Mark Richt won a lot of games at Georgia, just not the right ones

ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt's critics will tell you he's the kind of man you'd want coaching your son -- unless you wanted him to beat Florida.

They'll tell you Richt is the kind of man you'd want representing your alma mater -- unless you wanted to win national championships.

In the end, that's why Georgia forced out Richt on Sunday, whether it's fair or not.

There's no question that Richt, who averaged nearly 10 victories per season, won a lot of games during his 15-year tenure at Georgia. He won more games (145) than every UGA coach except Vince Dooley, who won 201 times in 25 seasons.

In fact, Richt's teams won nearly three out of every four times they took the field. His 74 percent winning percentage ranked fifth-highest among active FBS coaches (with at least 130 wins), behind only Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Alabama's Nick Saban and TCU's Gary Patterson.

Of the aforementioned coaches, Patterson is the only one who hasn't won a national championship. Meyer guided Florida to two BCS national titles and won the first College Football Playoff with Ohio State last season. Stoops led the Sooners to a BCS title in 2000, and Saban has won four national championships -- one at LSU and three more at Alabama. Dooley led UGA to its most recent national title in 1980.

That's what separates Richt from the game's greatest coaches -- both past and present. The Bulldogs were close to having a chance to win it all on a couple of occasions during his tenure -- most recently losing to Alabama 32-28 in the 2012 SEC championship game when a spot in the BCS National Championship was on the line. But then the Bulldogs went backward in each of the three seasons since.

Richt didn't give Georgia fans enough reason to believe he'd eventually take them to the top. After guiding the Bulldogs to two SEC championships in his first five seasons, he failed to win a title in his last 10 seasons. Georgia has appeared in the SEC championship game only twice since winning its last SEC title in 2005.

After a decade and a half, Georgia's administration was convinced that Richt wouldn't push the Bulldogs over the hump. And now the Bulldogs are taking a big leap of faith by trying to find a coach who can do a better job than Richt, who guided the Bulldogs to a bowl game in every season and suffered only one losing campaign.

Honestly, the criticism was never about Richt not winning enough. If the Bulldogs win their upcoming bowl game, they'll have won 10 games or more in 10 of his 15 seasons on the sideline. The criticism was more about the games the Bulldogs didn't win and how they lost them. His teams suffered at least one loss of 18 points or more in 10 of the last 11 seasons, and they fell to less talented opponents on too many occasions.

The Bulldogs also struggled to beat their stiffest competition. After Georgia went 25-13 against ranked opponents in Richt's first seven seasons, it has gone 14-23 against them in the eight seasons since, including a 0-2 mark this year.

What might have ultimately been most frustrating to Georgia's administration is that the Bulldogs were unable to take control of the SEC East in each of the previous two seasons, when Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee were collectively struggling mightily. Missouri, which joined the SEC in 2012, won back-to-back SEC East titles in 2013 and '14. Georgia fans saw it as more missed opportunities under Richt.

In many ways, the 2015 season was a microcosm of much of Georgia's previous decade under Richt. With tailback Nick Chubb, an experienced offensive line and a vastly improved defense returning, the Bulldogs were an overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East.

But after winning its first four games, Georgia was routed by Alabama 38-10 at home on Oct. 3, and then it blew a 21-point lead in a 38-31 loss at Tennessee the next week. The Bulldogs lost Chubb, their best player, to a season-ending knee injury against the Volunteers.

On Halloween, Georgia was eliminated from the SEC East race after a 27-3 loss to Florida. Richt was heavily criticized for starting quarterback Faton Bauta against the Gators after he hadn't taken a snap under center in any of the Bulldogs' previous seven games.

This season's performance was the exact conundrum with many of Richt's teams. For some, it might have been one of his better coaching jobs. The Bulldogs went 9-3 with first-year quarterback Greyson Lambert, who couldn't win Virginia's starting job. UGA went 5-1 after losing Chubb, one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates when he was hurt. To outsiders, it would seem as if Richt had once again done enough to save his job.

But Georgia lost badly in the only two games that really mattered, against Alabama and Florida, and struggled to put away mediocre teams in too many of its other games. Only one of the FBS opponents the Bulldogs beat (second-year FBS program Georgia Southern, which lost to UGA 23-17 in overtime) finished with a winning record, and only one other FBS foe (6-6 Auburn) will play in a bowl game. It might have been the softest 9-3 record in SEC history.

There were also reports of growing dissension in Richt's coaching staff. Second-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt ruffled more than a few feathers while trying to implement what he believed were much-needed changes to a stale program. New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer flopped badly, as the Bulldogs scored only 33 offensive touchdowns after averaging 63 in each of the previous three seasons.

Traditionally, Georgia's coaches have been measured by their teams' success against the "Big Three" opponents -- Auburn, Florida and Georgia Tech.

Richt reversed Georgia's fortunes in two of those rivalries, going 13-2 against the Yellow Jackets (Tech had won three in a row before he arrived in 2001) and 10-5 against the Tigers (Auburn had won 12 of 17 with one tie in the previous 18 games). Richt's teams went only 5-10 against the Gators; the Bulldogs had dropped 10 of 11 games in the series before he was hired.

Unfortunately for Richt, beating your rivals and winning bowl games are no longer the benchmarks for a coach. They have to win league championships and compete for a spot in the four-team playoff.

More than a few Georgia fans have seemingly forgotten that before Richt guided the Bulldogs to an SEC championship in 2002, they'd gone two decades without winning one. Sure, there have been a few lean seasons recently, but it's not like it has been 20 years.

Richt's only head-coaching job was at Georgia. He spent 14 seasons as an assistant at Florida State, where his mentor, legendary Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden, coached 18 seasons before winning his first national title in 1993.

Richt would be the first person to tell you it was a much more patient sport back then.