SEC Cannibalization Is Real, Starting With Mark Richt

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Cannibalization became a popular buzz-word when predicting the SEC’s demise as a football super-power. Prescient, indeed, albeit not for the reasons anyone could have imagined.

Georgia’s firing of — excuse me, “mutual” agreement to part ways with — Mark Richt Sunday was the SEC taking a big, ol’ bite out of itself. Now, the conference could turn into a 1980s Italian-made Amazon flick.

Richt is the victim of the same hubris, the same delusional grandeur that precipitated the Les Miles rumors at LSU. Too many people, including some in positions of power, fume over Alabama’s success.

I’m not breaking new ground with this assessment, nor will I try. More prominent scribes such as ESPN.com’s Chris Low and Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel tackled the SEC’s efforts of Keeping Up With The Sabans.

Alabama was always going to be Patient Zero in the SEC’s cannibal epidemic, but not like this. The Crimson Tide’s three national championships under Saban were supposed to force the rest of the conference to step up, thus cannibalizing one another on the field; live up to that mantra of top-to-bottom strength by beating one another out of championship contention.

Instead, a program that’s been on the cusp of a national championship — coming just yards shy of playing for one against Alabama, no less — opted to part ways a proven winner. Somehow, Georgia is going to find a head coach with a career winning percentage just .022 off of Nick Saban’s pace who is better equipped to beat Nick Saban.

Perhaps Georgia will find its next Vince Dooley (who advocated retaining Mark Richt, as he had previously successful Bulldogs coach Jim Donnan. But, if Parrish Walton’s theory that problems start with the athletic administration is indeed correct, Georgia’s more likely to end up with its next Ray Goff.

Had Georgia scored on its final drive in the 2012 SEC Championship Game to beat Saban’s Crimson Tide, thus moving on to play a likely overmatched Notre Dame in the BCS Championship, is Mark Richt still the head coach? Maybe.

But the treatment of Les Miles for the past week suggests even a national championship isn’t necessarily enough to ensure a coach’s security in the SEC.

Backlash saved LSU from itself. History suggests had Miles been fired, the Tigers were doomed to take a huge step backward. Georgia wasn’t so fortunate as to have its Swinging Nixons arrogantly plot against Mark Richt in public, so Greg McGarity couldn’t have the error of his choice painted out as clearly.

However, the bizarre manner in which Miles’ retention played out suggests the ax is ready to fall on any coach in the SEC, no matter how successful if that success isn’t the absolute pinnacle. The conference’s cannibalization won’t be collective strength ending its dominance on the field, but instead threatening the stability of programs from within.