When Miami blew out Notre Dame less than 14 months ago, it felt like the return of something big.
ESPN's College GameDay was in town to watch the top-10 Hurricanes blow out the No. 3. Hard Rock Stadium rocked like the old Orange Bowl. A sparkling new football facility was on the way. Even The U's swag was back in the form of the jewel-encrusted turnover chain.
Mark Richt's 'Canes seemed ready to bring championships back to Coral Gables.
They didn't. And they never will — at least not with Richt, who stunned the state by announcing his sudden retirement Sunday.
Instead of the start of another golden age at The U, that 41-8 triumph over Notre Dame was just like the rest of Richt's coaching career: It was the kiss of success that teased fans into thinking titles would inevitably follow … but they never did.
Richt's teams were good, but rarely great. And when they were great, they simply weren't great enough.
He went 141-54 with three top-five finishes and a pair of SEC titles in 15 years at Georgia before getting fired. The fact that Kirby Smart took his old Bulldogs to the College Football Playoff national championship game in Year 2 was an affirmation that Georgia made the right move.
That controversial decision was Miami's gain because Richt instantly reinvigorated his alma mater. He closed out a 9-4 inaugural season with the Hurricanes' first bowl win in a decade. Fueled by the Notre Dame win, UM rose to No. 2 in the nation last year.
Then it all collapsed. As the 'Canes celebrated that November night, Richt was 18-4 at Miami. After it, he was 8-9.
Miami started the season eighth in the country but turned into one of the nation's biggest disappointments. Thursday's humiliating 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl made it clear that something must change. Richt had to replace his defensive coordinator after Manny Diaz took the head coaching job at Temple. The offense's years-long struggle meant looking at the rest of his staff, including his quarterbacks coach —Richt's son, Jon.
Instead, Miami's changes will start at the very top.
"This was my decision…" Richt, 58, said in a statement. "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."
In retrospect, Richt's hire was in the best interest of the program, too, even if he never delivered the championships Miami fans crave.
He inherited a team that was blown out 58-0 at home and took it to its first top-tier bowl game in 14 years and its first ever appearance in the ACC title game. He signed a top-10 recruiting class last year and was instrumental in building the indoor practice facility UM opened in August.
The Hurricanes' next head coach will benefit from both of those developments. Potential targets include former Bucs coach Greg Schiano, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, Florida International coach Butch Davis (who coached Um from 1995-2000), Syracuse coach Dino Babers and Washington State coach Mike Leach.
Whomever athletic director Blake James hires will take over a program that's unquestionably better because of Richt's three-year tenure. That coach will then try to do what Richt never could at Georgia or Miami.
Turn tastes of glory into trophies and titles.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.