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Getting the Scoop on Mark Richt with Dawg Sports

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Miami's New Head Football Coach? What type of man is he off the field? Will he lead UM to a 6th National Championship? For all of that and more we were fortunate enough to speak to the fine folks over at Dawg Sports, SB Nation's Georgia site, to learn more about the man who will now be walking the sidelines for the Hurricanes.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Talking about Richt was such an attractive topic, we were lucky enough to have two writers from DS work with us on this piece.

Some of the responses about not only about the coach, but also the man, will explain why.

Check out the full Q&A below:


SOTU: For Miami fans who don't know Richt very well, can you give is his strengths and weaknesses as a Coach from your perspective?
Vineyyarddawg: Actually, I think Richt's strengths and weaknesses have changed a bit over the last 15 years. (Can't that be said for all of us, though?) When Richt came on board in Athens in 2001, he was arguably the best QB coach and offensive coordinator in the country. And we saw that in his very first team, as he took a redshirt-freshman QB who (depending on who you ask) had been either a 3-star or 4-star recruit under his wing. And by the time David Greene graduated from Georgia 4 years later, he was the winningest QB in UGA history, and his 2002 team had won Georgia's first SEC championship in 20 years. Over the years, though, he slowly handed most of the QB development, and then the entire offense, over to Mike Bobo, though Richt has always claimed that he's still very involved in QB position meetings and offensive strategy meetings (and there's no reason to doubt that).

In the early years, Richt's primary weakness was probably his intransigence. Like most head coaches who have spent all of their professional lives coaching one side of the ball, he hired a DC and let them pretty much run things with a great deal of autonomy. The problems came, however, when those DC's started going downhill. After his first DC, Brian VanGorder (now at Notre Dame), left for the NFL in 2004, Richt promoted his secondary coach and personal friend, Willie Martinez, to DC. When Martinez's defenses started sucking out loud, though, Richt refused to make a change until a disastrous 8-5 season in 2009. At the same time, he seemed to be getting a little stale and predictable on offense. Monte Kiffin had a memorable quip about this fact during the 2009 season when he was the DC at Tennessee for his famous son, saying the "felt a lot more comfortable" preparing for UGA's offense than any other team in the SEC. This culminated in a truly horrific 2010 season, in which UGA went 6-7 with a freshman Aaron Murray under center.  After much speculation that Richt was told by his AD at the time to make changes or be fired, Richt and his OC Mike Bobo introduced more wrinkles in to the offense like the pistol and a few spread-type formations, while remaining true to their pro-style roots. So Richt showed a willingness to change with the times as college football changed.

Over the last 5 years, I'd say Richt's greatest weakness was the fact that he was incredibly unlucky, and he wasn't willing to publicly fight back when people started making dumb accusations against him. For example, when his teams won the SEC East in 2011 and 2012 and were 1 tipped pass away from the 2012 national championship game, people still said he "couldn't win big games." But he never really engaged people who said those things. And then he had 2 Heisman-quality running backs on two different teams in 2014 and 2015, but both were taken out for most of the season by injury (Nick Chubb) or NCAA b.s., then injury (Todd Gurley). Incredibly unlucky. And that's not counting the fact that if either Ohio State or The U lost one game in 2002, Georgia plays in that national championship game, and if any one of Tennessee's 3 final opponents in 2007, all of whom nearly beat the Vols, managed to put them down, Georgia plays in the 2007 SEC championship game, and probably goes to the national championship game that year instead of LSU. Luck's a foul mistress sometimes, and certainly has been to Richt.

Today, as far as strengths, I think Richt is still a superb QB coach and probably offensive play-caller, and the fact that he's publicly said he wants to do that again is probably very encouraging. Richt is also an amazing and tireless recruiter. He knows how to surround himself with coaches who can also recruit well, but he himself is always going all-out on the recruiting trail pretty much all the time coaches are allowed to. He's also a pretty good judge of coaching talent.  Some of his guys have been misses over the years, but there have been more hits than misses. (And many of his hires that UGA fans consider failures continue to be employed at other big schools, like Todd Grantham, Willie Martinez, John Jancek, and others. So more head coaches than just Richt liked them.)

