mark richt rick barnes

Mark Richt is to Jim Donnan as Rick Barnes is to Tom Penders

Dawg fans have their pitchforks and torches ready for Mark Richt, but Texas Basketball was in this spot last season.

Why is it significant to compare Mark Richt and Rick Barnes?  For a multitude of reasons, actually.  Barnes and Richt are both successful coaches that have taken their programs to generational highs at major public institutions.  As mentioned before, current Tennessee Basketball Coach Rick Barnes coached at Providence and Clemson before landing in Austin.

Georgia Football fans may not think that the Texas Basketball program has a similar reputation, but this actually could not be further from the truth when examining the program histories.  Georgia Football and Texas Basketball both have had their dry spells and breakout seasons.  Georgia Football claims two National Titles, while Texas Basketball claims  just one.  Georgia Football has spent much of the post-Herschel Walker years as the bridesmaid or invitee to the wedding, much the way Texas Basketball has been a frequent attendee on the wedding circuit that is shown up by the other patrons while others gossip about how Texas Basketball has not had the day that belongs to them.

Let’s keep this in mind:  It is tougher to make the NCAA Tournament than it is to reach a bowl game, after all, there are currently 68 spots to fill out of 351 teams that are eligible.  32 of these spots are automatically granted to the Conference Tournament Champion (with the exception of the Ivy League) and 36 spots are for at-large recipients.  In College Football, there are 40 bowl games with 78 teams needed to fill the bowl slots this season.  College Football Bowl Games are beginning to become the participation trophy of the College Football Season.  The higher quality Bowl Games are almost the equivalent of reaching the NCAA Tournament, but often times are not the desired nor just reward.  The student-athletes will be happy to use that $450 Best Buy shopping spree and eventually sell a commemorative football with the interchangeable Bowl sponsor on it.

Similarity #1:  Long Tenures at the Same Program

Mark Richt has coached at Georgia for 15 years while Rick Barnes had coached the Texas Longhorns for 17 years.  Both coaches were embedded into the culture of the school and the program for better or worse.

Similarity #2:  Predecessors Receive No Credit for Early Success

Tom Penders took Texas to a 208-110 record and was the winningest coach at Texas until Rick Barnes eclipsed his wins total and nearly doubled it.  Penders averaged 20.8 wins per season, Barnes averaged 23.64 wins per season.  Penders left Rick Barnes with a rather full cupboard filled with talent that had made an NCAA Tournament or were highly regarded and had the potential to become stars in the Big XII Conference.  Penders had an ugly final season that included his team turning against him and the retributive release of Luke Axtell’s embarrassing academic records for the general public to see.  Penders’ firing did not stop Axtell from defecting to Kansas, but it kept many in Austin.

Jim Donnan took over in the wake Ray Goff’s reign of incompetence, brought in quality recruits and consistently delivered winning records after his first season.  Donnan went 40-19 in Athens before his firing due to three straight losses to Georgia Tech, a 1-4 record against Florida and disciplinary issues that had plagued the program.

Penders and Donnan had similar winning percentages, but Donnan was only able to last five seasons.  Both coaches were very effective in their ability to bring in talent that was ready to win for their successors.

Similarity #3:  Both programs reached their zenith in the First Five Years

Under Barnes:  Five NCAA Tournaments, one Sweet Sixteen and the only Final Four during Barnes’ watch.  Texas also won the Big XII outright in his first season with the Longhorns, he would never accomplish this again.  Barnes’ record was 116-50 (.699 winning percentage) in his first five seasons, 286-130 (.688 winning percentage) in his last twelve seasons with Texas.  The high point had already happened and Kevin Durant could not do anything to change that.

Under Richt:  5 Bowl Seasons, 2 Sugar Bowl appearances (1-1 in this game), 2 SEC Championships, 4 Ten Win Seasons, 4 Top Ten Finishes and 1 Top Five Finish.  It all just seemed like the good times would never end in Athens and that the good guys would always find a way to win.  Richt was 52-13 (.800 winning percentage) in his first five seasons, Richt is 89-38 since the 2005 Sugar Bowl loss to West Virginia (.700 winning percentage).  Georgia has not won an SEC Title since, not contended for a National Championship nor enjoyed as many Top Ten Finishes.

