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Georgia Football: Smart need title to trump Richt in Athens

Georgia fans should be optimistic about the direction of their program, but there’s no reason to be satisfied… yet.

When Mark Richt was fired as its head football coach, the University of Georgia finally joined most other Southeastern Conference programs and jumped head first into the Nick Saban chasing business.

In a popular game that seems to be hit-or-miss, the Bulldogs went all in on an Alabama coordinator and welcomed Kirby Smart home to Athens with open arms.

His first season disappointed some with an 8-5 record including losses to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida and Georgia Tech. For a first ever season as a head coach, however, any winning season is a good one, and eight wins was nothing to be scoffed at. As with any rebuilding process, patience is a major factor. In Smarts second season in Athens, UGA fans learned that patience can definitely pay off.

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The Bulldogs are sitting at 12-1 and set to play in the still young FBS College Football Playoff on New Years Day. After redeeming a loss to Auburn with an SEC Championship rematch win, Dawgs fans far and wide are beaming with joy and excitement. Some have even been using Smart’s accomplishments thus far as an instant justification for the change at head coach two seasons ago. Not so fast…

Mark Richt, now back at his alma mater in Miami, is a hall of fame head coach. Not many would argue that. He’s still widely beloved in Athens, even by those who were outspoken for a head coaching change. When detractors speak of Richt, it usually goes something like “he’s a wonderful man, but…” There’s no but. Mark Richt is an incredible football coach, period.

Back home in Coral Gables, Mark Richt has led a very young Hurricanes squad to a 10-2 record without full strength at scholarships due to previous NCAA sanctions. Under Richt, Miami made its first ever Atlantic Coast Conference title game appearance and will cap its season in the Orange Bowl.

Kirby Smart is a really good football coach, and there’s no doubt he’s a solid recruiter, but through his first two season, he’s done absolutely nothing that Mark Richt didn’t do early on at Georgia.

In his first two years at UGA, Mark Richt went 8-4 in 2001 and then 13-1 with a Sugar Bowl win in 2002. Much like Smart’s loss to Auburn this season, Richt’s 2002 squad lost to rival Florida in a game that eventually cost them a shot at the BCS title game. Had the playoff system existed back then, UGA’s No. 3 ranked SEC Championship team would have had a really good shot in a field that would have included Ohio State, Miami and Southern Cal.

(nationalchamps.net)

A 13-1 record, SEC Championship and a single loss to a heated rival in the second season of a new head coach… sound familiar? That’s because back then, UGA fans were just as excited as they are right now. Without a national title, however, the honeymoon faded into the background.

Taking absolutely nothing away from Kirby Smart, and without advocating against UGA’s most recent change at head coach, it’s not yet time to celebrate Dawgs fans. After such a consistently successful tenure from its previous head coach, Smart needs a national title trophy to trump Richt in Athens.

The difficult decision to force out one of the most successful and consistent head coaches over the last 15 years may eventually look like a smart one in retrospect, but that time hasn’t come yet.

Georgia fans should put it in park on the celebration until there’s a trophy in the air with ticker tape falling from the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in January. Otherwise.. It’s just more of the same.

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Blake Silvers is an editor at the Rome News-Tribune, and a contributor at Fansided. His work frequently appears on FoxSports.com, and he has also written for Bleacher Report in the past.