As a kid growing up in South Florida, I always knew who Jim Kelly was in his Miami Hurricanes jersey. I wasn’t aware of the man backing him up on the sidelines, only his name and the fact he held a clipboard for the program.
I guess you could say, some 30 years later, both Kelly and Mark Richt had a pretty good career in football. While one was a Hall of Famer passer with the Buffalo Bills, the other had carved out a niche as a pretty good offensive mind and later a solid coaching hire at Georgia. But after 15 years of winning in the SEC without a real national title run and losing important games over the years where the Bulldogs seemed like a slam dunk to win the conference or division title, winning or competing for those goals weren’t enough.
Richt left the program on Sunday – whether he was fired or mutually agreed to resign is still up in the air, depending on who you talk to and whose column you read. I was on campus in Tallahassee when Richt was plying his trade, learning at the foot of Bobby Bowden as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and had a chance to meet the man, not the coach, on two occasions. He will forever be one of the nicest, most gracious people you will ever meet and one of the nice guys in college football.
Unfortunately, we all know what happens to nice guys when it comes to life and sports. That might be the biggest hypocrisy in all of this turmoil surrounding Richt’s tenure in Athens. For everything he did right in college sports, the fact he was just as concerned about the student, the academic side and the football side and in that order, his good-guy character might have done him in with Georgia boosters and the athletic program.
Forget the fans for a moment here. They form their own opinion. I have mine as well. And for everything Richt is – which a good southern man with family values, who does everything he can to run a clean program and win football games – something has been missing for some time. The school knew it, the media knew it, and the fans, who I will allow into this conversation, knew it.
Deep down, Richt might have known it, too. While Florida went through names like Spurrier, Zook, Meyer, Muschamp and now McElwain, Richt stood between the hedges and took everything the fanbase threw at him for not winning a national title and possibly undercoaching the talent he had at his feet on campus.
Good guys worry about wins, but building character is just as important. And when the news broke on Sunday, which seemed a bit harsh after the team beat Georgia Tech to finish 9-3 and headed to a bowl game, players and former players reaches out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram thanking him for helping to make them men they have become and the players they are in the NFL.
You cannot teach that kind of loyalty or that kind of impact. It’s a gifted concept which is lost in today’s sports world.
Here’s hoping those kinds of remarks and accolades are not lost on another program looking for a solid head coach. Here’s hoping Miami, a program in disarray after Al Golden struggled mightily like Richt to win the big games, reaches out to their former clipboard holder and asks him to come home.
Here’s hoping a school like Houston, who may lose their head coach ironically to Georgia, gives Richt a call. And here’s hoping possibly a team like Rutgers, who has been an afterthought in the Big 10 thinks hiring someone with Richt’s pedigree is worthy of a conversation.
Nice guys generally finish last because they cannot get over with everyone and make everyone happy. Richt’s biggest fault was not winning the big game. Hopefully a change of scenery and a chance to rebuild something special lures him back to the college game. Hopefully his resume will not end here and the values he has learned over the years from Bowden still remain firmly entrenched. This is a sport of winning, losing and intensity. Richt isn’t the intense, crazed coach on the sideline. He’s the one who tries to get the most out of his players on the field, in the classroom and in life.
Hopefully, someone sees that and wants that kind of man running their football program.