MaconDawg: I think Mark Richt's biggest strength is his demeanor. But it's also his greatest weakness. He has the lowest resting pulse rate of any coach in the SEC on game day, and over the years that's rubbed off on his team. Under the right circumstances that allows them to remain calm despite big momentum shifts. However, over the years it's also yielded a perception that Richt "isn't fiery enough." It's also produced what I've labeled the "'We got this' syndrome". Georgia teams under Richt, especially in the last five seasons or so, have had a horrible tendency to sleep walk in big games. It's almost as if they don't really know how to turn it on when it's time to do so.

That won't change at Miami. It's entirely too late for the leopard to change his spots. You'll get a coach whose steely calm under pressure will rub off on his players, both for better and for worse.

SOTU:  What will Mark Richt's Georgia legacy ultimately be?
Vineyyarddawg: That's a really tough question to answer so soon after he was fired. To many Dawg fans who are still half in shock, Richt seems like a martyr, and a martyr never did anything wrong and was the greatest person in history. On paper, you can't deny that Mark Richt has the highest winning percentage of any Georgia coach in the last 100+ years, winning at a 74% clip. It's hard to deny that part of his legacy will also be the one or two (or more) heart-crushing losses every year, though, that kept the Dawgs from ever winning the ultimate prize. Many people point to Richt's off-the-field legacy, as well, but such things are less tangible to people, especially when you give them about 5 or 10 years to forget about the "good deeds," and I don't know how well he'll be remembered at Georgia for that. Were I a betting man (and I am), I'd bet that Mark Richt will be remembered by most as "a really nice guy who won a lot of games, but just couldn't ultimately get it done." (Perhaps kind of like Butch Davis?)  Of course, a lot of that also depends on whether or not Kirby Smart (or Kirby's eventual successor) can get Georgia a national championship.  If Kirby leads UGA to the Nebraska and Tennessee doldrums, people will be yearning for Richt like no other. If Kirby wins multiple national championships at UGA, Richt will still be respected, but not necessarily revered like he is right now.  It's all about the W's and L's, is what I'm saying. And not just Richt's W's and L's.

MaconDawg: I think that depends entirely on what Kirby Smart (and perhaps even his successor) does. If Smart ultimately gets Georgia over the hump and wins a national title, Richt will be "the guy who got Georgia close." He'll always be well-thought of, but he will likely lose the mantle of "the most successful head coach Georgia ever had." Right now, statistically, he's that guy, and by a wide margin, in every category except national titles.

If Smart doesn't reach the pinnacle, if he's only consistently successful, or heaven forbid if Georgia takes a step back from their perennial 9-3-ish finishes, Mark Richt will go down as the victim of his own success and will continue to have a higher approval rating that the folks responsible for his ouster. Like Phil Fulmer at Tennessee, he'll be remembered as the guy they really shouldn't have fired.

SOTU: What type of person is Richt off the field and in the community? 
Vineyyarddawg: I'm sure you've heard some stories, especially in the last 3 or 4 days. They're all true. All of them. (Just google "Mark Richt Devon Gales" for a particularly poignant story from this year. Or read SB Nation's exceptional longform piece "The Reckoning," which among many other things, talks about Richt staying up all night counseling and consoling a suicidal former player just a couple of days before a top-10 showdown with LSU in 2013.) I've met Mark Richt personally several times, and seen him speak at events several more times, and every single time I've interacted with the man, he's seemed completely genuine, honest, and exactly what he appears to be. I even have a personal anecdote, if you'll allow me the time to share it:

So, in 2002, Georgia played a game at Alabama in early October. Well, it can be damn hot in the middle of Alabama in early October, and this game was one of the 2 or 3 hottest I've ever been to before or since. No wind, no clouds, just the sun mercilessly baking down on you all day. And College Gameday was in Tuscaloosa that day, so my new wife (to whom I'd been married for less than 4 months) and I got there early, and basically stood around in the heat until the stadium opened at 2:00 for the 3:30 kickoff. We went to our seats, but my wife just couldn't take it anymore, and she started showing symptoms of pretty bad heat exhaustion before the pregame festivities even started. After spending a little time at the First Aid booth, I decided I had to take her back to our hotel (in Birmingham), and as we were walking out of the stadium, I could hear the fans cheering as the teams were running out onto the field. (UGA ended up winning that game on a last-second field goal. My wife was fine after some fluids and rest.)