Similarity #4:  A Really Tough Loss to Swallow at the Georgia Dome

For Barnes:  It was an Overtime Loss in the Elite Eight against the 2005-06 LSU team that would reach the Final Four.  As the #2 seed, Texas was expected to win against an LSU team that had just defeated #1 seed Duke in the previous round.  Texas came back in the final minute of regulation to tie the game and take it to Overtime.  Glen Davis hit an improbable three point shot in Overtime to spur and LSU win in the extra session.

For Richt:  Giving up a 21-10 lead to Alabama with the defense wilting from fatigue, Georgia’s emotional last minute drive conducted by Aaron Murray had the Crimson Tide on its heels.  Georgia with a win would seemingly face Notre Dame for the National Championship, but it was a drive that provided one of the most crushing losses in program history.  The decision not to spike followed by a tipped pass that was caught by Chris Conley at the five yard line and no way to stop the clock from expiring punched a ticket for Saban’s crew to the National Championship and much to both Saban and Richt’s chagrin, a punched ticket for Georgia to the Capital One Bowl.

Similarity #5:  Restlessness within the Fan Base

For Rick Barnes, it was not a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when’.  Articles in January 2013 were bringing up the matter of his exit.  The fans would grow more restless over the course of the next 27 months and eventually Barnes was fired and replaced by Shaka Smart.  Texas Basketball fans knew Barnes was a safe choice and was consistent despite never reaching the heights of his early tenure.

Mark Richt has had his critics since 2009!  However, much of the credibility of the criticism was dismissed and the poor seasons were followed by stronger seasons.  The same argumentation of Richt being a consistent winner and what the program would resemble should Richt be replaced by a less competent Head Coach were raised.  Tennessee has been used as an unfair, inaccurate “boogeyman” for the Georgia program to scare them into keeping Richt because becoming a scandal-ridden program with a fiscally mismanaged Athletic Department is a scenario that some believe will actually happen.  The Tennessee Football problem of the late 2000s and early-to-mid 2010s is one with great nuance and involves specific issues that affect UT only.

Similarity #6:  Putting players into the Pros

Barnes coached the best professional athlete that the two coaches have had in their systems.  It is hard to argue against Kevin Durant, but Barnes placed others into The Association:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge
  • D.J. Augustin
  • Avery Bradley
  • Maurice Evans
  • T.J. Ford
  • Jordan Hamilton
  • Royal Ivey
  • Damion James
  • Cory Joseph
  • Chris Mihm
  • Chris Owens
  • Dexter Pittman
  • P.J. Tucker
  • Tristan Thompson
  • Myles Turner

Mark Richt has placed a litany of players into the NFL.  There are currently 37 Georgia Bulldogs playing in the NFL. The New Orleans Football Club and the Cincinnati Bengals are known to draft Georgia Football players straight from college with great consistency.

Similarity #7:  Major Changes on One Side of the Ball

Rick Barnes went from a Motion offense to a Flex Offense, which is a fundamentally different style.  The results were not overly different, but the 2012-13 Team had an offense that was just average compared to consistently above average results that were consistent every season.

Mark Richt has had four different Defensive Coordinators in tenure.  Two coaches that preached the 4-3 style and two subsequent coaches that installed a 3-4 defense each with different gap responsibilities.  Arguably, the best Defensive Coordinator at Georgia was Brian Van Gorder, but the game changed drastically with Urban Meyer and spread option concepts coming to an unprepared SEC.  Van Gorder’s exit after the 2004 Season put an inconsistent Willie Martinez in charge of the defense and getting Richt to finally axe his friend after the once mighty defense had shown serious leaks was a tough process.

With Richt, the defense was always in flux as far as communication, scheme and culture.  Defensive Coordinators at Georgia last long enough to see their players graduate and then exit, which is now rather common because of the possibility of receiving a big payday elsewhere or a Head Coaching job.

Similarity #8:  A General Softness, Tentativeness and Lack of Confidence

Texas Basketball during the end of the Barnes era lacked a spark and despite an emotional fight in a game last season against Baylor, never imposed its will upon opponents.  Texas’ talent level also was not up to typical Texas standards in the end of the run, even though the team had Myles Turner.  There were a few lost classes.   Texas was muddling through and that is not up to the standard of Texas Basketball.

