Thursday, December 3, 2015

Rick Cleveland: When is winning not enough?

Now seems a good time to ask this question: Would John Vaught, Bear Bryant and Vince Dooley have lasted in today's college football climate?

Georgia's firing of Mark Richt should give us all time to consider carefully before answering.

And we should pause to ask: What exactly has college football become?

Here's why: Richt won right at 75 percent of his games at Georgia, which is best in school history, even better than St. Vince (Dooley). Richt beat arch-rival Georgia Tech 13 out of 15 times, including last Saturday at Tech. He beat heated SEC rival Auburn eight of the last 10 times. He finished in the national Top 10 in eight of 15 seasons. He finished in the Top 25 11 times. He had 10 or more victories nine times. If Georgia wins a bowl game, you can make that 10 times.

Given those numbers and the fact he was dismissed, you would think, well, Mark Richt must be a really onerous person of questionable integrity.

On the contrary, Richt ran a clean program. His character is beyond reproach. He demanded character from his players and if they didn't live up to his standards, he dismissed them. In fact, players he dismissed went on to play for rival schools.

Those are all reasons why Georgia officials sounded as if they were canonizing Richt, not firing him, when they announced the news.

It reminded me in many ways of when Ole Miss parted ways with David Cutcliffe and when Southern Miss did the same with Jeff Bower.

It reminded me of what almost happened with LSU and Les Miles.

No, I don't feel sorry for Richt, who received a raise to just over $4 million a year this season and whose contract runs through 2019. He can feed his family. Heck, he can feed Athens' homeless should he choose to do so. (Richt just might.)

But we should consider the message it sends when a university fires an employee who has done his job well and has represented the university beyond well.

And it is a reminder that college athletics is far, far more about dollars than it is about education.

The NCAA's power-five athletic business model has spiraled and spiraled and spiraled again. And, yes, it has gotten more than a little out of control.

The fact is, Georgia got tired of not being Alabama. Georgia got tired of not being in the national championship picture every year. Georgia wants another Nick Saban and, right now, there isn't one. But Georgia aims to find one.

Never mind that Alabama has a long history of such phenomenal success, while Georgia does not.

Dooley won 71.5 percent of his games, Richt 74.5 percent. In between those two, Ray Goff won 57 percent, Jim Donnan 68 percent.

Here's the most sobering thought of all: Dooley, St. Vince to Georgia fans, had 12 seasons when his teams won seven or fewer games. Twelve!

That would never, ever happen these days.

In today's climate, Dooley would have been fired in 1970 after five of his first seven Georgia teams never finished higher than fifth place in the SEC. Six of his seven 10-victory-or-more seasons never would have happened.

Neither would 1980's 12-0 national championship team.

Even more sobering, Bear Bryant might have been fired in 1970 when four straight Crimson Tide teams had averaged a lowly seven victories a year.

In today's college sports climate, John Vaught never would have made it past his fifth year at Ole Miss. For three seasons (1949-51), Ole Miss averaged just five victories per season.

That would get him fired these days. Heck, it almost got him fired way back in 1951, but that's a story for another day.


Rick Cleveland ( is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
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Preview attachment rick cleveland column for Dec. 2.docx


Anonymous said...

I'd go farther. Major college sports are just gross today. The whole enterprise leaves you feeling dirty, and the more you know about your favorite team, the dirtier you feel.

Of course, what Rick fails to mention is that there are multiple sides to this equation. For instance, only a child or an idiot would believe coaches who deny they are looking to trade up at the first opportunity. Players have no tangible connection to the university beyond wearing a uniform. They get wowed by palatial training facilities that most students will never set foot in, and stay in school thanks to elaborate remedial tutoring (and cheating) in "athletic academic" complexes. The big donors who drive the whole process are old white car salesman and trial lawyers who want to win the dick measuring contest with their golf buddy from the other school.

It's all just pro sports, with 50% more hypocrisy. Give me a good D3 football rivalry. Maybe a D1 women's basketball game. That's about all I can stand anymore.

Anonymous said...

The SEC is much different than it was back in the day of Bryant, Vaught and Dooley. One major difference was the scheduling of conference games. Teams were given a lot of latitude in scheduling their SEC games. Most seasons, the schools did not even play the same number of games. Some schools refused to play other SEC schools like Georgia Tech would not play State or Ole Miss. Most schools only played 5-6 of their 10 games each year versus SEC schools. Now with the meat grinder of playing all of your division opponents each year plus 2 from the other division, it is much more difficult to craft a winning season through scheduling.

Most SEC fanbases are not realistic. If a coach can consistently win 4-5 SEC games a year, he has done a good job. Usually the difference is stepping up to the 6-8 SEC wins is either a decided talent advantage like Alabama and/or getting a few opportune breaks like converting a 4th and 25 with a Hail Mary lateral.(Yes, I will admit that I am a bitter Rebel fan).

Kingfish said...

If you are a top tier program such as Georgia or LSU, there are usually four rent a wins on the schedule. Given the resources, its not too hard to break even in the SEC. So now you are at 8 wins. Most of these fans aren't dumb. They don't expect to go undefeated or lose only one game every year. They don't expect national championships ever year. Or even SEC championships for that matter. However, they expect to compete for SEC titles on a reasonable level and make a serious run at a national title every few years. Unreasonable expectations for a South Carolina or MSU. Not unreasonable for an LSU, Tennessee, or Georgia.

