1. Let's play some mad libs.
Hmm. I'm going to change just a few details from what I wrote when it looked like LSU was about to fire Les Miles.
Losses matter. Of course they do. That Iowa State has suffered six of them in seven games -- and has finished with more losses than wins for six straight seasons -- is why Paul Rhoads won't be in Ames next year. That Syracuse has suffered seven in a row and 17 in 23 games is why Scott Shafer won't lead the Orange onto the field in 2016.
That Georgia has lost 11 games in three years is why Mark Richt is not going to be Georgia's head coach anymore.
Losses rile boosters up. They sway recruits. And at most schools, they affect attendance. They are emotional bombs, and they can force an athletic director's hand. But emotion is one of the last things you want when hiring and firing a coach. This is where numbers can come in awfully handy.
The numbers all point to the same two things:
LSUGeorgia is not doing quite as well as it was a couple ofthree years ago. There might be clear reasons related to roster turnover. Teams can naturally recover from small down cycles with extra experience on the field and adjustment in the coaching booth.
Les MilesMark Richt is not Nick Saban. MilesRicht has recruited well, and without any changes whatsoever, LSUUGA could expect to field an improved defense and a better offense in 2016. Odds are decent that the TigersDawgs still won't be as good as Saban's Crimson Tide next year.
I write it about 20 times per year (give or take): coaching changes are terrifying crap shoots. And
LSUGeorgia should know that as well as anybody. The Dawgs are perceived to be in college football's class of blue bloods because they nailed the last hire.
But even blue bloods struggle to go two-for-two. After Vince Dooley coached his last game in 1988, UGA hired Ray Goff, who struggled for two years, broke through for two, then got washed away by a tide of six-win seasons. Jim Donnan replaced him in 1996. He engineered two top-15 finishes, then three more top-20 seasons but got pushed out the door by the university president, apparently against Dooley's wishes.
This is college football we're talking about. Lost perspective is assumed. When a rival -- one coached by a man you used to employ -- is doing better than you after beating you in a national championship rematch, you start to think crazy thoughts, like, "I'm so sure we can do better that I'm willing to
pony up an eight-digit buyout toroll the dice."
You're only as good as your next hire. If you ditch
MilesRicht because you think you can get someone like Jimbo FisherKirby Smart or whoever, you better get him, and you better not run out of money in the process.
I call it Glen Mason Territory when a coach raises the bar at a school, then fails to clear that bar consistently enough for an increasingly impatient fan base. Getting rid of Glen Mason might feel good in the short-term, but beware, you might end up with Tim Brewster.
That worked pretty well, actually!
2. Patience is awesome. And impossible.
Because of the stability Richt brought to Athens, we forgot UGA can get itself lathered up at an LSU-ian level. After all, the last head coach before Richt got fired for three- and four-loss seasons and losses to rivals ... and he still had the support of the athletic director!
Boosters are basically Middle East oil magnates. You are beholden to what they provide you, which means you have no choice but to deal with the headaches. Boosters are emotional, reactionary fans. Only, unlike us, they've bought influence. It probably goes without saying that frustrated boosters forced embattled athletic director Greg McGarity's hand a bit.
(Of course, boosters might not have much to do with petty decisions like making Richt fly commercial to visit a star recruit or hiring a security firm to handle the angry hoard of, like, seven pro-Richt fans on Sunday. That was likely all McGarity.)
3. There was a case for Richt to be shown the door.
We made it ourselves. He's missed opportunities. He randomly loses games he shouldn't. With a team that was fantastic on paper last year, he figured out ways to lose to South Carolina, Florida (a habit of his) and an admittedly awesome Georgia Tech. The teases of greatness made the stumbles harder to accept.
He replaced offensive coordinator Mike Bobo with the NFL's Brian Schottenheimer while Bob Stoops rejuvenated Oklahoma by bringing in Lincoln Riley's air raid. Stoops' team is all but assured a spot in the Playoff, and Richt's very much is not.
