Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Proven winner Mark Richt takes reins for Miami Hurricanes and hungry fan base

Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt will become the new coach at the University of Miami, his alma mater.
Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt will become the new coach at the University of Miami, his alma mater. AP

The Miami Hurricanes football program got it right, hit big, scored and won Wednesday. So did Mark Richt.

An experienced coach accomplished at his sport’s highest level and the alma mater for which he played backup quarterback some 35 years earlier both made the right choice in reuniting.

It seemed a natural, dovetailing marriage from the moment the Georgia Bulldogs and Richt parted ways after 15 seasons together Sunday, with Miami available and looking and Richt suddenly on the rebound. From that point forward, Richt became the logical frontrunner for UM ahead of Dan Mullen, Butch Davis, Greg Schiano, Mario Cristobal and every other name floating on the Internet.

All Miami had to do was make it happen.

Now all Richt has to do is transform the Canes into an instant Atlantic Coast Conference power that soon reestablishes itself on the national stage.

UM fans are a bit desperate for that. You may have heard. Tick tock.

Richt had cut to the chase in describing why Georgia had let him go despite 15 consecutive bowl appearance, seven top-10 finishes and a 9-3 record this year.

“I think expectations have been built to the point where, if you don’t win a championship, it’s kind of miserable around here,” he said.

He meant in Athens.

He could have meant South Florida, too.

The onus will be on Richt to own this area in recruiting, to soon see UM on the Clemson/Florida State echelon in the ACC, and to shepherd the program to a point where its first national championship since 2001 becomes realistic.

The Hurricanes’ coaching search had pared down to a reported final four, and those finalists had split pretty starkly into twos.

In the hiring of Richt or Mullen — in that order — UM and its fans would have had reason to celebrate and feel as if the Canes had gotten it right.

Had they settled for either other finalist, Davis or Schiano, there might have been — despite Davis’ popularity — a general overriding disappointment that Miami got who it could, not who it wanted or needed.

This was the pending decision that would define athletic director Blake James and shape whether UM football gets back to what it used to be. James had a pedigreed five-time national championship program to sell. He had $4 million to spend. What would he get for that? How much proof and hope would arrive with the new man?

Richt should have been the clear No. 1 candidate from the moment he became available. He has won consistently on the sport’s biggest stage, the Southeastern Conference. He is what Al Golden was not: a tested, experienced, proven winner at the top level.

Does it help that Richt is a UM alum who played quarterback behind Jim Kelly? Sure. But it helps more that he has recruited South Florida throughout his 15-year run with the Bulldogs. It helps more that his 145-51 Georgia record with two SEC titles offers proof he can win up here.

(And it sure doesn’t hurt that no scandal, NCAA or otherwise, blemishes his career. That was big with some on the UM Board of Trustees.)

Is Richt, at 55, the perfect next coach? No. Short of Nick Saban or Urban Meyer jetting into Coral Gables begging for the job, there wasn’t one. Richt never reached a national-championship game with Georgia, so, yes, Miami is hiring a coach to accomplish here what he failed to get done elsewhere.

Plenty of Georgia fans think of Richt as the good coach who wasn’t good enough. Now he comes to a relevance-starved UM fan base that regards an 8-4 record as an insult and 7-5 as a disaster.

Richt brings hope, though.

UM is getting a coach who averaged 9.6 wins in the SEC, so in the less talent-dense ACC there should be every expectation that he’ll win comparably, or more so.

Richt’s wife reportedly had been coaxing him to take a year off from coaching. James countered and convinced him that joining his alma mater UM and returning it to greatness was once-in-a-lifetime stuff — a small window open right now. Money should not have been an issue. UM had $4 million to spend, or right around what Richt made at Georgia last year.

Mullen, 43, would have been a credible second choice. Also from the tough SEC, he made a nothing Mississippi State program matter, fashioning a 54-35 record there in a division with Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Before that he was twice a national-champion offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators under Meyer.

For me, from Richt and Mullen, there was a huge dropoff to Davis and Schiano.

Many UM fans were enamored of Davis because of what he did here in the (now distant) past, but one Canes source told me this week he was the “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” guy — the hire only if absolutely necessary.

Davis is 64, burned a bridge or two with the way he left Miami, and hasn’t coached since 2010, when North Carolina fired him amid an academic scandal. With all due respect to Davis — and much respect is due — Miami in 2015 could do better than to plumb its past and recycle.

Schiano, 49, a UM assistant in 1999-2000, has been out of coaching since 2013 after a mostly successful run at Rutgers and then a failed stint with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His run at Rutgers did not offer the heft of résumé that UM should demand. Miami tried that with Golden, out of Temple. That’s also why Cristobal, a head coach only at FIU, wasn’t seriously considered.

It is for that same reason the Canes were rightly looking beyond interim coach Larry Scott despite his 4-1 record since replacing Golden — just as the Dolphins should do in looking for more experience and proof than interim guy Dan Campbell can offer.

The Hurricanes could do better — and did, in landing Richt.

I would leave you with a quick aside that I found amusing as a bit of serendipity, perhaps an omen as Miami moved in on its decision:

When you text the word “Richt,” it auto-corrects to “Right.”

I’m just sayin’.

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