Mark Richt has been part of some of Miami's biggest wins and partially responsible for some of its most demoralizing defeats. He has been part of the construction of Miami as a premier program, and he has done everything he can to help prevent it from accomplishing more.
Now, he's about to return to his alma mater to try to push it to the top again.
Three days after Richt was let go by Georgia, where he served as head coach for 15 years, multiple reports Wednesday evening indicated he has agreed to become the next head coach at Miami, where he played quarterback -- primarily as a backup to Jim Kelly -- from 1979-82. CanesInsight.com first reported the news. Richt has never coached at Miami, spending the bulk of his career as an assistant at archrival Florida State during its dominant run in the 1990s, then compiling a 145-51 record with two SEC championships as Georgia head coach before falling out of favor.
While Georgia experienced consistent success under Richt, he has not won an SEC title since 2005 and has not taken the Bulldogs to a major bowl since 2007. Georgia is always a good bet to win around 10 games, but it has struggled to get over the hump and out-maneuver teams like Florida, LSU, Auburn and, most notably, Alabama, who have all brought national championships to the SEC since Richt arrived in Athens.
Richt will return to his alma mater to replace Al Golden, who was fired Oct. 25 after a 58-0 loss to Clemson, which was the worst defeat in school history. Golden went 32-25 in four and a half seasons, continuing Miami's trend of mediocrity, during which it has neither won the ACC Coastal nor gotten the chance to play for the conference championship since joining the ACC in 2004.
Richt served as a graduate assistant for Florida State from 1985-88, quarterbacks coach from 1990-93 and offensive coordinator from 1994-00. During his run as Bobby Bowden's coordinator, Florida State went 5-2 against the Hurricanes. The Seminoles were in the middle of a run of 14 straight top-five finishes, while Miami experienced a downturn due in part to NCAA sanctions. The low point for Miami was perhaps a 47-0 loss to Florida State in 1997, with Richt calling plays for the Seminoles.
Miami briefly returned to national power status under Butch Davis and Larry Coker, winning the national title in 2001 and coming close in both 2000 and 2002. But the school has spent the last decade fruitlessly trying to recapture past glory, with the cloud of NCAA sanctions again hanging over the program in recent years. Richt just got fired after a 9-3 season and has won at least 10 games nine times as a head coach. Miami hasn't won 10 games since joining the ACC and has finished in the AP top 25 only once since 2005.
Some have speculated that the 55-year-old Richt might take a break from coaching, but instead he is jumping at the chance to return to Coral Gables to try to revive the downtrodden Hurricanes. While Richt's tenure at Georgia may have gotten a bit stale, sometimes a change of scenery can be exactly what is needed. He's been a head coach for 15 years, but at 55 he's just two years older than in-state rival Jim McElwain, who is in his first season coaching the Florida Gators.
At his press conference Sunday, Richt spoke of getting back to more hands-on coaching, perhaps coaching quarterbacks and calling plays. It remains to be seen if he'll do those things at Miami, but after 15 years in one spot, he gets to move on and be embraced by a new program and fan base that is desperate for success and will at least see him as one of their own.
The Miami Herald reported that the Hurricanes were prepared to pay a head coach around $4 million, which is in the ballpark of what Richt was making at Georgia. It would be a significant pay bump for the university, as Golden was making a little over $2.5 million per year, according to USA Today. While Miami has achieved high levels of success in the past, it lacks the resources of other top football programs, with a smaller fan base, a stadium far removed from campus, competition for attention in a city like Miami and mediocre facilities. Being able to afford Richt is a sign Miami could at least be headed in the right direction in terms of commitment to football.
No coach is a sure thing, especially not at a place like Miami, which has such high expectations but hasn't come close to touching them in recent years. At Georgia, Richt was ultimately forced out for not doing more than a 145-51 record with one of college football's most powerful programs at his disposal.
Richt did not win a national championship at Georgia, and the odds are against him winning one at Miami. Still, given his track record, it's reasonable to assume a re-energized Richt could finally get Miami over the hump in the ACC Coastal and compete for championships in the conference, if not nationally. In his first five seasons at Georgia, Richt won two SEC titles -- Georgia's first in 20 years -- but did not win another in the last 10.
Miami has to recruit South Florida much better -- a difficult task, especially given the presence of currently successful Florida State and Florida programs -- and it has to close the gap financially, or at least figure out how to better compete as an underdog. Richt's recruiting hasn't been much of an issue, as his staff has repeatedly landed top-10 classes. Prior to getting fired, Richt had a commitment from Jacob Eason, one of the top quarterback recruits in the class of 2016.
Landing a respected coach and person like Richt is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for Miami. And while it was a long time ago, Richt knows what it's like to be part of a Miami program trying to climb back from irrelevance.
His first year on the field, 1979, was Howard Schnellenberger's first season as head coach, and the Hurricanes went 5-6. They hadn't been to a bowl game in over a decade. Two years later, in 1981, Miami was coming off its best season in years, finishing 9-3 behind head coach Schnellenberger and quarterback Jim Kelly. The moribund program was beginning to become something special, and Richt had a front-row seat -- as Kelly's backup.
While Richt threw just 229 passes over four seasons, he played a role in one of the Hurricanes' biggest wins of the era. In the '81 season opener, Kelly was hurt against No. 17 Florida. Richt came in and hit two passes to fuel the comeback. One was a 55-yard touchdown to Rocky Belk. The other was a 20-yard pass to Glenn Dennison that set up Miami for a 55-yard field goal to win, 21-20. The comeback began a season in which Miami ultimately went 9-2 and finished eighth in the AP poll -- its second-highest finish ever. Two years later, with Kelly and Richt gone, Miami won its first national championship.
For the second time, Richt will head to Miami to try to play a role in a revival. This time, however, he won't be merely in the background. This time, a Miami turnaround rests squarely on his shoulders.