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Cleveland: How Could the Coaching Greats Make It in Today’s Game

Now seems a good time to ask this question: Would John Vaught, Bear Bryant and Vince Dooley have lasted in today’s college football climate?

Georgia’s firing of Mark Richt should give us all time to consider carefully before answering. And we should pause to ask: What exactly has college football become?

Here’s why: Richt won right at 75 percent of his games at Georgia, which is best in school history, even better than St. Vince (Dooley). Richt beat arch-rival Georgia Tech 13 out of 15 times, including last Saturday at Tech. He beat heated SEC rival Auburn eight of the last 10 times. He finished in the national Top 10 in eight of 15 seasons. He finished in the Top 25 11 times. He had 10 or more victories nine times. If Georgia wins a bowl game, you can make that 10 times.

Given those numbers and the fact he was dismissed, you would think, well, Mark Richt must be a really onerous person of questionable integrity.

On the contrary, Richt ran a clean program. His character is beyond reproach. He demanded character from his players and if they didn’t live up to his standards, he dismissed them. In fact, players he dismissed went on to play for rival schools.

Those are all reasons why Georgia officials sounded as if they were canonizing Richt, not firing him, when they announced the news.

It reminded me in many ways of when Ole Miss parted ways with David Cutcliffe and when Southern Miss did the same with Jeff Bower.

It reminded me of what almost happened with LSU and Les Miles.

No, I don’t feel sorry for Richt, who received a raise to just over $4 million a year this season and whose contract runs through 2019. He can feed his family. Heck, he can feed Athens’ homeless should he choose to do so. (Richt just might.)

But we should consider the message it sends when a university fires an employee who has done his job well and has represented the university beyond well.

And it is a reminder that college athletics is far, far more about dollars than it is about education.

The NCAA’s power-five athletic business model has spiraled and spiraled and spiraled again. And, yes, it has gotten more than a little out of control.

The fact is, Georgia got tired of not being Alabama. Georgia got tired of not being in the national championship picture every year. Georgia wants another Nick Saban and, right now, there isn’t one. But Georgia aims to find one.

Never mind that Alabama has a long history of such phenomenal success, while Georgia does not.

Dooley won 71.5 percent of his games, Richt 74.5 percent. In between those two, Ray Goff won 57 percent, Jim Donnan 68 percent.

Here’s the most sobering thought of all: Dooley, St. Vince to Georgia fans, had 12 seasons when his teams won seven or fewer games. Twelve!

That would never, ever happen these days.

In today’s climate, Dooley would have been fired in 1970 after five of his first seven Georgia teams never finished higher than fifth place in the SEC. Six of his seven 10-victory-or-more seasons never would have happened.

Neither would 1980’s 12-0 national championship team.

Even more sobering, Bear Bryant might have been fired in 1970 when four straight Crimson Tide teams had averaged a lowly seven victories a year.

In today’s college sports climate, John Vaught never would have made it past his fifth year at Ole Miss. For three seasons (1949-51), Ole Miss averaged just five victories per season.

That would get him fired these days. Heck, it almost got him fired way back in 1951, but that’s a story for another day.


RickCleveland

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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