Richt now a part of $2 Million Club

ATHENS – College football's ritziest club will have to make room for Mark Richt.

On Wednesday, the executive committee of Georgia's Athletic Association board of directors unanimously approved a deal that will pay their football coach at least $2 million and up to $2.4 million annually for the next eight years. Essentially, the $16 million deal extends Richt's current contract by three years and adds a half million dollars to his annual salary.

"What's really happened here today is very simple," school president Michael Adams said.

"Coach Richt has told us this is where he wants to be, and the university has told the world that we want him here."

The deal could make Richt the highest paid coach in the Southeastern Conference if he hits enough incentives. He is guaranteed $2 million and could add $400,000 to that each year by achieving what athletic director Damon Evans characterized as "attainable" incentives.

Auburn's Tommy Tuberville is set to make $2.2 million next year. Tennessee's Phil Fulmer and Florida's Urban Meyer make $2.05 million and $2 million, respectively, each year. Those three, along with Richt, now make up the SEC's $2 million club.

Mark Richt was out of the state recruiting Wednesday but released a statement.

"I'm pleased and appreciative of the administration extending the contract," he said. "It says that the university wants us to be at Georgia, and this is certainly where my family wants to be. I've been very blessed with a great staff and players during the past five years as well as tremendous support from our university and athletic administration, fans and student body. We're looking forward to working together for many years to come."

The magnitude of the deal should put to rest any concern that Richt might leave Georgia if, for instance, the head coaching job at Florida State or Miami come open in the near future, Adams said. The buyout language in the contract hasn't been finalized, but the amount would be $10 million or more if Richt were to leave with seven years left on the deal. The buyout, along with Richt's guaranteed salary, will decrease in each year of the deal.

"The numbers are very, very significant," Evans said. "He would pay us the same thing if he was to leave that we would pay him if we were to fire him."

Although complete figures are not available, the deal is believed to make Richt one of the nation's 10 highest-paid coaches. Georgia assistants, all of whom already make a minimum of $100,000 annually, also are in line for raises, Evans indicated.

"We'll be looking at them real soon to make sure we keep them in the right range," he said.

Richt is 52-13 in five seasons with the Bulldogs, who are coming off their second SEC title in four years. Richt is one of just nine coaches in Division I history to win 50 or more games in his first five seasons, and his winning percentage is the fifth-best all-time among coaches who have been in the SEC for at least five seasons. In December, Richt was voted the league's coach of the year for the second time in four years.

"We feel that Mark Richt is the man for the job," Evans said.

One of Richt's incentives will be tied to graduation rates. The specifics of how Richt's graduation incentive will be determined haven't been set, Adams said.

Adams is a member of Knight Foundation Commission, which is a body committed to keeping college athletics in perspective, but he said he has no qualms about Richt's big deal.

"I can assure you we didn't do this lightly," he said. "I think all things considered it's prudent despite the numbers. We want to compete at the highest level."

Also Wednesday, the board approved the purchase of a new Athletic Association plane to be used for recruiting and other athletic business. The school will sell the association's current 1980s era Cessna and add $2 million to those proceeds for the new plane.

RECRUITING NEWS: Geno Atkins, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound defensive lineman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., made a verbal commitment to Georgia on Wednesday, according to Atkins, who becomes the Bulldogs' 26th verbal commitment, also was recruited by Auburn, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Pittsburgh.

The Money Men*
Charlie Weis Notre Dame $3-$4 million**
Pete Carroll Southern Cal $3 million
Mack Brown Texas $2.6 million
Bob Stoops Oklahoma $2.4 million
Tommy Tuberville Auburn $2.2 million
Phil Fulmer Tennessee $2.05 million
Mark Richt, Georgia $2 million
Urban Meyer Florida $2 million
Frank Beamer Virginia Tech $2 million
Larry Coker Miami $1.9 million
Al Groh Virginia $1.7 million
*Compiled from published reports and not intended to be a complete list
**Based on life of 10-year contract

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