For 15 years, Mark Richt functioned as head football coach at the University of Georgia, a remarkable record of stability in a very unstable business. He posted a record of 145-51 including nine seasons in which the Bulldogs won 10 or more games.
And then, he was fired.
No problem. Richt surfaced quickly at the University of Miami, where he had once played quarterback and would now be head coach. It was a heartwarming homecoming. He would re-invigorate a program that had fallen on hard times and he started by spearheading construction of an indoor practice facility and pitching in $1 million of his own money to kickstart the project.
There was a stretch of 16 consecutive wins and in 2017, when the Hurricanes won their first 10 games, Richt was named Walter Camp Coach of the Year. Things were going very well.
And then, they weren’t.
In 2018, the Hurricanes struggled through a difficult 7-6 season that included a four-game losing streak and ended with an embarrassing 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. There were nine losses in 16 games and rumblings that the administration wanted to overhaul the Hurricanes’ coaching staff. Four days later, Mark Richt, age 58, decided to have the overhaul start with him and retired from coaching, even though he had five years remaining on his contract.
Within hours, Miami had his replacement, naming old friend Manny Diaz the new head coach.
Two weeks earlier, Diaz had left his job as defensive coordinator on Richt’s coaching staff and signed on to coach Temple’s football team. He immediately began recruiting for the Owls.
Never mind that little detail. Like Richt, Diaz was coming home to the Hurricanes. Like Richt, he had played quarterback for Miami and he had been an assistant on Richt’s coaching staff. Hurricane management loved him so much, it paid $4 million to get him out of his Temple contract.
Except for the 17 kids who had heard Diaz’s Temple pitch and decided during the early signing period that Philadelphia would be a good place to play college football. Once they signed letters of intent, they were committed to Temple, even if it turns out that coach Diaz really wasn’t.
And that commitment is not reversible. The coach’s contract is not permanent. The 17-year-old player’s letter of intent is. So, when the coach decides, “Sorry, young man, I am outta here,’’ the kid stays behind, forced play a season before being able to leave for another program. As the great Groucho Marx once observed: “Hello, I must be going.’’
That’s just one more piece of the jumbled NCAA picture that needs to be changed. Coaches control their own destinies. Players don’t.
When he arrived back at Miami, Diaz showed he was listening to the buzz about revamping Mark Richt’s coaches. Almost immediately, he fired the entire offensive staff.
All this leaves Temple shopping for another new coach. Whoever gets the job will be the fifth sideline boss since 2015 for the Owls.
So much for stability in a distinctly unstable business.