Obviously my wife's health always comes first, and I didn't think twice about it, but she felt absolutely awful afterwards. So she wrote a letter to Coach Richt a couple of days later explaining the situation and about how guilty she felt, and asking if he could maybe sign a football or something for me as her way of saying she was sorry. Within a few days of her sending that letter, we got a package from the UGA football offices.  Mark Richt had taken the time to personally write a response to my wife (it was obviously personally written, not a form letter), apologizing for the weather(?!?), and thanking her and myself for being Georgia football fans. He also included a print of a Jack Davis drawing that he had signed. (That would be founding cartoonist for MAD magazine Jack Davis.) That letter and Davis print are framed and still hanging in my home.

He took the time out of his incredibly-busy day, during a week when he was getting his team ready to play a #10-ranked Tennessee team, to personally respond to a letter from a random fan (who was perfectly fine and healthy) and send her a gift that made a mark on her and her husband's life forever. And that's just about one of the smallest acts of kindness he's shown over the last 15 years. That's the kind of person Mark Richt is.

MaconDawg: Mark Richt is the man I strive to be. I'm not joking. That's not hyperbole. Richt's many charitable activities have been well-documented, and I'm not going to list them. But I will say that a lot of what he does, most of what he does, he doesn't publicize. Richt got Georgia hit with a secondary NCAA violation in late 2011 when he paid, over the course of several months, bonuses to various support staff and assistant coaches out of his own pocket when the University refused to. As Vine notes, he's touched the lives of regular fans and players, most recently through the Paul Oliver Network. Everything you've heard about Richt being one of the true class acts in college sports is true, and then some. In truth, that's going to be one of the hardest parts of replacing him. The next guy is not going to be able to eat and sleep football 24 hours a day without drawing unfavorable off-field comparisons to Richt.

But he has a little bit of a fiery side, too. He's competitive. One of Richt's favorite recruiting activities during his time in Athens has been to have recruits over to his home for desserts and table tennis. And he doesn't like to lose. There are plenty of tales of recruits saying that was perhaps the first hint they had that Richt is more than just a really nice guy.

SOTU: Tell us about his downfall this season?   What cost Richt his job in Athens  more than anything else?

Vineyyarddawg: At the risk of sounding glib, more than anything else, the SEC as a whole cost Mark Richt his job. In spite of the fact that Richt consistently put a very-high-level product on the field, fans saw a one-hit wonder like Gene Chizik come through and win a national championship, and they saw Urban Meyer barnstorm through Gainesville and burn himself out in 6 years, but with 2 national titles to show for it. But most of all, Nick Saban. In Saban's Bama dynasty, UGA fans had a coach they could point do (even if subconsciously) and wonder, "why can't Richt win like that guy?" So, the thing that has building against Mark Richt for the past 10 years is, essentially, envy of all the other SEC teams winning national championships, but not Georgia.

Specifically in 2015, though, the single biggest thing that caused things to come to a head was when Nick Chubb tore his knee up, Willis McGahee-style, on the first play of the Tennessee game. After that, Georgia's offense was beyond abysmal for the rest of the season, and almost literally couldn't score any points at all. Add that to the fact that we got boatraced by the Gators in Jacksonville (a result that was wholly predictable, but nobody seemed to expect it), and the usual Richt haters were calling for his head even more vociferously than normal. In past years, the fact that his team rebounded to win 9 games in the regular season, even with a putrescent offense, would have given some cause for hope, but something was apparently different this year.  Honestly, I don't know what it was.  Perhaps it was just all the various disappointing losses of 15 years adding up.  I really, honestly don't know, because I was very shocked that UGA pulled the trigger on Richt. But that Florida loss, in particular, seemed to light a fire in some folks, and it apparently lit the fire in our AD's mind, too.