Georgia Football has had its fair share of lost classes.  2009 and 2010 were deemed lost classes and the 2011 Dream Team disintegrated upon arrival in Athens due to behavioral issues.  Georgia Football after the 2012 season had an injury marred 2013 season and then a 2014 season that was an exhibition in a lack of faith in the offensive talent.  Georgia still averaged 40+ points per game under Mike Bobo.  All this would change with Bobo leaving and Brian Schottenheimer replacing him.  Schottenheimer lived up to his unfortunate NFL reputation as an Offensive Coordinator.  A 4 star Quarterback left the program (Jacob Park).  This left Richt and Schottenheimer with a 3 star Quarterback that was billed as a right handed Tim Tebow (Faton Bauta), a 4 star Quarterback that was deemed a potential superstar with the second best arm to Matthew Stafford (Brice Ramsey) and former Virginia Quarterback Greyson Lambert who had languished in Charlottesville.

With the new Offensive coaches came a lack of confidence in the offensive talent due to both unfamiliarity and the desire to not adapt to the talent that is there.  Georgia started playing not as physical, ultra-conservative and incredibly awkward football.

Mark Richt by the Numbers

Cramming all that data into one spreadsheet may be difficult on your eyes, but it is important to note these key takeaways:

  1. Richt won 30 games through purchased Out-of-conference opponents.  Louisiana-Monroe is an example.  Removing these games from the picture, Richt is 111-51 (.685) in total.  During his first five years, he was 42-13 without the cupcakes (.760) and during the past ten years, he was 69-38 (.645).
  2. Georgia’s offense scored more points per game during the past ten years than the first five under Richt.  Richt’s teams also ran more plays during his earlier years.  Compared to the rest of College Football during the ascendancy of offense and high tempo play, Georgia actually rose in the ranks as far as points scored during the past ten years.
  3. Georgia’s defense was consistently in the top decile of College Football in Richt’s first five seasons, but dropped significantly afterward.  Georgia went from an average rank of 8th in the country to 31st.
  4. Georgia’s offensive identity shifted from a more pass heavy offense to a more run oriented offense even with Aaron Murray and Matthew Stafford at the helm.
  5. Georgia’s defense became less able to handle the running game, but improved against the passing game during the last ten seasons under Richt.  Georgia Tech’s switch to Flexbone Triple Option may have skewed things a little bit, but it should not have had too much of an impact.
  6. Turnovers are a slightly bigger problem in the past ten years than the first five years.  Georgia’s average turnovers per game rank in the first five years was 25.2 and in the last ten years 48.9.
  7. Penalties have plagued Georgia under Richt, but it was worse in the first five years than it was in the past ten.
  8. On average, the experience of the Assistant Coaches is more favorable on the offensive end, which is due to Mike Bobo having an eight year tenure.
  9. Even though Georgia won five in a row against Tennessee, the team had lost 3 of their previous 4 to the Vols prior to this streak.  Georgia was 4-1 against Tennessee in the first five seasons, but 6-4 in the past ten seasons.
  10. Georgia took advantage of Florida and Tennessee when they were at their lowest between 2011-13, but Richt had the most improvement against a boom-and-bust Auburn program in the past ten years.
  11. Georgia could not count on beating the South Carolina Gamecocks and next to the Florida Gators were the toughest regular SEC opponents that Richt had to face in the past ten years.

The Cyclical Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia has had their best seasons every five years (2002, 2007, 2012) because of continuity of talent on both sides of the ball aligning toward these particular seasons.  Georgia teams have not had their peak seasons when the Quarterback is a Senior nor when the Quarterback is a 5th year Senior getting their only opportunity to start.

Georgia’s success has imitated the Business Lifecycle.

This cyclical fashion of Georgia Football is why this particular Georgia Football team (2015) was actually doomed from the beginning.  However, the attempts of the staff to not start fresh with a long term Quarterback choice and break in a new Offensive Coordinator have kept the “Death” phase still rolling as opposed to any sort of an opportunity to start the cycle all over again.

Georgia Football is not like Alabama, Florida or Auburn.  Georgia cannot just catch fire and surprise out of nowhere nor can the team always have the ability to dominate every season.  Georgia is like a small market Major League Baseball franchise that has their opportunity with one group of guys every five seasons and eventually has to trade the players that helped build them up for new talent because they cannot afford to keep the established players.  Georgia Football is a lot like the Pittsburgh Pirates in that sense!

Mark Richt has done what Ray Goff could never do, Jim Donnan may have eventually done and what Vince Dooley could not do post-Herschel Walker and that is build a predictable cycle of success for the Georgia Football team.  This predictability is what keeps Mark Richt employed, but Richt needs to do something quickly to show that this is season is about something starting anew.  All indications are that this program is still in a murky decline phase without any real identity, which is a problem since the expectation should be that the program be in a startup phase.

