In a league that gives the saying “What have you done for me lately?” an entirely new meaning, you can’t blame SEC coaches for constantly looking over their shoulders.
No coach is truly safe around these parts. One moment, you’re on top and being showered with cheers and support. The next, you could be dusting off the old résumé.
The SEC has just one coach who has guided his current team through the conference for 10-plus years -- Georgia’s Mark Richt.
Note: Missouri’s Gary Pinkel is entering his 12th year with the Tigers, but his previous 11 came in the Big 12.
Richt has experienced some uplifting highs and some pretty deflating lows during his 11-plus years in the country’s toughest conference. But he has survived while the SEC has seen 33 different head coaches at the 11 other SEC schools since he arrived at Georgia in 2001.
Richt, who left Florida State as its offensive coordinator, got Georgia rolling right from the start. He became the first Georgia coach since H.J. Stegeman in 1920 to win eight games in his first season (8-4). He had also handed a very talented Tennessee team its only regular-season loss, and helped Georgia get its first win against rival Georgia Tech since 1997.
Richt then directed the Bulldogs to 10-plus wins in six of his next seven years, including four straight from 2002 to 2005. Georgia went 13-1 in 2002, winning its first SEC title in 20 years. The Bulldogs also made -- and won -- their first BCS bowl when they defeated Florida State 26-13 in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. Richt was named SEC Coach of the Year.
Here are highlights during Richt’s next six years:
In 2003, Georgia went back to the SEC title game, and after a win over Purdue in the Capital One Bowl the Bulldogs ended the season ranked in the top 10.
In 2004, Georgia beat rival Florida for the first time since 1997, and finished the year ranked in the top six for the third straight season.
In 2005, he was named the 2005 SEC Coach of the Year by the SEC coaches, and Georgia won its second SEC title during his tenure.
In 2007, Georgia won 11 games, defeating Alabama in overtime, and rivals Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs won another Sugar Bowl, defeating Hawaii 41-10.
But Richt lost momentum in 2008. It was a year in which Georgia started the season ranked No. 1 with national championship aspirations, but came up short with a 10-3 record. The Bulldogs, doomed by a lack of leadership, didn't live up to the hype.
Georgia went 8-5 in 2009, and Richt hit bottom in 2010 with a 6-7 record, including a 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.
Richt’s popularity with fans went from comfortable to awkward in a three-year span. Despite all the success he had during his first eight years, Richt began to really feel the heat after 2010. And his seat was nearly engulfed in flames when Georgia started the 2011 season 0-2.
The Bulldogs rebounded, winning 10 straight to get back to the SEC title game for the first time since 2005, but were blown out by LSU and finished the season with a triple-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.
Equipped with another extremely talented team, Richt is still feeling some heat in 2012. The 0-2 finish irked fans, and his new contract isn’t exactly comforting, as he was given an extension, but no raise.
It hasn’t helped that numerous discipline issues have plagued Richt’s teams over the years, leaving many to wonder just how much control he’s had with his players.
Richt, who has compiled a 106-38 record at Georgia with two SEC championships, two BCS bowl victories and three wins against a Florida team that had won 10 of 11 before his arrival, still doesn’t have a ringing endorsement in Athens.
Publicly, Richt laughs at the criticism. He’s a true class act who has seen 221 Bulldogs earn degrees during his tenure, but this is a business, and Georgia wants championships. Getting to Atlanta is great, but winning there is expected.
Until Richt can bring home another SEC title, he’ll continue to feel the heat.