Richt’s mission is to advance beyond the second-year highlights he’s had at Georgia and Miami

Miami fans are loving Mark Richt after this 10-3 breakout season, but soon they’ll want more.

Georgia fans did, even though Richt ripped off double-digit wins one season after another there while building an overall .740 winning percentage.

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt yells during a team drill before the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Saturday, December 30, 2017. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

Now that the Bulldogs are in the national championship game with Kirby Smart, many fans are probably wishing they had made the switch sooner.

That’s not fair to Richt, who won more games as Georgia’s coach than anyone except Vince Dooley, the 1980 national championship coach who ran the show there for a quarter century. This is how the business works, however, and this may be why a guy like Richt gets so wound up during the Orange Bowl the other night that he grabs the arm of an official and draws a flag.

Nine times at Georgia Richt won 10 games or better, and it he would have had another if he wasn’t fired at 9-3 in 2015 just before a Gator Bowl win over Penn State. By the numbers, he should still be there, but the administration got tired of boosters grumbling about SEC titles that didn’t materialize and quarterbacks that didn’t develop and playcalling that didn’t crack the code against Alabama and Florida and other SEC irritants.

The job that is ahead of Richt now is to push past the wave of excitement that marks his second season at Miami and into a series of moves so dependable and signings so right that Clemson won’t be able to stand in the way, or FSU, or anybody else.

It was his second season that rang the bell at Georgia in 2002, too. The Bulldogs were 13-1 with a Sugar Bowl win over FSU that year, convincing the faithful, as Miami fans are convinced now, that the right coach finally was at the right place at the right time.

It was great, all right, but it didn’t get greater, and the national title opportunity that Smart has now did not come to be. It happens like this, the feeling that 10-3 over and over is some kind of a drag. If that doesn’t seem possible at Miami right now, think of how Larry Coker started out 35-3 as the Hurricanes coach but began to lose momentum with a couple of 9-3 seasons and soon, after just six years, was gone.

Oh, I know that Coker and Richt are not the same guy, that Coker inherited a championship-caliber roster and didn’t have the same legwork to do at first, but the point is this. Miami had a coach with an .800 career winning percentage and a national title but he wasn’t enough to satisfy anybody for long.

So you look at the Hurricanes’ 2018 season opener, a Labor Day weekend showcase against LSU at Jerry’s World in Texas, and it’s like Richt has something to prove again. A loss by Miami would be the fourth in a row. A win and the Hurricanes are only getting started, with anything less than another trip to Charlotte and the ACC title game to be viewed as a step back.

It’s the pressure that every elite coach at every major program accepts, and Richt means to be in the middle of it, too.

My hope is that his alma mater will be a little more forgiving than most if everything doesn’t go perfectly. That’s because nothing goes perfectly in college football, not when a team like Auburn can upset a couple of No. 1 teams and come off looking like a dog at season’s end with a 10-4 record and a bowl loss to UCF. Not when UCF can have its best season ever and forfeit a head coach in the process.

Good luck keeping it going, Mark, and keeping it together, too. All things considered, that one sideline meltdown in the Wisconsin game was probably a long time coming.

What he had this season wasn’t much different than Jim McElwain’s introduction at Florida, an exciting 10-1 start and a rapid return to the Top 10 after years of wandering, followed by three lopsided losses in a row to FSU, Alabama and Michigan.

Nobody wants to hear that, but it’s so.

[Does anybody out there, including Scott Frost, want a piece of UCF now?]

[Jeter missed the memo on how fed up Marlins fans are with fire sales]

[It’s OK to start wondering again if Tiger will return to Honda Classic]

Lane Kiffin’s breakup with Alabama before national title game does FAU no favors

 

Lane Kiffin always was an odd fit at Alabama.

You can’t say it was a bad fit. Not even close. Not with College Football Playoff appearances all three years he was the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and a shot a second straight national title for Alabama next week. If Kiffin was doing a lousy job, Nick Saban would have kicked him to the curb right away.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Head Coach Nick Saben of the Alabama Crimson Tide walk during pre game of the 2016 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER 31: Former offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Head Coach Nick Saban talk during pre game of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2016. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

When the announcement came Monday, however, that Kiffin won’t be calling plays for the championship game against Clemson, the personality gap between this flashy, me-first coach and every other Saban assistant was made evident one last time.

“We made the decision because it was in the best interest of our players, our program and for Lane for him to assume his duties at Florida Atlantic,” Saban said. “We mutually agreed that this was best for both programs.”

