ATLANTA — Les Miles can sympathize with Mark Richt in a way maybe only fellow football coaches can.
Miles tread the same waters, walked the edge of unemployment and faced the same questions after underachieving seasons at Louisiana State University.
And when asked Friday at the Georgia Dome about Richt returning Georgia to the Southeastern Conference championship game after an 0-2 start, Miles seemed sincere when he defended the road Richt took to get here.
“I think that there’s an issue where expectations really need to fit with the team and not necessarily the coach,” Miles said. “And I do understand criticism, but how much better are you going to get than Mark Richt? That’s a great coach. I think given a scenario that’s explainable, you better find that coach an opportunity to stay rather than find that coach an opportunity to leave because you just might hire yourself a guy who’s not as good as the one you showed the door.”
A day earlier, University of Georgia president Michael Adams gave Richt his most public and high-profile vote of confidence yet when he said Thursday he would be “surprised if Mark Richt weren’t the football coach here next year.”
There’s no need to scour the writing on the wall – Georgia is pleased with what Richt has done this season.
But there’s another side to all of this and it’s not that Richt is lucky to still have his job.
It’s that Georgia is lucky to still have Richt.
The last time Miles addressed the media before playing in an SEC championship game, he had to address speculation that he would leave LSU for a coaching vacancy at his alma mater, Michigan.
Richt could very well be in the same position right now if an opening interested him. In the long run, he has been as successful as he is loyal to Georgia through 11 seasons.
He reached 100 victories faster than legendary Bulldogs coaches Vince Dooley and Wally Butts and is coaching in his fourth SEC championship game. He hauled in one of the country’s most impressive 2011 recruiting classes and never seemed to lose composure as he returned from a 6-7 season and climbed out of an 0-2 hole to 2011 with fans clamoring for his head all the while.
Yet like he seems to do, Richt continued to handle the questions about his 10-game winning streak and return to the title game by humbly taking a cue from his mentor– former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden – and insisting he is at the mercy of Georgia.
“What coach Bowden used to say is as long as I’m long as I’m healthy, as long as Georgia wants me,” Richt said when asked how long he hoped to remain the Bullodgs’ head coach.
When Richt came to Athens in 2001, it was for the long haul. The decision to leave Florida State, which at the time was as excellent a place for an assistant coach to develop as there was, did not get taken lightly. He wanted a place where he could settle in, where he could have the long-term support to succeed and where he could have some sense of stability.
He found that in Georgia.
“It had to be a place where I wanted to spend the rest of my career,” Richt said. “I didn’t want to go somewhere thinking it was a stepping stone to go somewhere else. It’s too hard emotionally for me to recruit guys and look them in the eye and say I want to be your coach and knowing deep down that maybe if something better comes along I’m leaving. I don’t operate that way, so Georgia’s my home and my family’s home.”
So, at least for a while longer, it appears Georgia is stuck with Richt.