It took a couple of hours for me to hear that Mark Richt is out as Georgia head coach. I had planned to be on Les Miles watch today, until that became unnecessary, and then decided to spend most the day with my family before heading home to Tallahassee. I checked on the news this morning to see if anything had happened with any developing story -- including Richt -- then went about my day, thinking that the possibility of a significant development was slim.
That's the danger when you get too used to something happening. You assume that things are always going to be the way they've been recently, and it becomes difficult to tell when this time might really be different. For the past six or seven years, Mark Richt's job status has cycled between "secure" and "so very fired" so often that it was hard to separate the noise from the legitimate chatter. Yes, some people said it was different this time -- but picking Richt to get fired has been a bad bet ever since his name was first connected to the phrase "hot seat."
This year, it was different. Probably different largely because of Greg McGarity, a former protege of Jeremy Foley, who famously said, "What should be done eventually must be done immediately." Obviously, McGarity felt that Richt had reached a point of no return, a place where the program had settled into an uncomfortable groove and would no longer be competing for conference championships and national titles. And if that was true, a change would eventually have to be made. And so it needed to be made immediately.
That's the theory, at least, and it's not clearly wrong. You can make a case for parting ways with Richt if you want to. (And don't believe for a moment that this was a mutual decision between Richt and the program; the head coach was offered a face-saving way out, and he took it.) No coach has ever earned the right to go out on his own terms -- programs belong to the fans, not the coaches -- and Georgia is completely within its rights to go in another direction.
But hiring a new head coach is a risky endeavor. The Nebraska example is the one that gets mentioned the most, because it's a program that has twice gotten dissatisfied with coaches who consistently won nine games and fired those coaches, only to be reminded that winning nine games is not a birthright, and there are worse ways to go through a football season.
It's the hiring that's riskier than who the coach will follow, though. Will Muschamp was once seen as something of a coup when Florida hired him in 2010; that didn't work out so well. Kirby Smart is probably the first, second and third name on McGarity's list -- sorry, South Carolina -- because he's a young alumnus who's been coaching under Nick Saban for years. In fact, McGarity might have made the decision about Richt based in part on talk that South Carolina was targeting Smart, meaning that the top candidate wouldn't be available if Richt had another bad year in 2016.
Smart could be the next Mark Richt -- or he could be the next Will Muschamp. And there's really no way to know until he's hired as a head coach.
The same is true with any coordinator candidate, and even some of those who have been head coaches at the mid-major level before. Lateral moves among Power 5 teams don't always work, or they often take a long time to work. Bret Bielema's rebuild is headed in the right direction, but it's been daunting. Mike Leach struggled badly for a few years at Washington State before finally seeming to reach respectability this season. The Steve Sarkisian situation at Southern Cal is completely different in many respects, but there were already questions about whether Sarkisian could return the Trojans to the college football elite before his personal issues overtook what was happening on the field.
There is no surefire home run in coaching hires. Sometimes you get a better coach for your program, and sometimes you find out that what seemed intolerable a few years ago really isn't that bad. If Georgia wins a few SEC championships and a national title, dismissing Richt will end up being a brilliant stroke. If the program struggles, though, fans could find themselves regretting the day they lost Mark Richt. That's the danger when you get too used to something happening.