The Georgia Bulldogs' face plant in Jacksonville has renewed the perennial discussion about whether this should be it for Mark Richt in Athens.
Wikipedia will tell you that he's 141-51 (81-37) in nearly 15 full seasons at the helm. This year he passed up Wally Butts for second place in all time coaching wins at the school. He sits behind only Vince Dooley on the list, and his six top ten finishers are two more than Dooley had in his first decade and a half. Richt has gone to the SEC Championship Game on average once every three seasons in that span, counting '15 as a non-appearance.
And lately? He coached up a top 10 finisher in two of the past three seasons, and an injury plague in 2013 explains a lot of the gap in there. He's also been to Atlanta twice in the last four years. This year's team has Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech still left to go. All four are winnable games, and sweeping them with a bowl win would mean ten victories on the season. It would mean ten times winning ten games in his 15 years and four in the past five years.
The main case against Richt for a while now is his inability to win an SEC title since 2005. This particular line of reasoning is highly dependent on what you think Georgia football is. Historically, UGA has won or shared the conference crown right at once every seven years. Going ten years without one is a drought, but it's also a lot shorter than the 20-year gap that preceded his first SEC championship. Two in 15 years as Richt has done is on schedule.
Post-Spurrier Florida may have two national championships, but it also has only two SEC titles. No other East team has a title since 2001. Richt's five trips to Atlanta in his era are tops in the East, with UF about to get a fourth and Tennessee having three. The West may be well ahead of the East, but UGA has fared as well if not better than anyone in the East.
The case against Richt continues from there, though, as his teams have had a propensity to lay gigantic, stinking eggs in games that cost him other appearances in the conference championship game. Last year's 38-20 loss to Florida and 2007's 35-14 bomb against Tennessee come to mind in this regard. The latter was more galling, as it would've put the Bulldogs a win over LSU in Atlanta away from playing for the national championship. It's been that way from the start, with his 13-1 2002 team's loss inexplicably coming at the hands of Ron Zook. That team might've passed up the '02 "Luckeyes" to play Miami (FL) for the title thanks to having more comfortable wins than Ohio State did.
Richt made one bad hire at defensive coordinator, going with Willie Martinez after Brian VanGorder's exit. He took a while to correct the mistake, but he did it and made solid ones afterwards in Todd Grantham and Jeremy Pruitt. The offensive struggles in October suggest he made a bad hire at offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer, a guy who was an average-at-best OC in the NFL. The lack of good options at quarterback—bringing in the guy who lost the Virginia job was a bad sign, after all—and at receiver haven't helped him and are issues whose sources predate his hire though.
Those issues do fall on Richt too, as does the choice to start the third string quarterback last weekend. And to run him just twice (his third carry was a sack) when said quarterback's mobility is a cited reason for starting him. And to keep staying with him to the end despite so many interceptions when that Virginia guy so infrequently tosses picks. And to keep giving Sony Michel the majority of the carries after he fractured his hand early. And to run a failed fake punt that everyone knew was coming eventually once Brice Ramsey came out to punt. When Richt's teams lose games like this, he always seems to provide plenty of options for second guessing.
I can't help but wonder if Richt is largely getting heat for not being Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. Les Miles had been getting the same heat for the same reason for years until this season's 7-0 start quieted the noise down, and his win percentage in Baton Rouge (.791) is higher than Richt's is (.734). Saban and Meyer are two of the absolute all-time greats. Richt, and Miles, aren't quite in that stratosphere, but few in the game ever have been.
Nebraska might be the best cautionary tale here. It fired not one, but two coaches following nine-win campaigns in Frank Solich and Bo Pelini. Things didn't get better with Bill Callahan, and while it's early, they're also not better with Mike Riley either. Firing (or pushing out) a head coach is no guarantee of getting someone better.
Based on everything I've heard from people who I trust to know these things, Richt is not going anywhere until he wants to. He's a good person who won't do anything to sully the reputation of the school. He's been better than the guys who were there between Dooley and himself, and he's been a rock of stability while other programs in the conference like Florida, Tennessee, and pre-Saban Alabama have flailed at times.
Whether he can get the program over the hump and win another SEC title, I don't know. He came awfully close in 2012, which wasn't that long ago, and he might have a similar run left in him. What I do know is that it'll be Richt making the decision of when to call it a career in Athens.