Hurricanes’ coaching situation in a very good place with Mark Richt

Isn’t it great to have the coaching question settled at the University of Miami?

Florida is a mess at 3-6 and fishing around for a savior. Central Florida is 9-0 but shaken by the near certainty that Scott Frost will soon launch into a higher orbit.

Miami, meanwhile, is in the happy place that only exists when you’ve got a proven winner atop of the program and reason to believe that he’ll be there for a good, long time.

Georgia once had that with Mark Richt, who over 15 years as the Bulldogs’ head coach went 145-51 with nine bowl victories. Matter of fact, he was 9-3 the year they let him go, which would be crazy anywhere but the SEC.

So would Georgia like to have Richt back now that he has the 9-0 Hurricanes on a stampede toward the top of the College Football Playoff rankings, and now that the Bulldogs and Kirby Smart have been knocked off their No. 1 spot?

The answer is no. Richt was well liked at Georgia for all the admirable reasons he is loved now at Miami. The only thing he ever did wrong there was failing to win the one game that would lift the program into a true national title shot, and ultimately the school and its boosters came to the conclusion that he never would.

That’s how Richt became available to Miami in the first place.

And now, if the Hurricanes are going to add to the program’s pile of national championship rings this season, the coach is going to have to slay some of those same old dragons.

Clemson, the defending national champion, awaits Miami in the ACC Championship game on Dec. 2. While at Georgia, Richt was 3-1 against the Tigers overall but 1-1 against Dabo Swinney, the coach who over the last decade has turned Clemson into a national power.

The campuses of Georgia and Clemson are only 75 miles apart. It’s a regional spectacle when they meet, which isn’t often enough, and it bruised Richt badly when the Tigers beat him 38-35 in 2013 in one of those prime-time Labor Day weekend specials.

It only gets tougher if Miami gets past Clemson next month. Barring a real collapse in the final regular-season games against Virginia and Pittsburgh, that would put the Hurricanes in the national semifinals. It would be wonderful for Miami if Alabama isn’t in the same playoff field, but what if they are?

Again, it’s a matter of bumping heads with a coach who really pushed Richt’s buttons at Georgia.

Richt is 2-3 against Saban overall. Included in that are two losses in the SEC Championship game, in 2003 when Saban was coaching LSU and in 2012 when Saban was at Alabama.

The SEC, of course, was the nation’s toughest conference for most of Richt’s time there and he did win the league title a couple of times. Going over or around the long barrier represented by Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer and Saban was the challenge, and it’s one that would frustrate just about any coach.

The Florida rivalry, though, did damage no matter who was coaching. Richt was 5-10 against the Gators, with a 1-2 record against Ron Zook and 0-1 against Jim McElwain, the guy the Gators just sent packing.

Nothing particularly fair about any of this, but imagine if a Miami coach won 74 percent of his games over a long stretch but couldn’t do much of anything with Florida State. There would always be people looking to switch him out. If anything, it would be worse at Miami, where national titles always are the expectation, in seasons when that is rational and in times when that is not. Georgia last won a national championship in 1980.

Back, though, to 2017, where rousing wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame have really switched Miami into passing gear. If Richt could clear those hurdles, and if FSU is finally out of the way, why can’t the Hurricanes beat Clemson or Alabama or Oklahoma or anybody else that the postseason schedule might stir up?

The Miami defense certainly seems to be championship caliber, and Richt’s offensive playcalling, with passes aimed at the quarterback in one big game and a wildcat package in the other, shows the flexibility to adjust to different styles.

Absolutely everything has changed the last two years, right down to the neck wear of choice in the student section at Hard Rock Stadium. Out with the orange tie of Al Golden. In with the Turnover Chain.

This is the happy place when the coaching question is settled. Previous Miami bosses have reveled in it for a time and walked away. Richt, 57, treasures it more, and the accompanying appreciation.

At Miami, fans expect him to win the big one. What a concept. What a change.

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