Why UGA’s football coaching decision reminds me of the GOP primary

"The establishment" lost the debate in UGA's athletic department, and things ain't looking so good for Jeb, either. (AJC Photo / Curtis Compton)

“The establishment” lost the debate in UGA’s athletic department, and things ain’t looking so good for Jeb Bush, either. (AJC Photo / Curtis Compton)

I was somewhere north of Tifton on I-75 yesterday when I heard Mark Richt was out as UGA’s football coach. At a late lunch at a barbecue joint in Perry, I passed the news along to the proprietor (who’d given me a hearty “Go Dawgs!” upon seeing the shirt I was wearing). He confessed some surprise, then offered this: “I think that might be a good thing?” The question mark was audible, and since then I’ve seen that same lack of certainty in a lot of my friends’ comments on Facebook, blog comments and elsewhere. The Bulldog Nation has some folks who are sure it was the right decision, some who are sure it was the wrong decision, and a whole lot in the middle who are not sure what to think.

The more reactions I see, the more it reminds me of the current Republican presidential race — and not just because of the apparent importance of the so-called SEC primary. I made a reference to this in a column a few weeks ago, but give me a chance to flesh it out some.

Think of Richt as “the establishment”: the status quo, known commodity who has been the driving force in the program since late 2000. He had some notable early successes, getting his team back on top for the first time in quite some time (1988 for the GOP, 1982 for UGA). But he hasn’t won anything of significance in a decade, despite some high points here and there that were just enough to keep him in place (think the 2007 and 2012 seasons for Richt, and the 2010 and 2014 midterms for the Republicans). In 2012, both seemed poised to finally reach the promised land again, only to fall just short. A longtime figure — and punching bag — toward the top of each program decided to leave earlier this year (Mike Bobo, John Boehner) after never seeming able to satisfy all the critics. Boehner’s replacement (Paul Ryan) has had some early success, but so did Brian Schottenheimer … at first.

Now there’s a severe disagreement within the family as to the right way to proceed. There are those who favor staying the course. But their voices increasingly are drowned out by those who have lost faith in the ability of “the establishment” to ever win the whole thing, who have tired of the moderate demeanor of the status quo, who want an “outsider” who shows more fire and passion and is willing to shake things up.

Partisans of the establishment warn that change may not lead to more success, and could lead to less. They point to examples of victories when their ranks didn’t rock the boat (Dwight Eisenhower, Vince Dooley) and spectacular flame-outs when they did (Barry Goldwater, Derek Dooley). Those who favor change point to counter-examples of big-time success when losing wasn’t tolerated and changes were made (Urban Meyer/Nick Saban, Ronald Reagan). But neither side can point to conclusive evidence to back its claim.

Even though the Richt regime is over, the argument will carry on until his replacement has been named — and until everyone sees how the replacement fares. Likewise, the establishment/outsider debate rages on in the GOP, and neither side will truly be proven correct until the eventual nominee wins or loses next November. Reince Priebus can just be glad that, unlike UGA athletic director Greg McGarity, the decision isn’t his alone to make.

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13 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

My thought is there is only one Savior, and he isn't on the football sidelines coaching each Saturday.  Mark Richt is not perfect, but the chance of Georgia getting someone better, in total package, is not all that high.  Is winning the SEC or NC THAT important to the "big 4 donors" or the rank and file?

JKToole
JKToole

The trend that's prevalent on this blog and others that college or professional sports are a metaphor for the governing of the United States of America is ludicrous at best, asinine at worst. It's not even in the same ballpark, hell, it's not even the same game. There is so much more at stake than wins and losses. In sports, unlike life, there are only two outcomes. The idea that this is how the world is supposed to work just adds to the polarization of the population and feeds into the dim-witted notions of the LCD. I don't think Mr. Wingfield literally thinks this, but why serve up a platter of red meat for the trolls?

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

The GOP's game depends on whether we need a running back, tight end, or wide receiver. I was gonna include a forward but I think that's basketball.

I see Trump as Hillary's caddy? Wait a minute....that's golf, right?

Aside from volleyball, sports ain't my thing.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Oh did you find your turkey? Was it named Trump?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Can they wait another year to make the announcement? Trump will be available then! Maybe they need someone with no experience?


Mark Richt has too much class for most UGA fans who value wins more than being a complete coach. And I'm a jacket fan.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@RoadScholar The most valid criticism that I've heard of Richt was that he didn't get the most out of his players, that he should have done better with the talent he had.  Of course, that criticism does acknowledge that he recruited well.


One former UGA player who I treated both at the HS and pro level told me that there was a lot of team in-fighting when he was there in the mid 2000s.  The impression I got from speaking with him is that Richt was unaware of the problem due to a lack of closeness with the players.  Maybe Richt is too "classy" even for the players......

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Bruno2 @RoadScholar Having the most gifted recruits does not matter if they put themselves up before their team. Chemistry is so important when getting a slew of top athletes together and having to deal with their and their families egos.

Caius
Caius

Nice column, I enjoyed this.

Do you pick someone who has never run for public office before like Trump or Carson (Smart) or do you pick a proven winner of elections and a successful manager of government like any of the Republican Governors (Fisher, Kelly or Meyer)?


Kyle - "Reince Priebus can just be glad that, unlike UGA athletic director Greg McGarity, the decision isn’t his alone to make."

Caius -  I volunteer to make the decision for President all by myself.

 

Bruno2
Bruno2

LOL  I'll give you some brownie points for originality for comparing Mark Richt's performance to that of the Republicans.  With Richt's firing as the likely topic-du-jour for the next several months, you found a unique perspective.


Kyle: "But he hasn’t won anything of significance in a decade, despite some high points here and there that were just enough to keep him in place."

I think your comparison of football with politics suffers a little when you consider the numbers, however.  There are only two major political parties, such that the chance of winning the Presidency, generally speaking, should be 50% each election.  As such, if one party doesn't win for an extended period of time, it most certainly is an indictment of its leadership.  In contrast, there are 128 FBS teams, such that the theoretical chance of winning the championship is well less than 1% for any given team each year.  Of course, in a practical manner, the pool of possible national championship teams is more likely around 30, which is still a significant number.  As such, the lack of a national championship is a pretty unrealistic benchmark by which to judge college coaches IMO.


The problem I see is that the fans of each of those 30 or so teams, teams like UGA, AL, Auburn, Tenn, LSU, Florida, TX A & M, and Mississippi in the SEC, teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa in the Big 10, teams like Oklahoma, TX, TCU and Baylor in the Big 12, teams like Oregon, Stanford, USC and UCLA in the Pac 12, etc, ALL expect their team to be playing for a championship even though the numbers don't support that possibility.  To that end, coaches are paid astronomical salaries and universities commit disproportional resources to facilities.  Yes, a lot of the costs are paid by the boosters, but still....


The bottom line reality is that most colleges spend more on football than they bring in.  And, the bottom line reality is that only a tiny fraction of players ever make it to the pros.  As such, I would be pleased to see the emphasis shifted back on the quality of education, in spite of my own personal addiction to college football.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

Cute. I'm gonna miss Richt. I attended several of his big wins.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JeffreyEav As someone whose student years at UGA saw us go 1-3 (0-2 at home) against Auburn and Tech (as well as 1-3 against Florida and Tennessee, though even one win against them back then was a big deal), I know we can do a lot worse.