I am not a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to Georgia football. I have been a diehard fan since I was a young boy growing up in Savannah. I was 9 years old when Vince Dooley became Georgia’s coach, and I faithfully followed his “three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy. On Saturdays I sat glued by my radio as “The Legendary Voice of the Georgia Bulldogs”, Larry Munson, pleaded for Erk Russell and his Junkyard Dawg defense to hunker down one more time.
For the past 10 years I have lived in the Boise, Idaho area. As far as I know I have the only Georgia Bulldawg mailbox in the state. The personalized tags on my truck read “DAWGS 1”. On Saturdays, when Georgia is playing, my Bulldawg flag proudly flutters in the breeze from my front porch. I often wear ball caps around the valley, and they are all Georgia hats that proudly declare my team loyalty. My pool room is decorated with banners and photos and memorabilia from my beloved Dawgs. I even have an autographed picture signed by Herschel Walker – the greatest college running back to ever live.
I like almost all sports, but I love college football. I like the Braves, I like the Falcons, and I like the Hawks, but I LOVE MY DAWGS! When people here ask me where my football allegiance is, I always tell them I enjoy Boise State football and appreciate the great program they have, but “I bleed red and black!”
Through all of the years that I have followed the Dawgs, there have been ups and downs, highs and lows. I have endured stretches of mediocrity and reveled in seeing my team in the elite of college football – even winning a national championship. Through it all I have remained a proud member of Bulldawg Nation, but today I am embarrassed and saddened and sickened.
For 15 years Mark Richt has embodied the integrity and principles that have become a rarity in the coaching profession. Along with averaging almost 10 wins every season, he has epitomized the coach-as-mentor that has molded the lives of so many young men who had the blessing of playing for him. At the press conference after his firing, Coach Richt said that his proudest accomplishment was preparing his young men to be “good fathers, good husbands, and good citizens.” He taught them about more than just football, he taught them about life.
By firing Mark Richt as the head coach, Athletic Director Greg McGarity and his cohorts made a very loud and clear statement. They let it be known what they were more interested in W’s than they were in the athletes enrolled in their football program. They told us that they valued trophies more than character. In doing so they also told us that they are not made of the same stuff Mark Richt is, and that the priorities that drive them has more to do with money than it does the welfare of the athletes that bring that money in. They told us that they care more about the numbers on the board than they do about the boys on the field.
I have been reminded by some that football is a business, as if that somehow justifies the firing of a man who won far more than he lost. In reality, he coached in what many consider the toughest league in all of college football, and competed against men who are hall of fame coaches. But 10 win seasons aren’t good enough in a day where Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are the standard by which all coaches are measured. Even Les Miles was in danger of losing his position at LSU, until his AD got cold feet about letting a proven winner go.
This is all indicative of the culture we live in. Character doesn’t count. A coach can shout obscenities at the refs and scream vulgarities at a 19 year old that just missed an assignment, and it will be accepted as long as he produces wins – the almighty W! In the win-or-else environment that exists in the coaching profession, it is no wonder that coaches and programs are scandalized by recruiting violations. The “shock” expressed by athletic directors is hypocritical and sickening. It is an environment that men like Greg McGarity helped create.
But Coach Richt never stooped to cheating. His legacy is that he did it right, and the testimonies of his former and current players show that he made his mark on hearts more than he did the record books.
I’m not sure where this all leaves me right now. I was so foolish that I came to think that Mark Richt’s integrity represented the university he coached for. It didn’t. Their greed and lust for what they consider success has created a Dawg eat Dawg world. The next coach will know that job security is a myth in an institution that would fire Coach Richt.
It is a cold and blustery day here in Idaho. My Georgia flag hangs off the front of my house, being stirred to life by the cold breeze that is blowing across this valley. It is flown at half-mast. Something died in Athens this past weekend and we may have lost more than we now realize. We can and will hire another coach, but we made a choice about character that does not bode well for our future.