Anonymous said...

I would not put Tennessee in the same group as LSU or Georgia. They may have a big stadium, but they lack a foundation of high school players in the State of Tennessee that Georgia and LSU have in their home states. Tennessee has not been the same since Fulmer left. 8-4 this year in the weak SEC East.

Anonymous said...

This is apples and oranges. The game was far different in the days of Bryant and Vaught and Dooley. It's a much faster and higher scoring game and everyone plays on TV now, so the money is much bigger and the scrutiny is greater. Schedules are longer and there are far more bowls. In 1960, there were 8 bowl games. 55 years later, there are 40, which means that 80 teams (over half of D1 teams) go bowling. It's rarer NOT to make a bowl in this day.

The fact that Richt stayed at Georgia for 15 years is astounding! He was the longest tenured active SEC coach and fifth active in all the NCAA at his departure. Richt is a good coach and to see him land another HC job so quickly is a testament to that, but to suggest that Georgia didn't give him his due in this day and age is folly.

And it's not like this is new. Remember when Bill Curry got fired from Alabama for going 10-2 but losing to Auburn? That was 25 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Things change - and money usually has a lot to do with it. Being a Power 5 football coach today is a lot more than just winning 9-10 games a season. I don't know that Johnny Vaught or Bear Bryant would survive in today's climate. I don't know that they would want to.

Good, bad or indifferent, college football (especially at the Power 5 schools) brings a lot of money and recognition to the universities. In most cases, the football program funds most of the other, lesser sports - including most women's programs. The money also provides scholarships to athletes who otherwise might not get an education (granted, many of them are "tutored" through so as not to really get an education at all, but that's another topic...). Enrollment tends to surge at schools with successful football programs. One could argue that these are good things. A football coach is expected to keep the money flowing so all of this goodness can continue. Hence, they are, in most cases, the highest paid employees at the university (although most of their compensation comes from sources outside of the university).

In reality, it is the big networks that have driven all of this. Fox, ESPN, CBS generate hundreds of millions in advertising revenue from the broadcasts of these big games. Over the last two decades, they have hyped, promoted and pushed college football to an entirely new plane of exposure on a national level (and have done the same with the NFL, by the way). Their promotion of the sport in turn drives revenue to the schools from ticket sales, TV rights, branding deals, etc. It is a symbiotic relationship that seems to work for everyone. Having a marquis coach who can compete for a conference and national championship regularly is important to keeping all of this going.

As for the money train, there is no one to "blame" here. This is a market system at work. The US laps this stuff up (and I include myself - I love college football). The networks and universities are giving the market what it wants and what it is willing to pay for.

If there is any injustice in the system, it impacts the players. They put themselves at physical risk (and with the whole head-trauma issue, this is becoming even more acute), while the coaches, universities and networks get paid the big dollars. Arguably, there is the scholarship money. And, there is the opportunity for some to go pro and make millions, but this is the minority of players. So, is it fair to the players? Tough question. Here is an interesting piece on that topic:

Anonymous said...

This is 9:05 AM again...

Kingfish, it is unreasonable to expect a "run at a national title every few years". LSU, Tennessee and Georgia are not on a different tier from the rest of the SEC. Every team in the SEC expects to compete for the division title except for Vanderbilt. Each year when the recruiting rankings come out, most of the conference is bunched together at the top. You can be in the top 20 nationally and still be dead last in the SEC West. All of the teams have excellent facilities thanks to the lucrative TV contracts. Alabama is the only school that has a decided talent advantage because of the aura of Nick Saban. Even Alabama's talent gap over other SEC teams has dwindled the last few years and I expect it will drop off a cliff when Saban leaves (which he will someday).

We only have a sample size of two seasons under the CFP Playoff but so far we have learned that you cannot lose 2 games and you must win your conference. To achieve that in the SEC takes a stockpile of talent, the home/road schedule falling in your favor, some lucky breaks (like converting 4th and 25 laterals), and preventing injuries in key positions or areas where a team's depth is thin. The best most SEC teams can hope for is to win all of your home games, win a couple on the road over the weaker teams and hope you get some breaks and manage to split the other 2 games to go 7-1. You do all of that and you are in the CFP conversation.

Anonymous said...

All good comments. As much as I would like to have a coach with a long tenure I understand that if a better opportunity, not necessarily more money comes along the coach in this era would be foolish not to explore it. He knows that one bad year can put him in the road. There were a few idiotic State fans calling for
Mullens dismissal after losing to Ole Miss. Had OM lost there would have been OM fans wanting Freeze to go. No doubt coaches are over paid but it's a free market and as has been stated. Football supports the other programs and has a big effect on enrollment numbers. Enjoy the game, feel bad when you lose and celebrate when you win just keep in mind it's a damn game and unless your livelihood depends on the outcome the sun will come up the day after.

Anonymous said...

I understand and agree with Rick's thinking. But to think this never happened in the good old days would be incorrect. The best football coach ever at Mississippi State was Allyn McKeen. McKeen lost 15 games in his first 8 seasons. Less than two games a year. Included was an SEC championship. Then in 1948 he was 4-4-1 and was fired. Dan Mullen makes 4+ million and has won 60% of his games. McKeen won 75% of his and was let go for having one .500 season.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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