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Leila S. Case: It’s a ‘dog’s’ tale

News changes in a flash. Two days after Coach Mark Richt’s unexpected removal as head football coach at the University of Georgia I heard about his replacement. Good grief. That didn’t take long. Nor does it take a rocket scientist or a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out something was already afoot in UGA’s athletic department. Nevertheless, like many UGA fans, I support and welcome the new hire, Coach Kirby Smart of Bainbridge, a former UGA letterman and team captain his senior year and University of Alabama’s defensive coordinator for the past nine seasons.
Meanwhile, Pulitzer prize winner Mike Luckovich’s editorial cartoon in Tuesday’s edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, depicting longtime UGA head coach Mark Richt’s departure from the program, conveys my sentiments as well as thousands of other Georgia football fans.
If you missed the illustration, it shows Richt walking home closely followed by a teary-eyed UGA Bulldog, wearing a red football jersey, an athletic shoe blowing in the wind. “He followed me home,” explains Richt to his wife waiting at the door.
Yes, indeed, UGA Bulldog fans nationwide are shedding tears that Richt was fired after 15 successful years as head football coach at the University of Georgia, the state’s flagship university.
We’ve been sad before though. When Coach Vince Dooley retired after 25 years, we cried; we lived through Coach Ray Goff and Coach Ray Donovan’s departures, and I even remember being unhappy when legendary head Coach Wally Butts retired (I wasn’t sad when Coach Johnny Griffith left). Like thousands and thousands of other ‘Dog fans, I am upset that Richt was actually fired and didn’t leave on his own terms.
“I think it was a great loss for the University of Georgia and a big mistake,” said Americus dentist Dr. Lou Riccardi, a longtime UGA supporter. UGA supporters Bobbie Bagley and her dentist husband Dr. George Bagley expressed the same sentiments.
“Coach Richt was one of the finest men and coaches of all time,” said Bobbie. Her thoughts, like everyone else’s, are Richt understood that football is about more than winning; it’s about shaping and molding the lives of young men. He certainly did that.
“His players loved and respected him,” said Riccardi. “He’s been an exemplary coach and exemplary leader of all young men. He’s tough, too; he sent some players packing for committing the same offense twice and hopefully they learned from their mistakes.”
Bobbie believes Richt deserved better treatment, saying he served the Georgia Bulldogs with class and dignity during his 15 years. “He had a super record but didn’t win the ‘right’ Southeastern Conference games against such rivals as the University of Florida, the University of Alabama and Ole Miss,” she said.
Riccardi cited Richt’s 13-2 winning streak against Tech and 8-2 against Auburn and, “In my book they are our biggest rivals. Three years ago the Bulldogs were on the cusp of winning the National Championship. For the past three years, Richt has been plagued by injuries to players who were Heisman trophy candidates and that affected the team overall. Without the help of key offensive players, it hurt.”
I agree with Riccardi and Bagley when they say there are underlying circumstances regarding Richt’s departure. “I’m not privy to what happens on the stage, neither behind the velvet curtain nor in their inner circle,” said Bagley.
I also concur with them on the fact that college football is changing and it’s all about winning the “right” games and national championships.
We wish Richt a fond farewell and God’s speed and we extend a heartfelt welcome to Smart. I’m sure he’ll exceed. Love my ‘Dogs.
Out and about: The Christmas festivities got off to a big start this week. Santa visited  the Windsor Hotel; the Americus Rotary Club enjoyed its Christmas party; there was a huge crowd at the Christmas parade downtown; South Georgia Technical College Foundation hosted a very festive celebration and Calvary Episcopal Church’s first annual art show and sale was a big success. Elsewhere, Lori Goff celebrated a milestone birthday and Regan Trollinger turned 16. Meanwhile, an elf appeared at our back door with our Christmas tree to help in the love-hate relationship I personally have with stringing the tree with brightly colored lights. That’s one reason I married Bruce. Along with his love, he professed being adept at putting twinkling lights on Christmas trees. Yes, I believe in the elf man like I have since I was a child when my two sisters, light years my senior, told me an elf man was at the backdoor waiting on me to play, their  ploy to get me out of their hair. Of course, I made a mad dash but unfortunately the elf man was gone so I waved to him as he scurried into the distance. So, please believe. There is a Santa and elf man, too. He whispered in my ear that his name is John.

Leila S. Case lives in Americus.