“I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if I was going to make it past a couple years,” Mark Richt said. “I wanted to hire a bunch of great men, and we were going to work as hard as we could and do things the right way and hope it was good enough, and so far it has been.”
Georgia (10-2) is coming off its second SEC Championship and heading into its second Sugar Bowl in Richt’s five seasons. The No. 8 Bulldogs will play No. 11 West Virginia (10-1) on Jan. 2 in the Georgia Dome.
“He’s put our program, I don’t want to say we were off the map, but he’s put us in the upper echelon,” athletic director Damon Evans said.
And he’s done it at such a fast pace that he’s put his name on some pretty impressive lists.
Richt, who is 52-12 overall, is one of just nine Division I-A coaches ever to win 50 or more games in their first five seasons. Only four coaches since 1900 have won more than Richt in their first half decade.
“One thing you have to keep in perspective is we play more games now than they did in the past,” Richt said. “I’ve had as a head coach more opportunity to win games, so you’ve got to take all that with a grain of salt.”
Still, he said, “I’m humbled by it.”
Even measured by winning percentage, Richt’s record is impressive. Since he took over the program prior to the 2001 season, the Bulldogs have won a higher percentage of their games than every SEC team and all but five teams in the country. It’s also worth noting that he’s the only coach in the SEC with more than one conference title in the last eight years.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Evans said. “What Mark Richt has done over his five years here is nothing short of incredible. I believe he epitomizes what we want in terms of our coaches here at the University of Georgia.”
In his five seasons, Richt has never wavered from the mission statement he showed his staff on the first day they met as a group in 2001, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said.
“When he makes decisions, he always thinks about what he stands for,” Martinez said. “It’s been a consistent philosophy, and it hasn’t changed. I know it’s trickled down through the whole staff, the support staff, the janitor, whoever works in this building. He’s a consistent man. You know where you stand. We know what the expectations are, and we know where the standards have been set. We’re treated awesome.”
He’s beloved by his players and peers as well.
“We’ve got the best coach and the best man in the league,” senior Kedric Golston said.
Former South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said, “He’s very popular among the coaches. He’s just a class act all the way around. I think he’s definitely established himself as one of the premier young coaches in the country.”
That label is coming at a heftier and heftier price for Georgia, which already pays Richt $1.5 million per season and is on the verge of moving him higher than that. No specifics have been discussed for Richt’s raise, but Evans wouldn’t rule out bumping him into the $2 Million Club, where the SEC’s Phil Fulmer, Tommy Tuberville and Urban Meyer all have memberships.
“I think we always have to be fiscally responsible,” Evans said, “but you have to look at fair market value. I think it’s prudent upon us to say we will assess the market place and see where coaches of his caliber are. At one point in time, people would have said $1.5 million is too high.”
Placing a fair market value on what Richt has accomplished is difficult because Georgia’s coach has a sterling record but doesn’t have an undefeated season in his career like Tuberville or a national championship like South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, who is paid $1.25 million plus incentives, senior associate athletic director Frank Crumley said.
“He’s not one pounding on your door saying I need to paid this, that or the other,” Crumley said. “I think we can put together the best contract and give Mark the best things to recruit and graduate our student athletes. I hope he wants to stay here a long time.”
Richt accepted the Georgia job for $750,000 and saw that figure double after breaking the program’s 20-year SEC title drought in 2003. He shied away this week from the talk of money and reiterated his desire to stay in Athens.
“My goal since the moment I took the job at Georgia was to be at Georgia,” he said. “I’m just thankful to be here and have the success we’ve had. I want to see this thing through. Every class we recruit, we want to be there at the end. One day, if I’m just worn out or have worn out my welcome one or the other, we’ll move on.”
When Richt was hired, he was considered one of the best offensive assistant coaches in the country, but his wins at Georgia have come in large part thanks to the defense. Two different coordinators hired by him, Martinez and Brian VanGorder, have made Georgia’s defense a fixture in the top 10, and Richt has always let them do their job with zero interference from him.
