Although there may have been signs, little did we know for sure as we watched Georgia battle state rival Georgia Tech for the 110th time on Nov. 28 at Bobby Dodd Stadium, that it was Mark Richt’s final game as head coach of the Bulldogs.
Having covered Coach Richt for all 15 of his years at UGA, I have to say I have never met a guy with more class, more compassion than Georgia’s head mentor. Not only did he treat his Bulldog players and fellow coaches with the utmost respect in those 15 seasons in Athens; likewise, he also dealt with us here in the media in a first-class manner, always setting aside time for personal interviews when his busy schedule allowed.
Mark Richt loved his football players, coaches, the Georgia fans and, most of all, loved his Lord. He’s been a walking testimony of how a public figure should conduct himself this past decade and a half.
And his record guiding the Bulldogs – 145-51 with a school-best .738 winning percentage – speaks for itself. The only reason he’s no longer Georgia’s head coach is because of the fact he wasn’t able to take the Dawgs to an SEC championship over the past 10 seasons. And in this what-have-you-done-for-me -lately society in which we now live, that is pretty much a career-ending statistic. Like I’ve said several times, the Bulldogs’ greatest coach of them all, Vince Dooley, may not have made it to the Herschel years of 1980-82 if he were coaching this day and time … what with the 5-6 and 6-5 records he posted in 1977 and 1979, respectively.
Bottom line, as Mark Richt now continues his head coaching career at the helm of the Miami Hurricanes, he should be able to keep his win percentage at a high level at his alma mater in south Florida.
So best wishes and luck to a truly outstanding person and football coach as he moves forward in his life.
And as I think back over Coach Richt’s 15 autumns in old Athenstown, I’d like to recall the coach’s five most memorable wins that I had the privilege to witness:
(1) Nov. 16, 2002 – Georgia 24, Auburn 21
This one has to be at the top of the list as the Bulldogs’ last-minute victory on the plains of Auburn gave Richt the East Division championship and launched Georgia on to its first SEC championship in 20 years … the Dawgs going on to blow out Arkansas 30-3 in the Georgia Dome. Trailing Auburn by 14-3 at halftime, the Bulldogs battled back and won the game when David Greene, on 4th-and-long, threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Michael Johnson in the left end zone corner of Jordan-Hare Stadium. The play, called 70-X Takeoff, came with just 1:25 left to play as Larry Munson screamed on the air, “A touchdown, my God a touchdown in the corner!”
(2) Oct. 6, 2001 – Georgia 26, Tennessee 24
For first-year Georgia coach Mark Richt, this historic win in Knoxville was indeed a springboard to Richt’s championship success in the first five years of his career at UGA.
After the Volunteers went ahead 24-20 on a 62-yard screen pass touchdown with just 44 seconds to play, the Bulldogs got excellent field position after a UT squib kick and marched 59 yards in just 37 seconds for the winning score. At the Tennessee 6-yard line, with only 10 seconds remaining, quarterback David Green tossed the ball to fullback Verron Haynes in the back of the checker-board end zone as the legendary Munson went into his famous “Hobnail Boot” call. It was Georgia’s first win at Neyland Stadium since Herschel Walker made his college debut there in 1980.
(3) Sept. 22, 2007 – Georgia 26, Alabama 23 in overtime
This would be Coach Richt’s second win over Nick Saban in a three-year period. At Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide ended regulation play in a 20-20 tie. Getting the ball first in the extra period, ‘Bama took a 23-30 lead with a 42-yard field goal. But when the No. 22-ranked Bulldogs took their turn at bat, they ended the game immediately, Matthew Stafford throwing a 25-yard touchdown strike to Mikey Henderson in the left corner on Georgia’s first offensive play of the OT as play-by-play announcer Scott Howard screamed “One and Done, Baby!”
(4) Oct. 2, 2004 – Georgia 45, LSU 16
This may have been Richt’s most dominating victory ever, against a quality opponent. Sanford Stadium was never louder than it was this afternoon as David Greene threw for a school-record five touchdowns to lead 4-0, third-ranked Georgia to a rout of Nick Saban’s 13th-ranked Tigers. The victory was sweet revenge after LSU had hammered the Bulldogs 34-13 in the 2003 SEC Championship Game.
(5) Tie – Oct. 27, 2007 – Georgia 42, Florida 30; Nov. 30, 2013 – Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 34, 2 OTs
I couldn’t leave Coach Richt’s two wins over the Bulldogs’ most hated rivals out of this listing so these two stirring victories over the Gators and Yellow Jackets share the No. 5 spot.
Richt could only go 5-10 against Florida in his UGA coaching career so that’s why the 2007 win was truly special. After Knowshon Moreno scored a first-quarter TD, you remember the whole Bulldog team rushed the field and celebrated in the Gator end zone. From there, the 18th-ranked Dawgs never looked back as Moreno rushed for a career-high 188 yards and three touchdowns and Stafford passed for three scores as Georgia upset the 11th-ranked Gators.
The Tech game two years ago had to be one of the most thrilling wins for Richt as the Bulldogs rallied from a 20-0 second-quarter hole to swat the Jackets in the two OTs. Hutson Mason staged an outstanding performance in making his first start at quarterback after Aaron Murray suffered a torn ACL in the Kentucky game, and Todd Gurley was in “beast” mode all night, running for 122 yards and three touchdowns and gaining every single yard for the team in the overtimes. He scored on a 6-yard run in the first OT and then tallied the game-winner on a 25-yard TD burst up the middle in the second overtime, after which Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson preserved the win by deflecting Tech QB Vad Lee’s fourth-down pass.
With that comeback win and then this year’s 13-7 win over Tech, Richt would finish 13-2 against the state rivals, including a flawless 8-0 record at Bobby Dodd Stadium.