A couple of weeks ago, columnist James Studdard wrote a piece in which he labeled the football team at the University of Missouri as ‘economic terrorists’ for refusing to play a game until their demands that the school do something about racist threats were met. In the end, their demands, including that the university president step down, were met, and the team played. At the end of his column he wrote two words: “Football rules.”
James was against what the players had done, but in talking to him later, I noted that I was in favor of them basically going on strike, but not for the reasons they had done it. Most of those players are on scholarship for their athletic prowess, and if they don’t play, the school should not honor the scholarships. I was hoping they wouldn’t play, the school would lose money and pull the scholarships, and the students would then realize that football doesn’t rule, but education does.
Now we have the University of Georgia letting Coach Mark Richt go. Why?
Not because he is not a great players’ coach, because he is. Just about every athlete who has played for him at Georgia, plus their parents, plus parents of players yet to go to Georgia, have praised Richt for his high moral and ethical standards and for teaching their children important values for their lives.
It also wasn’t because he didn’t win games. Over the 15 years Richt was at Georgia, the Bulldogs were 145-51. They won two SEC titles, and six SEC East titles. They went to 14 bowl games (not counting this year) and have a 9-5 bowl game record. Against their two biggest rivals, Florida and Georgia Tech, the Dawgs were 5-10 against the Gators, but 13-2 against the Yellow Jackets.
But despite having had nine seasons in which they won 10 or more games, and only one season where they ended with a losing record (2010), Richt was let go. Why? Because his teams always seemed to lose the “big” games each season, the games that if they had won, would probably have propelled them into the national championship games. Richt’s teams never played for a national championship. And for that, Georgia let him go.
Now, I’m a lifelong Georgia Tech fan, so with Richt’s record of 13-2 against Tech, part of me isn’t sad to see him go. But part of me is sad, mainly because his leaving, and the reasons why he was dismissed, leads me to believe that at the University of Georgia, football rules. And that is a sad state of affairs. The purpose of college is to provide students with the education they need to decide what they want to do in life, and then to prepare them to do it.
And while football advocates can say that Georgia has done a good job in preparing athletes for professional football, having had 60 players in the NFL since Richt has been coach, that’s not really that many. If you figure the average number of players on a college team to be 125 a season, then multiply that by the number of years Richt has been coach (14, not including this season), that is 1,750 players that have gone through his program. The 60 that have been in the NFL are just three percent of the total.
But while it would be harder to get the figures, I would bet that the athletes who have been under Richt’s tutelage, who didn’t go into the NFL, have done better out of school because of Mark Richt. He sees a higher purpose in life than just preparing kids to play football; he wants to prepare them to play life. It is a shame the University of Georgia apparently doesn’t share that sentiment. And for that reason, I’ll miss Mark Richt.
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.