We've had some opportunities over the years, but when I found out that I was a possible candidate for this job, it was the very first time that I got really excited and eager about the possibility of making a move. ... It's a place where we feel like, not only is it going to be a perfect place to raise our family, but we think it's a place that we can win at the very highest level and a place that's very committed to being a great football progam and is a great football program.
EARLIER TODAY: The Zook Experiment
"This job" was the head coaching position at Georgia, and the man speaking was Mark Richt. Many Georgia fans shared Richt's enthusiasm about his taking the job, mostly because it meant the end of an 11-year period supervised by Ray Goff and Jim Donnan. Anyone with more football acumen than Elmo would have been warmly received after what UGA had endured beginning in 1989.
For a time, that enthusiasm seemed to be well-founded and overwhelming. At least until this year, when the first cracks -- however small -- began showing in the support for Richt since he took the job after the 2000 season.
Richt appears to have bought time to turn things around after firing three coaches largely blamed for the defensive and special teams disasters that caused many of the Dawgs' problems in 2009. But with the grumbling coming from some portions of the fan base, it's easy to forget just how much Richt has achieved at Georgia.
Those accomplishments include:
- 2 SEC Championships
- 3 SEC East titles
- 6 seasons of 10 or more wins
- 8 straight seasons (2001-08) ranked in the Top 25 in one or both polls
- 0 losing records in the SEC
Richt's record in his nine seasons at Georgia is 89-27 overall, 50-22 in the SEC.
His tenure at Georgia has permanently rearranged the top of the Eastern Division. Before 2002, only Florida and Tennessee had ever represented the East in the SEC Championship Game; Georgia remains the only team outside of those two to go to Atlanta. But there is one thing Richt set as a possible goal back in that 2000 press conference that has remained elusive.
The national championship is not necessarily something you can guarantee year in and year out if you have the very best players. It takes a little bit of luck. I think we will know what it takes to put the work into it and to prepare for it. I think it won't be long before we have a chance at taking a run at it.
It depends on your definition of "a run at it." In 2002, Georgia was No. 5 and 8-0 in late October before losing to Florida in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party -- back when they still officially called it the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. The Dawgs would be ranked No. 4 in the polls after winning the SEC Championship and No. 3 at the end of the season, but were never in the Top 2 in either poll or the BCS standings.
Many Georgia fans were outraged in 2007 when LSU went from No. 5 to No. 2 in the polls and from No. 7 to No. 2 in the BCS standings after winning the SEC Championship Game, passing the Dawgs. Never mind that Georgia hadn't played in Atlanta because it lost to a 6-6 South Carolina and got demolished by the Tennessee team that did play LSU in the Georgia Dome. UGA was ranked No. 2 in the final poll.
But 2008 was supposed to be "the year" according to many preseason pundits, including your humble correspondent. The Dawgs began the season ranked No. 1, gradually moved down to No. 3 and then exited the Top 10 after a 41-30 waxing against Alabama. They would return before a loss to Florida ended the Dawgs' days in the Top 10 for good; Georgia ended the season No. 13.
Despite all that, Richt made the decade a rousing success for Georgia. Whether he can meet that standard next season could determine how much of the next decade he will spend in Athens.