Sunday marked the end of an era at the University of Georgia, as athletic director Greg McGarity announced that longtime head coach Mark Richt would not be returning for the 2016 season. Richt, who is 145-51 (83-37 SEC) in 15 seasons with the Bulldogs, will coach the team's bowl game.
“Coach Richt and I met Sunday morning to discuss the status of our football program,” McGarity said in a statement. “And we mutually agreed that he would step down as head coach and would have the opportunity to accept other duties and responsibilities at UGA following the bowl game.”
The move has sent ripples across the college football landscape, as many consider Georgia one of the country's top jobs due to surrounding talent with recruiting, little-to-no in-state competition, and a weaker division as a member of the SEC East.
According to a report from 247Sports' Josh Newberg, the opening has perked the ears of Houston head coach Tom Herman, who immediately became "highly interested" in the vacancy. And if McGarity wants to make the best decision for both the short- and long-term of Georgia's football program, he'll pull the trigger on Herman as quickly as possible.
He might not have much experience as a head coach, but he's an offensive innovator that has a proven track record with winning — and that's exactly what Georgia needs, if it wants to catch up to the rest of the game's powerhouse programs.
And it does. That's why Georgia is moving on from Richt, who leaves with a 73.9 winning percentage (plus the result of the bowl game), but only had two conference championships in 15 years — the most recent coming in 2005. The Bulldogs (9-3, 5-3) are a bowl win away from their fourth 10-win season since 2011, but a third straight year without an SEC title game appearance led to his demise.
“I think 15 years is a long time,” Richt said during Monday's press conference. “I think the expectations have been built to the point where if you don’t win a championship it’s kinda miserable around here."
Enter Herman, who would not only bring new excitement to the Athens community, but has the ability to make Georgia a College Football Playoff contender as soon as the 2016 season.
Next to former Memphis head coach Justin Fuente (now with Virginia Tech) Herman was widely considered the hottest prospect and top candidate for any Power 5 program in the coaching market that needs an offensive boost, and the proof is in the pudding.
In his first year with Houston (and as a head coach), Herman has posted an 11-1 record, won the American Athletic Conference Western division, and will lead his team into the conference title game this week against Temple after taking out No. 15 Navy, 52-31. With a win, the Cougars will likely receive an invite to a New Year's Six Bowl.
All of this comes fresh off a national title run as Ohio State's offensive coordinator in 2014 when he lost Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Braxton Miller prior to the season, shaped J.T. Barrett into a Big Ten record-breaker within weeks, and then helped third-stringer Cardale Jones lead the Buckeyes to a national championship title with wins against Wisconsin (59-0), Alabama (42-35), and Oregon (42-20).
Ohio State was fifth in scoring offense last season with 44.8 points per game. In 2015, the Buckeyes have dropped to 31st (35.0) and will likely be on the outside looking in when the Playoff committee makes its picks for the top four teams in the country, after a 14-point, 132-yard performance in a loss to Michigan State in Week 12.
Houston, meanwhile, has produced an average of 42.0 points this season, hitting 49-plus five different times while beating the only two Power 5 opponents on its schedule (Louisville and Vanderbilt). Wide-receiver-turned-quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has turned into one of college football's biggest under-the-radar stars, totaling 3,395 yards and 33 touchdowns (17 rushing) on the year with just five interceptions. His 80.2 QBR ranks 13th nationally and his 69.3 completion percentage ranks fifth.
It's a significant difference from Ward’s 2014 output, where he posted 18 total touchdowns to seven picks and was far less efficient on meaningful passing downs.
That's not a bad resume for Herman, especially in relation to Georgia's needs, which could use a boost at quarterback. And that's putting it lightly.
Between three different contributors — Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta — Georgia quarterbacks have combined to complete 187-of-304 (61.5 percent) of their pass attempts for 2,245 yards (a 103rd-ranked 187.1 per game), 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Bulldogs rank 60th in team passing efficiency (131.3), and that's with a backfield that consists of prolific running backs in Nick Chubb (injured since Week 6), Sony Michel, Keith Marshall, and several other well-qualified ball carriers.
Herman, also known as "the quarterback whisperer," would be the ideal candidate to form Georgia's current quarterback group and make them comfortable in an offense built around the strengths of the gunslinger. Or he could opt to lure in a graduate transfer to get the ball rolling immediately — hello, Cardale Jones — while hitting the recruiting trail hard; another area in which he also excels.
He's no stranger to the city of Atlanta and its rich talent.
According to the 247Sports Team Talent Composite, the Bulldogs have the seventh-best roster in college football, based on recruiting history. With Herman's offensive philosophy, new energy, and track record with doing less with more, he could turn Georgia into a threat to not only win the SEC East in 2016, but compete with Alabama for the conference crown and the College Football Playoff.
In Year 1.
Herman has agreed “in principle” to stay with Houston, but this is college football and that could change if a better deal comes around. So what're you waiting for, McGarity? Get Herman on the phone, take a risk and make him an offer, and get an early start on the transition to a new era that has the promise of multiple championships in the next 10-15 years. And do it quickly, before he becomes unavailable for good.
Or settle for something safe, and continue to drift in the realm of "above average" for the foreseeable future.
— Written by Tyler Waddell, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Waddell’s work has previously been published by Bleacher Report, the Los Angeles Times, NOLA.com, Today's U, and other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Tyler_Waddell.