Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Richt's Defining Opponent

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Richt's Defining Opponent

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette, Times-Union sports writer

The discussion veered toward the importance of beating Florida, so Mark Richt -- falling back on his quarterback instincts -- immediately tried a cursory play-fake.

"I hate to disappoint you, but I don't treat this game a whole lot different than any we play," Richt said.

That's a safe, conservative stance for the first-year Georgia head coach to take. But history strongly suggests that if there's one game anybody in Richt's shoes has to win more than any other, it's Florida.

More so than Georgia Tech, Auburn or Tennessee, the Gators have been both a career-maker and career-killer for the three coaches preceding Richt. He was hired primarily because Richt had formulated successful game plans against Florida, having gone 5-3-1 in his previous capacity as the Florida State offensive coordinator.

"We're just trying to put this thing together," Richt said. "We're not ready to start comparing ourselves to somebody like Florida."

Fair enough for now, but it'd be naive for anyone to think that the final judgment on Richt's time at Georgia won't be measured in large part by how he fares in head-to-head battles with Florida's Steve Spurrier. The UF coach went a combined 10-1 against Richt predecessors Ray Goff and Jim Donnan, both of whom are out of coaching.

Not that it's a whole lot different at other Southeastern Conference schools. Of the 23 head coaching changes that have taken place in the SEC since Spurrier began coaching at his alma mater, 10 could have probably saved their jobs had they not been beaten so thoroughly by the Gators. Those 10 coaches had a cumulative 3-45 record against Spurrier, including an 0-5 mark by South Carolina's Brad Scott, whom Richt succeeded as the FSU coordinator.

So as much as Richt may wish to play down the significance of Georgia-Florida, for the Bulldogs' headmaster, it stands out like a face that's just been crushed by a hob-nailed boot. …

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