4. The case for keeping him was, in my opinion, stronger.
After a miserable October, his team rallied. The Dawgs didn't finish playing top-10-caliber ball, but they won four in a row. That means they're a bowl win away from a fourth 10-win season in five years (and a 10th in 14). In an obvious down year. Most programs would pay millions for this type of disappointment.
After falling out of the F/+ top 40, the Bulldogs are back up to 34th. Yes, that's a bad performance for a program with Georgia's potential, even one that loses its offensive coordinator and starting quarterback in the offseason and one of the best players in the country (Nick Chubb) to injury midway.
But this poor performances comes on the heels of four consecutive F/+ top-15 finishes (13th in 2011, seventh in 2012, 14th in 2013, fourth in 2014).
5. Here are the other programs that pulled that off in that same span: Alabama.
That's it. Florida State didn't do it. Oregon didn't. Ohio State didn't. But Richt even pulled it off in 2013, with a brutally young defense and receivers exploding like Spinal Tap drummers.
This reminds you of how randomness plays a role in this sport. Rage against randomness or pretend there's no such thing at your own peril. And while we can say Georgia is a sleeping giant, and that the program should expect better results, here's a dirty little secret: almost no team gets to constantly win at the level we think it should achieve.
Everybody has setbacks and down years and disappointments and random losses and frustration against rivals. But Saban does it far less frequently than anybody else, and that makes people -- especially SEC rivals -- lose their damn minds.
If nothing else, we've seen larger collapses. Florida was 4-8 and 45th in F/+ in 2013. Auburn was 8-5 and 54th in 2011 and is 6-6 and 56th today. At the end of Bobby Bowden's tenure, the Seminoles ranked between 30th and 45th not once, but four times.
Perhaps 2015 was a sign of things to come in Athens. But forgive me if, with a cursory glance at the depth chart and the 2016 commitment list, I figured the Dawgs were headed back toward the top 15 next fall.
6. Better stick the landing.
Dumping Richt was an impatient, emotional move. But it doesn't matter if McGarity nails the replacement hire.
If he brings in an outsider like Tom Herman or Dan Mullen or Hugh Freeze, who wins 11 games per season for the next decade, then dumping Richt will look like the greatest decision in Georgia history. If native son Kirby Smart -- a former Georgia defensive back who has spent the last nine seasons with Saban in Tuscaloosa -- ends up getting the call and winning big, awesome.
But if Smart turns out to be Will Muschamp II, or if an outsider comes in and wins at a similar level (which, with the bar Richt set, will be tricky) without the same level of integrity, it will be easy to wonder what the hell the point of this was. Richt was a great hire 15 years ago. The next guy will need to be at least as great.
7. What if ...
Richt's tenure goes down as one of the biggest what-ifs and near-misses in recent college football history.
The successes were obvious. He won two SEC titles (the first, in 2002, was Georgia's first in 20 years), finished with 10-plus wins nine times (and counting?), and engineered as many AP top-10 finishes in 15 seasons (seven) as Vince Dooley did in 24.
Let me repeat that. He had as many awesome seasons as Vince Freaking Dooley, and he did it in nine fewer seasons.
But it always seemed like his timing was off. He finished the 2002 regular season at 12-1, which would have assured Georgia of a spot in the BCS Championship in 1998, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2007, etc. But Ohio State and Miami were undefeated that year.
In 2012, Richt's Bulldogs came up a few seconds and a few yards short of beating Alabama in the SEC title game. A win would have given them a likely win in the BCS title game.
If either one of those random breaks goes in Richt's favor, he's probably still Georgia's head coach. If UGA doesn't slip up at home to South Carolina in 2007 before catching fire, that's maybe another BCS title appearance. If the Dawgs don't fall to South Carolina again at the start of 2014, that's another SEC title shot.
If, if, if, if.
8. Richt's going to be fine.
His survival following what was a true rough patch -- 14-12 in 2009-10 -- gave him a chance at another peak and a spectacular legacy. He should have gotten another season, but whether he chooses to coach again or open a ministry somewhere or go the TV route, he'll be pretty good at it.
But by announcing it was tired of class and 10-win seasons, Georgia put itself in an awkward position. Maybe the replacement is spectacular. But the odds of a lesser hire are strong.