MaconDawg: Mark Richt lost his job because Auburn, Alabama, LSU, and Florida have all played for multiple national titles (and won at least one) since he last won the SEC title in 2005. The SEC is a rough neighborhood. Mark Richt had a lot of bad luck over the past few years. It's been well-documented that he's had at least three teams which likely would have played for a title if they'd been transported to almost any other season. In the end Georgia boosters got tired of watching their neighbors hoist the hardware. There was also the perception that Richt should have done better with class after class of top 10 talent on National Signing Day. In truth, Alabama and LSU were consistently bringing in better classes, but Georgia fans, administrators, and boosters somewhere along the line forgot that before Mark Richt arrived in town they were coached by Ray Goff and Jim Donnan and hadn't won an SEC title for 20 years. He was, in short, a victim of his own success.

But another, under-discussed aspect of this is that over time Richt had made some enemies. Not because he did anything terribly wrong, either. Grudges and slights have a way of building up over the years. Like a lot of coaches at big time programs, Richt had been forced more than once to tell a guy who writes big checks that he'd be the one running the football team, thank you very much. There had also been some serious disagreements with folks within the University. In the end, that seems to have robbed Richt of some of the backers who might have saved him.

SOTU:  Last but not least, and this is a tough one.  Let's make 'Canes fans either very happy or extremely sad.   What type of success would you predict for Richt at the University of Miami?

Vineyyarddawg: There's no reason to think that Mark Richt can't be just as successful at Miami as he was at Georgia. Miami's in just as fertile a recruiting ground as Georgia is, if not moreso. And Richt knows how to coach up some quarterbacks. To be honest (but not derogatory), I think it helps that he's in the ACC Coastal, too, where you just have to worry about FSU, maybe Clemson if the schedule rotation hits you wrong, and (insert hot team in your division this year here), instead of the SEC, where you typically have exceptional teams knocking on your doorstep virtually every week. (Ignore this argument for 2015's level of competition, please.)

I think Richt's offenses will be just fine. He can coach up quarterbacks with the best of them, and he'll have the offense ready to go. The biggest key for will be getting a good DC that can scheme and recruit well. I'd expect maybe a little bit of "growing pains" in the first year (maybe 7-5 or 8-4) as Richt's offense learns the new system and he's bringing more recruits that better fit it, but I really think the sky's the limit for The U. We've seen that once the ball starts rolling in Coral Gables, things can get really big in a really short span of time, and there's no doubt in my mind that Richt can take y'all there. ACC Championships, definitely. National championships? There's no reason to think why not.  Of course, there was no reason to think why he couldn't win a national championship at Georgia, either, and he never did. Luck's a bitch sometimes. So with a little luck, Richt could absolutely bring another natty to the Magic City.

MaconDawg: I made Miami fans angry last night when I implied that Miami doesn't have the same talent on the roster that Georgia does. I stand by that, but I think those folks may have taken my argument to the extreme. Miami doesn't have the talent on the roster right now to compete for a national title, but they're not that far away. And the missing pieces all live within 50 miles of campus. Richt's going to bring an infusion of energy to the team and the school. I think he'll have the 'Canes competing for playoff spots within the next three years. If Jimbo Fisher leaves FSU or something otherwise happens to dent the momentum in Tallahassee, Miami could easily be on top of the Coastal in a hurry. Oh, and you'll beat Georgia Tech almost every year, because that's just what Mark Richt does.

Thanks again to Vineyyarddawg & MaconDawg for working with us.

Hopefully this helps 'Canes fans have learned a little more about the next Head Coach at UM.  I know I certainly have,

Also be sure to head over to Dawg Sports to learn more about the Bulldogs in the post Richt era.