Friday, November 24, 2017
Colleges

Mark Richt’s move to Miami is paying off quickly

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MIAMI — Two of college football’s top programs gambled after the 2015 season.

Georgia fired a universally respected coach who had more SEC championships (two) than losing seasons (one).

Then Miami turned around and hired him.

The moves paid off for both programs, starting with the Hurricanes, who landed coach Mark Richt less than a week after Georgia fired him.

No. 9 Miami defeated No. 13 Virginia Tech 28-10 Saturday, its 13th straight win — the longest active run in the nation. UM has now just about wrapped up its elusive first ACC Coastal Division title.

Richt, 57, entered Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday night with a 16-4 UM record. Only Dennis Erickson and Larry Coker started their UM careers better, and both won national championships. It’s the second quick turnaround for Richt, who was 8-4 in his first year at Georgia before finishing 13-1 with a Sugar Bowl victory in his second.

Richt, a Hurricanes quarterback from 1979-82, said he didn’t know exactly what he was taking over at Miami, but he knew this is where he wanted to be.

"I just knew I wanted to be back at my alma mater at a place that had the rich tradition of winning and winning in a big way, and being in a fertile recruiting area, which South Florida is …" Richt said. "Once I got to meet the guys and start working with them, I knew the cupboard was not bare by any means."

Clearly, which is why his ’Canes started 7-0 for the first time since 2013 and were in the top 10 in both polls and the College Football Playoff rankings.

While Miami (8-0 after Saturday’s victory, with Notre Dame visiting next weekend for an 8 p.m. game) took a chance by hiring a coach whose teams were always good but rarely great, Georgia’s move was much riskier: It canned Richt to hire a first-time head coach.

The decision didn’t look great last year, when Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs stumbled to an 8-5 season and the Liberty Bowl. The former Alabama defensive coordinator looked like another mediocre branch of Nick Saban’s coaching tree. The Gators know the risk well; they’re 0-for-2, after Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain flopped in Gainesville.

But hiring Smart now looks, well, smart. Georgia sat atop the first set of CFP rankings, and the Bulldogs improved to 9-0 and clinched the SEC East with Saturday’s 24-10 win over South Carolina. Georgia has won eight times by at least two scores and seems like the closest thing this sport has to another ’Bama — whom the Bulldogs seem destined to play for the SEC title.

The ’Canes haven’t been that dominant, but Richt is rebuilding his alma mater. UM’s 2018 recruiting class is ranked No. 4 nationally. Saturday’s victory marked Miami’s biggest home game in years. Next week against Notre Dame is even bigger.

It’s still early, but things seem to have worked out well for Richt’s former program and new one.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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