Compare that to what Saban was saying about Kirby Smart last January, back when Georgia had already hired Alabama’s former defensive coordinator as head coach but Smart was permitted to stay with the Tide through the College Football Playoff title game against Clemson.

“You know, it’s sort of like you have a son and he’s moving away, and you want to see him do really, really well,” Saban said of Smart at the time.

“I certainly appreciate the fact that he’s stuck here with us and done a really good job as far as trying to finish this year for our players. I think that’s the number one reason that he’s here.”

The Georgia job is a whole lot bigger than FAU, with more impactful recruiting energy to be spent in keeping up with the SEC neighbors. Yet Smart saw the value of standing in the confetti shower of a national championship celebration and decided to do it the hard way, postponing many of his new duties at Georgia to get his hands on another trophy at Alabama.

“Kids see it,” Smart said after Alabama beat Clemson 45-40, not exactly his greatest night as a coordinator but a trophy moment all the same. “They identify with it. Me being on TV and being in the national championship did way more for me tonight than say somebody who wasn’t.”

Now Kiffin joins the vast majority coaches who won’t be on the field at Tampa next Monday when Alabama and Clemson do it again.

That’s too bad for him and too bad for FAU, which can use every precious syllable of network TV conversation in the raising of its Div. I football profile. That’s why the Owls hired Kiffin in the first place. Win games in the fall, sure, but get people talking all year round.

[Some leftover nuggets from Lane Kiffin’s introduction at FAU]

[The Lane Kiffin revival tent puts down stakes in Boca Raton]

[Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign drew comparisons to Tim Tebow’s]

What caused the breakup at this critical moment for Alabama football? Probably nothing major, but when you lose focus on Saban’s objectives for even an instant, that’s a tidal wave of trouble in Tuscaloosa.

A couple of times Kiffin was late to meetings prior to the Peach Bowl national semifinal, including Media Day, when he missed the bus back to the team hotel. Then, in an easy win over Washington, the Alabama offense was good but not great.

Couldn’t have helped, either, when Sports Illustrated came out with a long article about Kiffin house-hunting in Boca Raton during Christmas week, with $4 million waterfront homes on his target list so that boats and jet-skis will always be at the ready.

Made me think of the more common SEC coaching profile, Will Muschamp. When he was plucked off Texas’ staff to be head coach of the Florida Gators, Muschamp lived in a Gainesville hotel for several months while waiting on his family to finish school and join him. All work, no play, the Saban way.

That takes us back to that recent SI story. While referencing the relative social isolation of life in Tuscaloosa, Kiffin told the writer who tagged along on his house search, “This will come across wrong, but it’s like dog years. Three years is like 21.”

He knew it would come out wrong but he said it anyway. That’s Kiffin, who always goes back to smooth things over, but the joke too frequently is on him.

Why would a guy who desperately needed the structure of Saban’s system to restore credibility to his own career get sloppy the moment that the payoff of a new job is secured? It doesn’t say much about the maturity that Kiffin supposedly has gained since his days at Tennessee and USC, or about his stated desire at the FAU introductory press conference to keep it boring for a while.

None of this means, of course, that Kiffin can’t be successful at FAU, or that the Owls won’t benefit from his magnetism and his coaching, or that Nick Saban regrets the modernization that Kiffin brought to the Alabama offense.

The bottom line is that Kiffin has been quiet for a long time. It’s bound to get noisy at FAU, and fast, because the goal is to keep him around for more than a few crazy headlines, and it’s unlikely that anyone over there is going to have the nerve to tell him to tone it down or else.

 

 

 

 

If you’re still wondering about Richt getting fired at Georgia, look what just happened to the coach who replaced him

Only twice in his long Georgia coaching career did Mark Richt lose a game by 30 points or more.

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 24: Head Coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs congratulates Chad Kelly #10 of the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi. The Rebels defeated the Bulldogs 45-14. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
OXFORD, MS – Head Coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs congratulates Chad Kelly #10 of the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, where the Rebels defeated the Bulldogs 45-14 last Saturday. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

It only took four games for it to happen to new Bulldogs boss Kirby Smart.

Georgia lost 45-14 at Mississippi last week and it was 45-0 midway through the third quarter.

Now this is not to say that Smart won’t be a successful coach at Georgia. For all we know the Bulldogs might beat Tennessee on Saturday and take control of the SEC East, igniting an extended heroic run for the former Alabama defensive coordinator.

Just think, Bobby Bowden lost 47-0 to Miami in his second game as Florida State coach back in 1976 but things worked out pretty well for him over time.

