It’s not every day that the head coach of a prestigious program with the second-most all-time wins and highest winning percentage in school history gets fired. It’s also not every day that it’s actually a surprise that a coach with more impressive credentials got to keep his job. The former describes Georgia’s Mark Richt and the latter LSU’s Les Miles.
Almost everyone (even perhaps Miles himself) expected the head man at LSU to be out following its game against Texas A&M, and to see him survive the weekend was almost shocking, just as shocking as Richt’s sudden ouster. Each school made an important decision this past weekend, but only LSU got it right.
Before Richt arrived in Athens, the last time the Bulldogs won a SEC title was the same year the Milwaukee Brewers were in a World Series. So yes, it had been a while. Richt’s SEC title in 2002 ended a 20-year conference title drought for the Bulldogs and he followed up with a second one just two years later. Not only did Richt bring back SEC titles to Georgia, but he also guided them to three more opportunities in the SEC championship game. In fact, since Richt joined Georgia in 2001, he is tied with just one other coach for most SEC title game appearances at five. That other coach happens to be Nick Saban, perhaps you’ve heard of him? As mentioned above, Richt also owns the highest winning percentage in Georgia football history, just a few ticks above Bulldog legend Vince Dooley, the last man to win an SEC title at Georgia before Richt.
With so much success, Richt’s ultimate downfall could be attributed to Georgia catching a case of “the disease of more.” Unfortunately, the nearby CDC could not save Richt from this illness. For many seasons, Richt was always so close to another SEC title or a chance to compete for the ultimate goal, a national title, with Richt himself saying, “I think the expectations have been built to the point that if you don't win a championship it's kind of miserable around here.” That kind of spoiled attitude from Georgia could ultimately cost them.
Few programs have had the type of consistency that has come with Richt’s Georgia tenure. Averaging 10 wins a season over almost a 15-year stint is not easy, and very few programs and coaches have been consistently great for that long. Believe it or not, within Richt’s 14 years even Alabama had some mediocre seasons. Also, Richt has recently shown that he does have the capability to lead a team to a title, with the closest of losses to what amounted to a national championship play-in game against Alabama just four years ago. It also isn’t as if Richt had some kind of a horrible flameout season similar to Gene Chizik, the man is on the cusp of another double digit victory season!
Unless there is some guarantee that a championship-caliber coach a la Jimbo Fisher is about to walk through the door, risking the unknown and roaming through the college football wilderness with an unknown commodity can be dangerous. Just ask Tennessee about their last decade. I’m guessing they would trade their last 10 years for Georgia’s in a heartbeat.
Tennessee would make that same trade with LSU as well, who wised up and decided to keep their national champion coach. Fact, LSU has three national titles in its history. Fact, Les Miles won one of those. Yet, it was surprising that he did keep his job following this weekend. Like Georgia, it seemed that “the disease of more” spread into LSU as well, but sanity prevailed and one of the best coaches of this generation kept his job.
Like Richt, Miles’ sustained excellence at LSU for the length of his tenure was almost unprecedented in Baton Rouge, with Miles owning the highest winning percentage in LSU football history.
It was also not long ago that Miles’ LSU also was No. 2 in the CFP rankings, and still owns the second-best projected recruiting class for next season. Fielding a team loaded with stud underclassmen all over the roster and another outstanding recruiting class should warrant any coach more time on the job, especially one that could end with nine wins coming out of the brutal SEC West. Even if the Tigers don’t win a SEC of national title next season, Miles should still keep his job barring some unforeseen disaster (like failing to make a bowl kind of disaster) as he is arguably the best coach in Tigers history.
In a climate where Saban and Alabama accrue titles at an unprecedented pace, boosters at schools like Georgia and LSU seem to unfairly hold their own fantastic coaches to that same standard. However, here’s what these win-thirsty boosters fail to recognize: Saban might be the greatest college football coach of all-time. There is only one Saban out there, and there might not ever be another one. Saban’s success has been unprecedented, and not every program can reach that level of success because only one program can employ Saban at a time.
Unfortunately, this kind of climate has already undeservedly cost one great coach his job in Richt, and nearly did so again with Miles. So my advice to LSU, before going out and making the mistake of getting rid of the greatest coach in program history, take a second to think about how much worse it could have been. One quick phone call to Tennessee should do the trick.