Richt Not Overly Concerned By Off The Field Issues

Mark Richt discusses the off the field issues that have affected his program this summer and looks toward the upcoming season

Birmingham, Ala.—Georgia head coach Mark Richt worked very hard Thursday to downplay the effect of the off the field incidents that have plagued his team throughout the offseason along with the unusually large number of academic casualties that happened to occur with his 2005 signing class.

"I mean I hate it," Richt said about the unusual number of off the field incidents that have affected his program this summer. "I hate it when a guy misbehaves you know. I hate when my own child misbehaves, but, you know, the bottom line is we are dealing with kids and we're dealing with human beings and they are going to make mistakes, that's inevitable.

"If we think your players or your children or your students as a whole across this country are not going to misbehave ever, then I think we're really thinking wrong," he continued. "I think what's important is how are you are going to handle those situations. And my goal as a coach and as an educator is to help these guys understand what they did was wrong educate them, discipline them, love them, and then hopefully get them in a position where they learn from these situations and become a better person for it.

Richt added that he felt like his players deserved the chance to learn from those mistakes and that he and his staff couldn't have handled any of the issues much better. "Not many people learn by what somebody tells them, or by observing someone else," Richt said. "Most people make mistakes on their own and learn from them, but you don't want to a lot of it to happen, and I hate it when it does happen. But, I feel that we have done outstanding job of handling the discipline problems.

"You know, some guys, if they get to a point, in my opinion, where they've gone too far, then they're just not on the team anymore," he continued "But to say the first time a guy makes a mistake he needs to be kicked off your football team is like saying you need to throw your kid out of the family, you know, when he makes a foolish mistake."

Along with having to deal with the issues of current players this summer, Richt has also had to deal with the fact that a large number of his incoming freshman were not able to get academically eligible for the 2005 season. Much like the off the field issues, however, Richt said that he felt like all of the negative attention his program was receiving for that problem was overblown as well.

"I am not that concerned," Richt explained. "I mean you want to hit a higher percentage of guys that are going to qualify for you. You know, signing day, I don't think there is coach in this league or the country that doesn't sign maybe one or two or even three guys that they know will end up in prep school, and they know that you will probably come back and get them the next year, that's what you were hopeful for.

"If you don't sign some guys like that, then they may sign with somebody else and end up on their team next year," he continued. "We have great success with guys that have gone the prep school route. As I said before, we really only had eight scholarship players leave the program. We lost a few other guys for other reasons, but, you know, there was a couple of guys that we thought wouldn't make it."

When the Bulldogs begin fall practice, much of the attention for the fifth year coach will be focused on the emergence of D.J. Shockley as the starting quarterback after David Greene had held that job for his first four seasons as coach. While Shockley has limited experience and limited success, Richt said that he feels like the senior will do just fine as the starter.

"Well, I think he could hit the ground running," the Bulldogs coach said about the possible timeframe it could take for Shockley to get comfortable under center. "I think if he has success in the first game it will really just give him more confidence than he has. I think he is confident in his ability. He knows he can play the game. He doesn't know if he will play the game like he wants to play. You just don't ever know that. But we're very confident that once he settles down into his normal game, I think we're all going to be very pleased. And if he happens to jump on quick and gain a lot of confidence early, it can really be fun."

Richt noted that along with feeling like Shockley could possibly settle in and take the over the reins of the offense quickly, he also said he feels like having the talented senior as his starter will lead to a bit of an evolution for the UGA offense.

"Our offense will always change some," he explained. " We always look at our personnel and try to decide what to do to utilize the five best skilled players on the team. With Shockley, he becomes a weapon himself with his ability to run above and beyond the basics, which you have got to have to be an accurate passer. You have got to be a good decision-maker, you have got to be able to handle the pressure of the job and you have got to be a leader. He is all those things, plus the bonus of the ability to run. It's exciting for us."

The other major focus for Richt at SEC Media Days was the loss of his three major defensive stars in Thomas Davis, Odell Thurman and David Pollack and how his team would rebound from those losses. Sticking with his generally upbeat theme for the day, Richt said that overall he feels pretty comfortable with the defensive talent that he has got on the roster that will be looked at to step up and fill those roles.

"Well, basically what we do every year is you got to find who you are losing, find out who's in position to take over," he said. "With David Pollack, we still have Will Thompson thankfully. Quentin Moses has really done a fine job for us. He has got a bunch of sacks. He's been flying under the radar because of Pollack. Charles Johnson is a young, very great talented football player. So we have got some guys that plays great games for us, moved from inside to out.

"The linebacker situation is not quite as set in our mind as far as who is going to step up and do it," he explains. "But, Tony Taylor is going to take that spot in the middle. He was on the verge of becoming one of those kind of guys, when he tore his ACL last year's Spring game, and now we feel like he is physical enough and understands the system well enough to be that linebacker.

"Of course, at safety, we've still got Greg Blue as one of the best safeties around in my opinion, but, when you substitute Tra Battle for Thomas Davis, there is a big difference in just physical stature. So, we will have to find young guys to take their place, but you always got to look at who are the play makers on defense, too, and how can we get into the position to get mismatches and take advantage of their ability, so we will be doing that."

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