Mark Richt has been the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs football team for 12 seasons.
Before his arrival in Athens it had been nearly 20 years since the Bulldogs were relevant. Richt came up from Florida State and brought their culture of winning with him. And he’s done it the right way. Richt has a reputation as a class act that somehow manages to put his faith in Christ and his obligations to his family ahead of his profession.
Those kind of priorities have probably cost the Bulldogs a few wins, maybe even a national title.
And that’s why, for almost every year that he’s been the coach at Georgia, Mark Richt has been on the hot seat. For some, “Fire Mark Richt!” has become the new “Go Dawgs!”
Some fans have wanted him gone because he’s too nice.
Some don’t like him because he can’t seem to win the big game.
Some fans don’t like seeing other, seemingly less talented teams, win national titles while Georgia hasn’t won one since the 1980-81 season.
This weekend, Mark Richt will coach the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC championship game. It will be the Bulldog’s second appearance in two years. They’ve won this game twice under Richt’s leadership. Before he came along the joke was that SEC officials decided to put the championship game in Atlanta because they wouldn’t have to worry about Georgia ever making it to the game and having an unfair home field advantage.
The game this Saturday is probably the most important game involving the Georgia Bulldogs in the past two decades. If they win they will go to the national title game to play an undefeated Notre Dame team.
If they lose, a small but vocal group of fans will reignite the Fire Mark Richt campaign.
These are fans that have not learned from the experiences of their rivals to the north and the southwest.
Phil Fulmer was a long time successful coach at the University of Tennessee. He won a lot of games with Peyton Manning as his quarterback and even won a national title the year after Manning left for the NFL. But the game had passed him by, or so the fans thought. They let Fulmer go and replaced him with a hotshot NFL coach named Lane Kiffin. After a year on the job, Kiffin left for the greener pastures of the University of Southern California. He was replaced by Derrek Dooley who was fired just a few days ago after one of Tennessee’s worst seasons. Phil Fulmer has never been so appreciated in Knoxville.
Auburn University rests just over the Georgia/Alabama border and in the shadow of the mighty Crimson Tide. When it came time for them to fire their coach a few years ago they chose a surprising replacement. Gene Chizik had experienced little success as a head coach and the Auburn fans were not happy. They quickly changed their tune when Chizik led the team to an undefeated national championship season in 2010. But a mere two years later, Auburn was 3 and 9 with 0 conference wins and an embarrassing 49 – 0 loss to that bitter instate rival whose shadow seems to always be looming over them.
Tennessee and Auburn force us to grapple with a very difficult question, one that goes beyond sports. If you sacrifice everything to win it all, have you really won anything at all?
Georgia doesn’t stand much of a chance to win against Alabama this Saturday, at least according to the experts. Alabama is very good and they have been very good for a while. But they play the game for a reason.
My two boys and I will be watching from the comfort of our home. Three Georgia fans enjoying the biggest game of the season.
But when Alabama jumps out to an early lead, say 21-3 in the first quarter, there will only be one Georgia fan in our house.
“Dad, who’s winning?”
“Alabama is right now.”
And then I’ll teach them the importance of sticking by your team, even when they aren’t playing so well. This is a lesson that I hope they will learn and carry with them throughout their lives as husbands, fathers and leaders. Leaders stay the course, even when the ones you are leading are calling for your head. Fans jump ship when things get tough and get back on when things are looking better. Fan is, after all, short for fanatic.
I’d rather my sons grow up to be leaders than fanatics.
And win or lose, I’m thankful that the three of us have an example like Mark Richt.