ATHENS -- By the time Vince Dooley started looking for Georgia’s new head football coach more than a decade ago, Mark Richt’s name had been percolating for a while. The Florida State offensive coordinator had just been careful not to jump at any offer.
“He was one of about two or three that was regarded as a good fit at the University of Georgia. And he probably more than anybody in the country was the leading assistant coach candidate for a job,” said Dooley, who was Georgia’s athletics director in 2000. “He hadn’t been a head coach before. A couple of the others had been. The upside is that he’d been an outstanding assistant coach and one of the hottest assistant coaches in the country.”
It also felt like Richt was the kind of coach who could stick around for a while, which no one since Dooley himself had done. And stay put is what Richt has done, now in his 11th year and going for his 100th victory Saturday at Tennessee.
That’s the same Tennessee team that is now coached by Dooley’s son, Derek.
“I don’t know if you’d call it irony. Maybe others would,” said Vince Dooley, now retired and living in Athens. “I think (Richt) is a favorite to do that. And I think Georgia’s good enough to beat Tennessee.”
This hasn’t been the best of times for Richt, whose future has been a constant topic of conversation. But he’s 99-36 as a head coach after Dooley and Georgia took a leap of faith on him, when many expected a program of the Bulldogs’ stature could find an established head coach.
In fact, that 2001 class of first-year head coaches was filled with big names and big jobs. And Richt is one of the few who has survived:
Jim Tressel was hired at Ohio State in 2001. He was one of the sport’s most successful head coaches until he resigned amid an NCAA investigation last summer.
Urban Meyer got his first head coaching job that same year at Bowling Green. He went on to wildly successful stints at Utah and Florida, then retired after last season.
Pete Carroll took the job at Southern California that year. He had a great run before returning to the NFL two years ago, but his time at USC has been looked at differently because of NCAA troubles.
Rich Rodriguez got the job at his alma mater of West Virginia in 2001. He had a great run, then took the Michigan job and in January was fired after three years in Ann Arbor.
Ralph Friedgen got the boot at Maryland after last year, his 10th at his alma mater. Larry Coker won a national title in his first year at Miami but was fired five years later.
Among the other coaches in that class of 2001 were Gary Crowton (BYU), Al Groh (Virginia), Tommy West (Memphis), Guy Morriss (Kentucky), Dan Hawkins (Boise State), Dennis Franchione (Alabama) and John Bunting (North Carolina).
The only first-year coaches besides Richt from that year who are still head coaches at the FBS level are Les Miles, hired at Oklahoma State in 2001 but now at No. 1 LSU; Gary Patterson at TCU, Gary Pinkel at Missouri, Greg Schiano at Rutgers and Jim Grobe at Wake Forest.
Dooley was asked if he expected to be hiring a coach that would last at least a decade.
“I think you probably think in terms of five years; you see where you are in five years. When I was coaching, I always thought planned in terms of the next five years,” Dooley said. “But “I’m real happy that he is where he is. And I’m totally confident that he’ll come out of the first difficult time he’s had at Georgia.”
Dooley has said it publicly before, and he repeated it again Wednesday. He had a down period at Georgia, as did Bear Bryant at Alabama and Joe Paterno at Penn State.
“He’s going through his first crisis at Georgia,” Dooley said. “I think he’s righted the ship, and they’re going in the right direction, and they’ve got a great chance to win the (SEC) East.”
Richt’s players are actually using the 100th win possibility as a bit of motivation. Senior center Ben Jones approached junior tight end Orson Charles earlier this week and told him they should get the win for Richt.
“I didn’t know about it until Ben told me,” Charles said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we should.’ I feel like a lot of people are starting to tell everybody, and now it’s starting to mean so much more. It’s a big game, but it’s starting to be a real personal (thing), because we’re trying to do it for Coach Richt, because a lot of people have been bashing him.”
Richt himself appeared to be savoring the possibility, especially because it would help the team in the race to win the SEC East.
“I never thought I’d get to 100,” Richt said. “I didn’t know if I’d get to 100 games period, but to get to 100 victories would be sweet, no doubt. The sweetest part of it would be if it happened this week.”