Oh, how it all came crashing down for Mark Richt at Miami.
Fired at Georgia in 2015 for the sin of going 9-3 one too many times, the former Miami quarterback was quickly scooped up by his alma mater. He had planned to sit out the 2016 season and take a long-awaited breather, but The U had just fired Al Golden and it all just made too much sense to pass up. Richt was re-energized by his return to South Beach, where the climate was warmer (literally and politically) without the fire-breathing SEC boosters coming for his head. He was even going to call plays again.
Richt went 9-4 in 2016, then everything clicked in 2017. Buoyed by back-to-back destructions of No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 3 Notre Dame — both of them before a raucous Hard Rock Stadium crowd, in front of primetime ABC audiences — Miami started 10-0 and rose to No. 2 in the polls. The Hurricanes were upset 44-28 at Pittsburgh on the final Friday of the regular season, but a win over Clemson would hand them the ACC championship and a College Football Playoff berth.
Instead, the Hurricanes were out-classed, falling 38-3. Playing in front of a home crowd in the Orange Bowl, Miami lost to Big Ten runner-up Wisconsin, 34-24. A 10-0 start became a 10-3 finish, with three straight double-digit losses.
Still, 2018 began with South Florida sunshine. Miami started the year at No. 8 in the AP poll, with a showcase game against No. 25 LSU.
However, the 2018 opener quickly showed that the off-season hadn’t fixed The U’s woes, only prolonged them. LSU scored the game’s fist 27 points en route to a 33-17 win, Miami’s fourth straight loss to a Power 5 opponent by 10 or more points.
Miami recovered to win their next five games, rising to No. 16, but that was just foreshadowing for a 4-game losing streak, all to unranked teams. Miami failed to top 14 points in three of those losses.
The final straw came in Thursday’s Pinstripe Bowl, a 35-3 drubbing at the hands of the same Wisconsin team from last year’s Orange Bowl. Those Badgers also suffered through a similar season, beginning the year at No. 4 before falling out of the rankings, and even they were a class above Richt’s Hurricanes.
Miami AD Blake James released a tepid statement supporting Richt after the game, but on Sunday Richt released a statement of his own — his retirement announcement.
Dear Hurricane Family:
A few hours ago, I informed UM Director of Athletics Blake James that it is time for me to retire from coaching so I am stepping down as the Head Coach of UM Football. The decision came after a great deal of thought, discussions with my family, and prayer. This was my decision.
The University of Miami has been a part of my life for more than three decades. It shaped me as a young man and provided me with the coaching opportunity of a lifetime. My love for The U is simply great. My true desire is for our football program to return to greatness, and while terribly difficult, I feel that stepping down is in the best interests of the program.
I want to express my sincere appreciation to the entire Hurricane Family for welcoming me back home and for supporting the outstanding young men in our program. I only wish that we could have achieved greater things in return. I also want to thank President Frenk and Blake for their incredible support, as well as the outstanding men and women in UM Athletics. Most importantly, I want to thank the incredible coaches, staff, and their families who gave their all to The U each and every day, and our student-athletes, who wore The U jersey with pride and who worked hard towards their degree.
Katharyn and I will be cheering on the Canes in the years to come and The U will never leave our hearts.
Richt exits stage left as one of the most successful coaches in college football history to be considered a disappointment. He was 145-51 with two SEC championships, a share of six SEC East crowns and seven AP top-10 finishes in 15 seasons at Georgia and 26-13 with one ACC Coastal title and two AP top-25 finishes in three seasons at Miami. Still only 58, Richt is young enough to coach again if he so desires, but the last season and a quarter of his team’s performance showed his desire is gone.
With a 171-64 career record, Richt is a profoundly good, respected man who will be in the College Football Hall of Fame someday, a coach defined more by what he didn’t do than what he did, a man with plenty of friends but few fans.
Somehow that seems terribly unfair but perfectly fitting.