Georgia Coaches are a tight knit group

ATHENS -- It's not unusual on a Wednesday that Georgia head coach Mark Richt can't tell you who will return kickoffs for his team that Saturday.

"My contribution to the kicking teams is hiring men who know what they're doing and giving them time in practice to get the job done," Mark Richt said.

Letting people do their job without breathing down their neck is a lesson Richt took from his 14 years as an assistant coach at Florida State.

"You give coach a responsibility and the authority to carry it out," he said.

When Richt was putting together his staff at Georgia, he looked for coaches who might follow career paths similar to his.

"I was looking at stability," he said. "I wanted to instill as much continuity as we possibly could."

That continuity figures to be put to the test as early as this offseason as schools start looking at Bulldog defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who will lead the nation's No. 1 defense into Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday as No. 4 Georgia (7-1, 4-1 SEC) faces No. 23 Florida (5-3, 3-2).

"I imagine there'll be some interest in Coach VanGorder," Richt said.

VanGorder, who was the head coach at Wayne State for two seasons, said he doesn't think about being a head coach as much as he did before joining the Bulldogs staff.

"I love Georgia. I want to be at Georgia," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be here for a long time."

When the time comes, VanGorder will have a choice to make, a choice between making the next logical step in his profession and an environment that Richt has made as appealing as he possibly can.

"I think this is probably the best staff I've been on," said offensive coordinator Neil Callaway, who is in his 25th season as a collegiate coach. "Everybody brings the same common goal, to win, and we don't let egos get in the way."

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner said there are many similarities between this staff and the one he was on at Tennessee in 1996 and 1997, when the Vols lost just three games.

"Everybody seems to get along very well," he said. "Everybody seems to really respect one another. I think that's the most important thing."

Only one member of Georgia's coaching and significant support staff has changed since Richt put the group together in 2000. Former running backs coach Tony Pierce was dismissed the day after last year's Alabama game for undisclosed reasons. Richt shuffled his coaching staff for the remainder of the season and then hired Ken Rucker in the offseason to replace Pierce.

Other than Pierce's sudden dismissal, Georgia's staff has been basically drama-free, Richt said. Just once in three years has he had to mediate a dispute between two members of his staff, he said.

"I said, 'Are you OK with so-and-so or do we need to get you together for a lovefest?'" Richt said. "They were fine, and they're fine now."

It's a staff bonded by football but also by family. Richt, his nine on-field assistants and strength coach Dave Van Halanger have 30 children (with four more on the way) between them, and 22 of those are school-age.

Monday nights in the fall are family nights, as coaches' wives and children join the team for dinner prior to practice. In the summer, the staff and their families take a cruise together. Richt said he tries to create "an atmosphere where their family is very welcome, an atmosphere where the men in the room all get along."

"He's a great boss," VanGorder said. "It's been a real blessing. He understands what we're doing, working 18 hour days."

Most of Georgia's staff members didn't get to know each other until the first hectic month after their hiring. Garner was the only holdover from Jim Donnan's staff, and, as such, was the only coach not living out of a hotel during his first few weeks on the job while also worrying about selling an old house and buying a new house and finding a good school for his kids.

"We all went through the same things in life at the same time," Richt said. "It really helped bond the staff."

The coaches have a morning devotional time each day that Richt says doesn't have to be spiritual in nature.

"Sometimes some guy you might be mad at for some reason, he comes out and tells you something that he's going through with his family you never would have thought he'd be going through," Richt said. "We hopefully love each other whether we like each other or not."

Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley, who coached the Bulldogs for 25 seasons, said the morale of a staff is critical to a team's success.

"It starts with the staff and permeates to the team," he said.

Richt seems to have a good eye for team-building. He didn't personally know Callaway, Garner, Fabris, quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo or tight ends coach David Johnson when he hired them, which is a rare thing in the coaching profession.

"The odds of someone hiring you without knowing you are slim and almost none," said Fabris, who was hired after showing up at Richt's introductory news conference and with his resume in hand.

So far, things have worked out well, Richt said, but he knows this group is still in its infancy.

"It's really good, but we're still relatively young," Richt said. "We really haven't known each other long enough to get tired of each little idiosyncrasy."

Georgia coaching staff
Head coach Mark Richt
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brian VanGorder
Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Neil Callaway
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner
Defensive ends coach Jon Fabris
Secondary coach Willie Martinez
Tight ends coach David Johnson
Quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo
Running backs coach Ken Rucker
Wide receivers coach and associate head coach John Eason

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