“A lot of us appreciate that,” Martinez said. “He makes us accountable for it, but it’s not like he’s always over your shoulder looking.”
In Georgia’s SEC championhip seasons, special teams also have provided a vital boost, but only once in five seasons have the Bulldogs finished higher than 45th in the country in scoring or 31st in total yards.
“His teams remind me a lot of Joe Paterno’s teams,” Holtz said. “I picked them to win the championship against LSU because they don’t make mistakes, they don’t make bad plays, they protect the ball, they play good special teams and they play very good defense.”
It’s too early to establish Richt’s place in the pantheon of coaches, Evans said, but he’s off to a good start.
“I think he has the ability to end up being one of the greatest of all time, but only time will tell that,” he said. “Longevity is a big part of greatness and success.”
The Mark Richt Era
2001 8-4 5-3 tied third in East
2002 13-1 7-1 won SEC, Sugar Bowl
2003 11-3 6-2 played in SEC title game
2004 10-2 6-2 second in Eact
2005 10-2 6-2 won SEC, playing in Sugar Bowl
The Money Men*
Charlie Weis Notre Dame $3-$4 million**
Pete Carroll Southern Cal $3 million
Mack Brown Texas $2.6 million
Bob Stoops Oklahoma $2.4 million
Phil Fulmer Tennessee $2.05 million
Urban Meyer Florida $2 million
Tommy Tuberville Auburn $2 million***
Frank Beamer Virginia Tech $2 million
Larry Coker Miami $1.9 million
Al Groh Virginia $1.7 million
Mark Richt Georgia $1.5 million****
*Compiled from published reports and not intended to be a complete list
**Based on life of 10-year contract
***Will make $2.2 in 2006
****Third year of deal which runs through December of 2010
Since Richt was hired, Georgia has the sixth-best winning percentage of any team in the country and the best in the Southeastern Conference.
1. Texas 55-8 87.3
2. Miami 54-8 87.1
3. Southern Cal 54-9 85.7
4. Boise State 53-10 84.1
5. Oklahoma 54-11 81.0
6. Georgia 52-12 81.3
7. Ohio State 49-13 79.0
Richt is 52-12 overall and 32-10 in SEC games in his five seasons. That overall winning percentage of 81.3 is second all-time in the SEC. Richt’s conference winning percentage of 76.1 is sixth-best all-time.
(The SEC begins ranking coaches once they’ve been in the league five seasons.)
1. Robert Neyland Tennessee 173-31-12 82.9
2. Mark Richt Georgia 52-12 81.3
3. Wallace Wade Alabama 61-13-3 81.17
4. Frank Thomas Alabama 115-24-7 81.16
5. Steve Spurrier Florida/South Carolina 129-31-1 80.6
6. Bear Bryant Kentucky/Alabama 292-69-14 79.7
7. Phil Fulmer Tennessee 128-37 77.6
1. Steve Spurrier Florida 92-17 84.4
2. Robert Neyland Tennessee 81-19 78.7
3. Phil Fulmer Tennessee 84-24 77.6
4. Frank Thomas Alabama 59-16-6 76.5
5. Bear Bryant Kentucky/Alabama 159-46-9 76.4
6. Mark Richt 32-10 Georgia 76.1
7. Nick Saban LSU 30-12 71.4
First Five Years
Richt is one of nine Division I-A coaches to win 50 or more games in his first five seasons. Only seven coaches have done it since 1900.
Walter Camp Yale, Stanford 1888-1892 69-2-2
George Woodruff Penn 1892-1896 67-5
Bob Pruitt Marshall 1996-2000 58-9
Bob Stoops Oklahoma 1999-2003 55-11
Larry Coker Miami 2001-2005 54-8
Dan Hawkins Boise State 2001-2005 53-10
Mark Richt Georgia 2001-2005 52-12
Barry Switzer Oklahoma 1973-1977 51-5-2
John Robinson Southern Cal 1976-1980 50-6