The Four Eras of Under Mark Richt:

  1. “The Golden Age”:  Startup was the 2001 season, 2002 was the rapid growth phase, 2003 and 2004 were the maturity years and the decline started against Florida in 2005.  Many of the players on these teams were Donnan recruits and former players under Donnan.
  2. “The Flash and Dash”:  These teams were comprised of Richt’s guys.  No more holdovers from the Donnan era.  Mike Bobo was just starting to get the keys handed to him.  2006 was a startup season, it could have been like 2015 had Joe Tereshinski III not been injured and not been outperformed by both Joe Cox and Matthew Stafford.  The beginning of the rapid growth came at Auburn in 2006.  Maturity set into the program in 2007 and up until the infamous Alabama blackout game of 2008.  The decline was slow in 2008, but it was more pronounced in 2009 when Joe Cox was the caretaker Quarterback.
  3. “The Re-Establishment”:  The 2010 season was not a season of decline, but rather a season of fits and starts due to a completely new defense and young Quarterback.  For the first time since 2001, the rapid growth phase would actually wait.  In 2011, the rapid growth phase happened after an 0-2 start.  Georgia won ten straight games and went to the SEC Championship.  In 2012, Georgia was in the maturity phase with Aaron Murray and an experienced defense, the team had its best season since 2007.  2013 was supposed to be a continuation of the maturity phase, but it was marred by injuries and became a season of decline.  2014 represented a re-birth within the decline phase that would push off the startup phase until 2015.
  4. “The Uncertainty”:  The lack of depth at Wide Receiver combined with a re-shuffled Offensive Line, brand new Secondary, Offensive Coordinator, Running Back Coach and Offensive Line Coach would signify a startup year for 2015, but the inability for any Quarterback to cement their position as not only a long term option, but a short term option indicates prolonged decline.  To start the cycle again, there needs to be a clear direction for the future and no such clarity exists.  There are four more games left in the regular season to show the signs that the cycle is in the process of starting over again, but this is very challenging with entrenched talent on the line and at Quarterback.  2016 presents the best possibility of a startup year.  The tail end of 2016 and the 2017 season represent the best possibilities for the rapid growth phase.  2018 looks to be the maturity season.  2017 and 2018 based on history are the seasons that Georgia is set to compete on a National Level.  However, the uncertainty surrounding the program and prolonged decline/death may throw this all completely out of balance.

If Mark Richt cannot give a reason NOW why he cannot take Georgia to an SEC Championship or a New Year’s Six Bowl in 2017, he needs to be replaced because he is the model of consistency and breaking tendency would throw a lot of hard work down the drain.

Georgia Football fans fail to see the five year life cycles of the program.  Georgia just does not magically have a great season out of nowhere, it can easily be predicted.  Those putting Georgia in the Final Four, Peach Bowl and SEC Championship Game were neglecting how the talent is sourced and developed.

Mark Richt Needs an Act II, Much Like Barnes Received at Tennessee

Tennessee Basketball was a mess in the wake of Cuonzo Martin’s exit, it was not exactly wonderful after Bruce Pearl lied to NCAA investigators either.  Tennessee Basketball was in a state of instability and Rick Barnes is an experienced steady hand to put things on the right track and re-create a winning foundation.  Rick Barnes’ arrival to Tennessee brings him closer to his hometown of Hickory, North Carolina and it enables him to coach his wife’s alma mater.  It is a homecoming of sorts for Barnes and it is also an opportunity to perform his last coaching duties.  Tennessee Basketball will be competitive once again and will experience s 20 win season again, even in a tougher SEC.

Mark Richt would seem to have that sort of opportunity at his alma mater, Miami.  Richt’s success in his first five years using Jim Donnan’s recruits is something that most programs would be thrilled to have.  Miami’s cupboard is not bare, it was just mismanaged.  Richt can give five years to his alma mater and bring it back to life.  Becoming the Head Coach at Miami would be not only unselfish, but it would be a gratifying finish to a career well served.  Steering Miami back toward greatness again would not only be good for College Football, but for the proud and close-knit Miami Hurricane family.  Richt can provide a blueprint of ethical success and proper student-athlete treatment at the two universities he cares about most.