|ESPN.com: SEC||[Print without images]|
Editor's note: RecruitingNation is taking a look at the state of each team's brand.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps no factor is more important than stability when measuring the strength of a brand -- and Georgia has that with Mark Richt helming its football program.
Entering his 12th season at Georgia, Richt is tied with Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel for the seventh-longest tenure among FBS head coaches. And after surviving the dreaded hot seat last season and winning his first SEC East title since 2005, Richt signed a contract extension that could keep him in Athens through at least 2016.
The combination of football tradition -- Georgia has won at least 10 games in seven of the last 10 seasons -- social opportunities at one of America’s top party schools and a strong academic reputation make Georgia an easy sell for Richt’s coaching staff.
“The university sells itself, our program sells itself and our head coach sells himself,” Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend said. “There’s nobody in the country that you would want your son to play for more than Mark Richt. He’s what he preaches. There’s no phony to him and he’s a great influence for the kids and for us as coaches. I think if I had a son -- of course I’m probably biased -- this is where I’d want him to go.”
Richt was on shaky ground this time a year ago. He was coming off his first losing season at Georgia -- a 6-7 campaign in 2010 that followed a mediocre 2009 -- and started 2011 with an 0-2 mark. If not for the decade of sustained success that preceded the downturn, Georgia’s fans and administration might have run out of patience.
But the Bulldogs rebounded from their 0-2 start with a 10-game winning streak and their fourth division title during Richt’s tenure. They completed the season with two straight losses that diminished their mojo, but followed with their second straight nationally touted recruiting class. UGA carries a great deal of optimism into this fall.
The opportunity to recruit the bevy of top-tier talent that lives within close proximity of Georgia’s campus is one of the leading factors that attracted defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to UGA after the 2009 season. Now after stockpiling blue-chip defensive players since joining the staff, Grantham is poised to lead a defense that should be at least as good as the group that finished fifth nationally in total defense last fall.
“If I know that within a five-hour radius of this school that there’s going to be enough players that if we can get them all to come to the University of Georgia, we can win the SEC and compete for a national title, then that’s pretty exciting,” Grantham said.
Georgia’s brand strength is not where it once was under Richt, however. He had the Bulldogs in the running for the national title in 2002 when they won the SEC and finished third in the national polls. He won the SEC East again in 2003 and 2005 along with another league title in 2005.
Other than the 2007 season, when the Bulldogs finished second in the polls, the second half of Richt’s tenure has not gone as smoothly. But Georgia’s stock appears to be rising again after last season’s division championship and this year’s No. 6 preseason ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
On-field success is the more elusive element of Georgia’s long-term stability than the part that Richt can control. He has made it clear that he intends to coach at Georgia for as long as the university’s decision-makers will keep him around.
When a recruit wants to feel comfortable that a prospective coach will be in place throughout his career, that is a key factor.
“Georgia’s the only job I want, the only job I’ve ever wanted as a head coach,” Richt said. “That’s just the way it’s been from the very beginning and that hasn’t changed. My mom, my dad, my brother, my two sisters, they all live in Athens. This is my home. This is where I want to be, so that hasn’t changed one bit.”