All I’m pointing out is here that winning in the SEC generally or at Georgia specifically is not an easy task. My belief is that Richt’s 145-51 career record in Athens will go down as a standard for others to envy and it shouldn’t have gotten him fired.

Of course, Richt can’t worry about that now. His new team at Miami is opening ACC play on Saturday at Georgia Tech, and after that Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh will follow.

Hard to know what will happen. The 3-0 Hurricanes haven’t been challenged yet by overmatched non-conference opponents. Don’t expect Richt to find himself down 45-0 to any team this season, however. His reputation for being consistently competitive was not built on stuff like that.

Richt was in his seventh season at Georgia before he lost a game by 30 or more. That was a 49-10 blowout to Florida in 2008, when Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow were on their way to a second national championship in the space of three seasons.

It happened again in 2010, when LSU rolled Georgia 42-10 in the SEC Championship game. The undefeated Tigers were No. 1 in the polls that day and headed for the BCS title game.

Rare occasions, then, and against outstanding opponents. Smart’s blowout loss last week came against an Ole Miss team that already has two losses against top opponents, FSU and Alabama, but treated Georgia like a sparring partner.

[Dolphins special-teams coach has sympathy for Jupiter’s Cody Parkey]

[Marching with Arnie’s Army at his final Masters round in 2004]

[Lamar Jackson could do what no Palm Beach County athlete has done]

Now probably the folks back in Georgia will be watching to see how Richt does against the Yellow Jackets, looking for another way to measure the coach they fired against the one they’ve got. Georgia Tech is a regular on the Bulldogs’ schedule, and a rival that Richt regularly beat.

In Miami, though, the focus is solely on what Richt can do with this new challenge. So far, so good. He doesn’t have to play Clemson, the team that beat Miami 58-0 last year and got Al Golden fired, and he doesn’t have to play Louisville, another national title contender within the ACC.

All Richt has to do is what he’s always done. Get his teams ready for a strong showing each Saturday, and forget about the fretting of fans and administrators. They haven’t been where he’s been. They haven’t done what he’s done.

 

If Mario Cristobal truly is on UM’s list, Nick Saban won’t try to keep them apart

 

If Miami chooses not to pursue Mario Cristobal as its new head coach, it won’t be because Nick Saban forbids him from interviewing for the position at a time when the Crimson Tide are preparing for a College Football Playoff run.

The Hurricanes can talk to Cristobal or his representatives any time that it suits them, just like Colorado State talked to Jim McElwain in December of 2011.

Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal works with his players during football practice, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, at the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal works with his players during football practice, Nov. 25, 2015, at the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP)

McElwain, now head coach at Florida, was Alabama’s offensive coordinator at the time. He was named Colorado State’s head coach in mid-December but stayed in Tuscaloosa to help coach the Tide to a national championship win over LSU a few weeks later.

It’s a tricky proposition, wanting to get started on recruiting and networking at the new place, but what’s wrong with being connected with a fresh national title and showing off a fresh national title ring when it comes to impressing high school prospects?

Saban goes through this all the time with top assistants and fully understands the drill. In fact, he took the head coaching job himself at Michigan State in 1994 with a month to go on his duties as defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns.

Saban stayed with Bill Belichick, then the Browns’ coach, through the month of December and two playoff games that followed before reporting full-time to Michigan State.

This week Alabama is preparing for the SEC Championship game vs. Florida while at the same time defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is being identified in media reports as the new head coach at Georgia. Cristobal, if Miami wants him, is a great recruiter, particularly in South Florida, but he’s just another Alabama assistant with his name in the air and his focus divided.

Many of you are screaming, of course, that Saban has no right to say anything about anybody after the way he promised not to leave the Miami Dolphins for several weeks during December, 2006 and then did it anyway. I’m just trying to explain how this works.

[Once more Jimbo and the Seminoles rule the state of Florida]

[Firing Tommy Hutton is ultimate proof that Marlins won’t let anyone be happy]

[National title history shows that UM better hire a coach who majors in defense]

Miami is either testing the waters with Cristobal’s agent right now and trying to set up an interview following the SEC title game or else the Hurricanes just aren’t that interested in the guy. There’s no middle ground.

Meanwhile, here is what Saban said Monday in response to a question about the way McElwain handled the transition, signing a contract to be a head coach elsewhere but choosing to stay at Alabama and finish his job there.

“It speaks volumes of his character and his professionalism,” Saban said. “You know, he got the job and we did everything we could to help him get the job. He came back and did a fabulous job and we won the national championship.

“I think that people can focus on the job that they have now and take advantage of opportunities in the future, and you can do both things extremely well.”