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Why Some are Getting Restless About Mark Richt

The more I reflect on Doug Gillett's comparison of Mark Richt and Tommy Tuberville that we highlighted yesterday morning in Sprints, the more apropos it seems to be. I'll let Doug's point about coaching staff continuity leading to coaching staff staleness speak for itself, but there's more to the Richt-Tuberville parallels.

For one thing, right now it would be ridiculous to fire Richt based on his overall record. No one sane is calling for his head, and that's proper. No one sane was calling for Tuberville's head after 2007 either, and that was also the reasonable stance to take. He had won 13, 9, 11, and 9 games in the previous four years with an SEC title.

Richt has an advantage over where Tuberville was before last season because while his teams have won 10, 9, 11, and 10 games over the last four years with an SEC title, he also has a 13-win, SEC winning year too. Tuberville's record was not great before 2004. Richt also doesn't have anyone like Bobby Lowder working against him behind the scenes either.

What caught up to Tuberville despite the win totals was a steady decline in team performance. While Auburn was winning games, the trend was obvious:

Auburn Margin of Victory
Season Points for Points Allowed Margin
2004 417 147 270
2005 386 186 200
2006 322 181 141
2007 315 220 95
2008 208 216 -8


Mark Richt doesn't have any kind of obvious trend working against him as Tuberville did, but he does have a declining effectiveness against good teams. As we've seen with Pete Carroll at USC, fans will forgive you for losing the little one if you can win the big one. From 2002-04, UGA was quite reliable at winning the big ones:

UGA versus 9+ Game Winners, '02-'04
Season Opponent Record Outcome Score
2002 Alabama 10-3 W 27-25
2002 Auburn 9-4 W 24-21
2002 Arkansas 9-5 W 30-3
2002 FSU 9-5 W 26-13
2003 Clemson 9-4 W 30-0
2003 LSU 13-1 L 10-17
2003 Tennessee 10-3 W 41-14
2003 LSU 13-1 L 13-34
2004 LSU 9-3 W 45-16
2004 Tennessee 10-3 L 14-19
2004 Auburn 13-0 L 6-24
2004 Wisconsin 9-3 W 24-21

Overall that's an 8-4 record with an average game score of 24-16. It's hard to argue with a record like that, especially since two losses came to an eventual national champion (2003 LSU, twice) and an undefeated team (2004 Auburn). Begging for much more than that is getting to the point of being greedy.

From 2005-08 though, the record isn't quite as good:

UGA versus 9+ Game Winners, '05-'08
Season Opponent Record Outcome Score
2005 Florida 9-3 L 10-14
2005 Auburn 9-3 L 30-31
2005 LSU 11-2 W 34-14
2005 West Virginia 11-2 L 35-38
2006 Tennessee 9-4 L 33-51
2006 Florida 13-1 L 14-21
2006 Auburn 11-2 W 37-15
2006 Georgia Tech 9-5 W 15-12
2006 Virginia Tech 10-3 W 31-24
2007 Tennessee 10-4 L 14-35
2007 Florida 9-4 W 42-30
2007 Auburn 9-4 W 45-20
2008 Alabama 12-2 L 30-41
2008 Florida 13-1 L 10-49
2008 Georgia Tech 9-4 L 42-45
2008 Michigan State 9-4 W 24-12

Over the past four years, Georgia is just 6-9 against 9+ game winners. The average score is a 28-28 tie, which indicates that the offense has gotten four points better but the defense is 12 points worse in these games. Again, it's not as eye-popping of a trend as what Tuberville had going against him, but it is noticeable and it's the sort of thing that drives fans crazy.

Mark Richt is the head coach so everything eventually reflects on him, but he is an offensive guy. The improvement in the offense against good teams helps to show that he's not the main problem in winning big games. It's the defense, and it's no accident that 2005 was when things took a turn for the worse. That was the year that Willie Martinez took over the defense, and also the first year that under Richt Georgia scored 30+ points and lost. They've done that five times against the elite since 2005, whereas they never once did it previously.

It's things like this that keep "well, just look at his overall record" an incomplete defense of Mark Richt. He absolutely should not (repeat: not) be in any danger of anything after this season, but change does need to come. Refusing to change is what kills coaches in this conference. It got Tuberville at Auburn (refusal to accept that his position coach buddies weren't perfect), it got David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss (refusal to overhaul recruiting), and it nearly got Phil Fulmer four years before he finally went out (probably waited too long to fire Randy Sanders).

I don't know who else would be the right fit at Georgia because I don't know the dynamics of the program well enough. However, it seems increasingly unlikely that the coaching will remain unchanged between now and 2010. More than anything else, a lack of change would be the biggest possible sign of trouble for Richt going forward.