When Miami needed a head coach in 2015 and Mark Richt needed a job, nobody could have drawn up a better fit: Richt would return to his alma mater not only with wins piled next to his name, but a keen understanding about the program and the expectations that come with it.
His introductory news conference was fit for a homecoming king. Enthusiasm soared, airplanes toting nasty messages about firing coaches stayed parked in their hangars, and Richt got to work resurrecting a program that needed a stabilizing force like him -- after so many miserable seasons under Al Golden and Randy Shannon before him.
The wins started to come, and the fans started to believe that Richt could indeed bring the program the championships they so desperately craved since the last one in 2001.
Miami soared to a 10-0 start and No. 2 ranking last season, and a rollicking win over Notre Dame at home harkened back to the days when the Catholics vs. Convicts meant national championship or bust. For one night at least, Miami was back.
When Miami beat Notre Dame in November 2017, it became too easy to overlook obvious issues at quarterback and the offensive line. It became too easy to overlook the way Miami had fallen so far at receiver, a position where no school in the state of Florida should ever be deficient.
It became too easy to overlook the lingering issue that will continue to separate Miami from every elite program in college football today. Richt might have gotten the indoor facility done, but the money disparity between this program and what he had at Georgia will never, ever go away.
When Miami lost as a heavy favorite at Pitt to close the 2017 regular season, the quarterback problems came into focus.
When Miami was so uncompetitive in a 38-3 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game the following week, the personnel issues came into focus, but so did the vast difference in facilities, assistant coaching staffs and resources. In 2015, Miami had suffered the most humiliating loss in school history to Clemson, 58-0, and a day later Golden got fired for it. Two years later, under Richt, Miami had done little to close what remained a gulf wide enough to drive a tanker through.
When Miami lost to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl, capping the 2017 season with three straight losses, the questions began in earnest. But once again, it was hard to look beyond what Richt had accomplished: the first Coastal Division title in school history, and the first 10-win season since 2003. In July, ACC media selected Miami to repeat as the Coastal champion.
But the flaws on offense exposed in the final three games of 2017 were exposed once again in the season opener against LSU. Suddenly, Miami looked like a team with no real plan about how to fix all its myriad problems. Richt gambled on N'Kosi Perry, believing the ESPN 300 player he signed in 2017 would be the future he could build around. Richt gave Perry every opportunity to win the starting job as a true freshman. But Perry could not.
Richt gave Perry every opportunity to win the starting job headed into 2018 as well, but he could not. At least not at the outset. Richt eventually benched Malik Rosier in favor of Perry, but once Perry proved to be just as ineffective, Richt went back to Rosier. Richt so badly mishandled the quarterbacks this season that Miami squandered one of the best defensive efforts in the entire country. Losing top receivers Ahmmon Richards (career-ending neck injury) and Jeff Thomas (transfer) only prolonged the misery.
So when Miami lost (again) to Wisconsin in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl 35-3, it was obvious Richt needed an entire offensive overhaul, but he didn't seem to have the wherewithal to want to get it done. It would mean relinquishing his playcalling duties, hiring a new offensive coordinator, assigning his son -- the quarterbacks coach -- to another role on staff, while trying to win with a young, unproven roster.
As easily as the Miami fan base embraced him, it turned just as quickly, and the vitriol about his offense and the direction of the program grew far too great for Richt to want to continue on. Miami remains one of the most difficult jobs in the country, if only because everyone in South Florida has yet to accept the reality that the dynamics that rule college football in 2018 are far different than the 1980s and 1990s.
In his final years at Georgia, Richt found himself in a similar situation, with mounting criticism overwhelming the results. But the one that draws the most parallels is quarterback. He and his staff whiffed on local product Deshaun Watson, who ultimately won a national championship at Clemson. In 2015, Richt played three different quarterbacks (including a transfer who failed to win the starting job at Virginia), and in 2016, Jacob Eason was clearly not the answer.
That's a long track record of failing to identify franchise-type quarterbacks. Richt put so much stock in Perry being his chosen one at Miami, but he ended his Miami career with a quarterback in Rosier who signed under Golden. That one point illustrates why there would have been an inordinate amount of pressure to bring in someone else to get the offense fixed.
Since starting 10-0 last season, Miami is 7-9, including 5-9 against Power 5 opponents. Miami opened this season ranked in the top 10, only to finish 7-6 with no real answers about its future. On the early signing date several weeks back, Miami signed a class ESPN ranks No. 34, its disappointing season no doubt a direct correlation.
So now Miami embarks on another coaching search far sooner than anyone could have anticipated when Richt threw up the U in December 2015 to coach his alma mater. It'll be up to the new coach to try to bring the program "back," where so many of his predecessors came up empty.