Bobby Dodd Stadium always has served as an unwilling sanctuary for Mark Richt. A grudging safe place for him to come and forget the stresses of the college coaching world while picking up an automatic victory over Georgia Tech. A sort of spa, really, minus only the seaweed body wrap and the vigorous exfoliation.
Man, is he in need of a soothing experience on his visit to the Flats Saturday night.
His Miami Hurricanes arrive in the throes of a three-game losing streak. Since winning his first 10 games of the 2017 season, he has gone 2-7 vs. Power 5 opponents. The way he has shuffled his quarterbacks in and out this season smacks of the realization that he can rely on none of them. His return to play-calling – one of his real joys when going back to his alma mater to coach in 2016 – has become a topic of public debate in South Florida.
If any of this sounds familiar to those who followed Richt’s work in 15 seasons at Georgia – especially the quarterback angst and the discussion over whether a head coach can also handle the play-calling – no surprise. Certain themes are bound to follow any coach from stop to stop. And these are but some of the ones stuck to the bottom of Richt’s shoe.
But, no, just to be clear, Faton Bauta was not an option to start at quarterback for the Hurricanes against Tech Saturday night.
Hired just four days following his November 2015 firing by Georgia, Richt was received in Coral Gables as a returning savior. But the honeymoon is long over, and they’re skipping right ahead to the intensive therapy stage.
The recent reviews have been less than boffo.
From the Miami Herald, following last Saturday’s ugly 20-12 loss to Duke: “Just when you thought Year Three of the Mark Richt era couldn’t get any worse, UM loses at home to Duke for the first time since 1976, mustering just 12 points against an opponent that was scorched for 54 points by Pittsburgh last week.
“So, make it three UM losses in a row overall, and seven losses in the last nine games against Power 5 conference teams, and just five touchdowns in the past three weeks, which is unspeakably awful in this era of video game scoring in college football.”
And from South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel: “Mark Richt is out of answers this year, too. Saturday showed that. He dug deep in his bag of desperation from the start. He went for it on fourth-and-2 from his 49-yard line on his offense’s second series. The play call, a deep pass, sailed out of bounds. On the next series, N’Kosi Perry replaced (Malik) Rosier at quarterback.
“And then Rosier soon replaced Perry.
“And then Perry replaced Rosier again in the fourth quarter.
“Is there a plan here? Or just a lot of finger crossing?”
This week on The Young and the Restless and the Offensively Challenged: Richt said he would start redshirt freshman Perry against Georgia Tech over redshirt senior Rozier. And Miami reportedly has contacted former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant about spending his final year of eligibility on the beach.
You may remember that Richt’s final year at Georgia was defined by the inability to distinguish among quarterbacks Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and, in one lamentable Saturday against Florida, Bauta. And throughout his 15 years in Athens, he at various times was criticized for trying to call plays as a head coach and then at the end, was criticized for not calling the plays long after he had handed off the role.
That too-familiar refrain was revisited last week when former Miami coach Jimmy Johnson went on South Florida sports talk radio questioning whether Richt was stretching himself too thin by trying to be both head coach and offensive conductor.
“There are so many demands on your time (as head coach) that I’d much rather have a guy calling plays that spends night and day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, working on that one thing,” Johnson told the radio audience. “I think it’s even harder in college than what it is in pro football.”
So, yeah, Richt comes to Boddy Dodd, where he was 9-0 as a head coach (15-2 overall vs. Tech), seeking a change in narrative. Could someone please turn off the shrieks of social media, and turn on some soft new age music?
A fanbase’s memory is shorter than a firecracker’s fuse. Richt brought some immediate benefits to a Miami program that had lost its swagger and its way. His hiring was the energy behind a new ‘Canes indoor practice facility (he donated $1 million himself). He was like a big swig of Red Bull for recruiting (his 2018 class was ranked sixth by Rivals). But all that matters now are the results that please no one and the irony of an offensive-minded coach whose only real chance of winning now rests with his defense.
Some were surprised when Richt dove immediately back into coaching after being thrown off by UGA. Why not take some time away from the game to recharge and renew? The man had no shortage of interests and causes beyond that of keeping the wealthy boosters happy.
He had it going there early, but lately Richt has entered worst possible scenario territory.
At least UM is not as bad off as Florida State (by one skinny point, according to their meeting this year).
All those familiar with the decency of Richt really want this to work out in Miami – so long as it doesn’t interfere with any Georgia quest. A great wind of momentum carried him south to Coral Gables, but now there’s a dead calm. And a once fearsome program with five national championships on its resume is no closer today to claiming its first ACC championship than it was before Richt returned.
Bobby Dodd Stadium at night can be a dangerous place for visitors. Yet that’s where Richt has found so much satisfaction. He has the benefit of a lot of good memories there.
Win again there and enjoy a rare recent moment of standing on solid, dependable ground – even if that ground is 670 miles from his home campus.
Lose, and then where does Richt turn for relief this dwindling season?
Here’s a look at five key games to watch this weekend as teams continue to battle for spots in the College Football Playoff.