As my sweet mama would say, “Things just get curiouser and curiouser.” That is the best way to describe the recent events at the University of Georgia — or more specifically — the athletic department at UGA.
Kirby Smart, who has morphed from a Bainbridge High Bearcat to an all-SEC defensive back at the University of Georgia to nine years as defensive coordinator under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama, is the head football coach at Georgia.
He succeeds Mark Richt, who in 15 years on the job, won 145 games — second on Georgia’s all-time wins list — two SEC championships, was one incomplete pass from perhaps a shot at a national championship and took his teams to a bowl game every year. That turned out to be too ordinary to the people whose opinions matter in such things. He was fired by Athletic Director Greg McGarity. I suspect he had some help in making his decision.
But pity not Mark Richt. He has been named the new head coach at his alma mater, the University of Miami, and will reportedly get a cool $4 million a year to resurrect that once-proud program. For some reason, I keep thinking of Brer Rabbit and the briar patch.
At his press conference alongside Athletic Director McGarity, Mark Richt looked positively relieved; laughing and joking with reporters and talking about how blessed he had been to coach at UGA. McGarity looked like someone had stolen his puppy. Think they knew something the rest of us didn’t know?
No word on whether Richt will take two of the great football minds in the country with him to Miami. They are a pair of sports columnists in Atlanta, including one who called for the coach’s resignation and when it occurred, promptly suggested the university show its appreciation for Richt by naming the field at Sanford Stadium or a building for the man. This is the same guy, by the way, who predicts the outcome of football games by having his dog lick pictures of the competing coaches. You can’t make this stuff up.
I find the furor over who coaches the football team a bit off-putting. In fact, I find college athletics off-putting these days. It is a big business, replete with multi-million dollar television contracts, three-hour games played at ungodly hours and loyal fans forced to sit in the rain while the networks try to sell the rest of us razor blades and Range Rovers.
UGA is first and foremost an academic institution and a good one that gets better every day. All of this talk about who is going to be the football coach diminishes that image in my opinion.
I suspect the loudest blather from the “Bulldog Nation” comes from people who don’t give one red or black cent to the university’s academic programs, couldn’t find the library with a compass and think that Shakespeare is something you do before you go into battle.
These people need to be reminded that UGA has had 23 Rhodes Scholars (eight since 1995) and likely more on the way. The nearly five thousand freshmen who enrolled this fall had an SAT average of 1301 and a high school grade point average of 3.91 and that the 525 freshmen enrolled in the UGA Honors Program had an SAT average of 1469 and a high school grade point average of 4.07. That, sports fans, is called a winning team.
I wish Kirby Smart all the best, although my expectations are slightly lower than the football crowd that will expect an SEC championship each and every year and a national championship just as frequently. I grew up during an infamous period in the ’50s known as The Drought when Georgia Tech beat my beloved Bulldogs eight straight years. Over that time, Tech laid 176 points on Georgia and UGA scored 30 points in return. I am still traumatized from that experience.
As far as I am concerned, the Bulldogs can go 1-11 as long as that one is the You-Know-Who Institute of Technology.
To Mark Richt, I say thank you for being a man of integrity and for not embarrassing my alma mater with the boorish behavior that I see from some of your counterparts. I’m sure you will have a lot of rebuilding to do at Miami, but the good news is that you won’t have to endure a sports writer’s dog licking your picture each week. Be grateful for all small favors.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb