richt and his team sat back and watched.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Georgia head coach Mark RichtGrant Halverson/Getty Images

Other "elite" coaches have benefited from that luck.

Had Iowa State not beat Oklahoma State in 2011 and two big dominoes—Oregon and Kansas State—fallen in November of 2012, would Alabama have been considered a dynasty? Probably not.

Richt isn't underachieving. It's really hard to win championships. He has his teams in the division-title discussion virtually every year, produces great teams at times and does so in the face of expectations that are totally unfair to him and his program.

This year is no different.

When the assembled members of the SEC media vote on the SEC East champion next week at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, it's a near-certainty that Georgia will be picked to win the division. We've already seen the Bulldogs pop up on Phil Steele's preseason AP poll projection at No. 10. 

Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Georgia head coach Mark RichtGrant Halverson/Getty Images

It's shaping up to be "division title or bust" for Richt this year, despite a brand new defensive line, more quarterback uncertainty than he's had since 2009, concerns at wide receiver behind Malcolm Mitchell and the loss of his top two tacklers/middle linebackers. Plus, the schedule includes Alabama and permanent rival Auburn out of the West, a road game to rising threat Tennessee the week after the meeting with the Crimson Tide, the always-difficult Cocktail Party with Florida and the seemingly annual South Carolina hurdle.

If Richt can do what he always does—lead his team into mid-November with realistic chances at the division title and dance around the 10-win mark—that constitutes a successful season, just like last year was after Georgia topped Louisville in the Belk Bowl.

"The bowl game was very important, because it put him in that 10-win category," former Bulldog head coach Vince Dooley told Bleacher Report in February. "Here’s a coach who has won 10 games for several years now, even though there have been some disappointments along the way."

Last year's success—and make no mistake, it was a successful season—earned Richt and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt big raises, freed up big money in the budget for assistants and provided the final push for an indoor practice facility—which was as mythical as Bigfoot in Athens over the last decade.

Richt is just fine.

In fact, he's more than just fine—he's one of the best coaches in the SEC and has proved it over the last decade-and-a-half. 

It's a shame that a couple of bad bounces here and there over the last 15 years have such a big impact on the perception of a really good football coach.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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