In defense of logic — and Mark Richt

October 24, 2012 

I’m really pulling for Georgia to beat Florida on Saturday.

Now, that’s not a shot at local Gators I know like Eddie and John and Nick. If Florida pulls out the win, props to you.

But a Georgia win would slow the drumbeat of criticism directed at Bulldogs’ head coach Mark Richt. Temporarily, at least. Long enough for the benefits of rational thought to squeeze past the maniacal rantings of so-called “experts.”

Under Richt, now in his 12th season, the Bulldogs have won 74 percent of their games. After beating Kentucky on Saturday, Georgia is more than halfway to its eighth 10-win season in the Richt era.

According to some, that passes for futility in the Southeastern Conference. The wins are ugly. The program isn’t taking the next big step.

“Other SEC schools are winning national championships,” they whine. “Why can’t we?”

Take a number. You think you’re the only fans that want a national title? Besides, you’ve already laid claim to five of them, including 1980. Who do you think you are, Alabama?

I’m a graduate of the University of Illinois, where hiring Ron Zook eight years ago was considered an upgrade. Illinois -- a program with some historical significance (Red Grange, Dick Butkus, Homecoming) -- has a grand total of TWO 10-win seasons. The Fighting Illini are 56-84 over the same time frame that Richt has been at Georgia. Illinois would need to win, oh, its next 200 games to match Richt’s winning percentage at Georgia.

You say I’m comparing okra to corn? Fair enough. Illinois’ football tradition will never match Georgia’s. I get that. There are, however, similarities between Georgia football and Illinois basketball.

Both are quality programs and both have enjoyed a modicum of success on the national stage. But neither is as accomplished as its most rabid fans like to think.

Richt’s situation reminds me of Illinois coaching legend Lou Henson. The Illini basketball program was in the tank when Henson reached Champaign in 1975. Over the next 20 years, Henson turned the program into a perennial 20-win team that contended for Big Ten titles and earned appearances in the NCAA tournament.

As the program grew in relevance, so too did expectations for greater achievement grow. Meanwhile, the competition -- in the Big Ten and nationally -- got better as well. Yes, Illinois lost to teams it “shouldn’t have” along the way. But the end result was a pretty good record of accomplishment.

The success gave Illinois fans an inflated view of the program’s importance. They thought Champaign was one of those “it” destinations coaches sought to validate their ability. In reality, it became just a stepping stone. The Illini had Lon Kruger. He left for the NBA. The Illini had Bill Self. He left for Kansas.

Georgia football is built on much the same foundation. It’s relevant again because Richt has made it so. Consider yourselves fortunate that he wants to stay in Athens. Fire him and watch those ugly wins turn into losses. And while he’s collecting the $4.8 million used to buy out his contract if he is axed after this year, Richt will laugh all the way to the bank.

Come to think of it, I’m pulling for Florida after all. Richt’s departure would serve his detractors right.

Contact Chris Deighan at cdeighan@cox.net.

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