Exclusive: One-on-one with Mark Richt

ATHENS – Georgia football coach Mark Richt, nearing the end of one of the worst seasons of his collegiate coaching career, sat down with Dawg Post Reporter Josh Kendall for a 40-minute conversation this week.

The discussion covered his son Jon's recruitment, the future of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, the possibility Richt will one day hire an offensive coordinator, getting through this tumultuous season, the one thing that might make him give up coaching and the most fun he's ever had as a college coach. Here's a hint: It's not his current job.

Now that your son Jon is being recruited have you seen the recruiting process in a different light? (Jonathan Richt is a quarterback at Prince Avenue Christian School and has a scholarship offer from Clemson.)

Yeah, a little bit. You get to see how Jon is affected by certain things. Most of it is confirmation of things I thought, the first letter, the first offer, the first invitation to go to a game. In the beginning, certain mail is exciting. After a while, certain mail is just, here's another one. I'll get to see how my wife reacts to certain things, get a better feel for how moms see certain things.

What have you seen from quarterback Joe Tereshinski III and Coach Joe Tereshinski Jr. in the way they've handled the quarterback situation?

They've handled it just like a true Bulldog, with grit, doing everything possible to compete and never put yourself ahead of the team. The team comes first with them. You look at Joe T the dad, you watch the TV copy of the game, you watch that and look at his face and look at his enthusiasm. Every time there was a sideline shot it would seem like I could see Joe the coach. He was just cheering them on, boy. He enjoyed that as much as anybody enjoyed that game. He could have felt bad for his son not playing. He could have been that way, but he wasn't that way at all. He was gung-ho. I think Joe T the player is constantly trying to think of a way to either get in my ear or (Matthew) Stafford's ear to remind him or me of something, just something I might be missing. I see him get in Matthew's ear some with a reminder, ‘Don't forget this.' Or he may say that to me. He's trying to find a way to help us win. And, of course, we know how he reacted after he lost the job, he wanted to know if he could play somewhere else to help us win. It was a pretty inspiring thing.

Has there been a "Wow" moment with you regarding Matthew Stafford?

That happened more in spring time than in the fall because we were pretty used to it.

What was your first one?

There was one day. I think it was one of the last days before spring break it seemed like or it might have been the first day back. He just made some great throws in skeleton, a post, just certain throws that not everybody can make. And he did like he knew what he was doing.

How good can he be?

I think he can be pretty special, but he's like any other quarterback, he's got to discipline his talent. He has to get better in all areas. He needs to stay in great condition; he needs to continue to work on his athletic ability; he needs to study the game of football in general; he needs to study what we do; he needs to be great fundamentally in his ball-handling. Those are things you can lose if you get complacent and he's not arrived either. He's getting there. He's got to make good decisions. He's got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them, so to speak.

We've heard Mel Kiper say this kid is going to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft…

I don't know about all that. I think people see his talent, but undisciplined talent is not very attractive. He's got a long way to go. He's got to stay healthy. He can't block for himself. He can't catch for himself. We've all got to play good.

Is there a point where you would hand over the play-calling to (quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo) or somebody else? (Bobo has called the Bulldogs' one-minute offense for the last two seasons.)

Sure, some day. I'm not saying for sure some day, but I'll always look at that and try to decide if that's the best thing to do.

Is that something you do as part of the offseason review?

Yes.

But that's not something you see happening in the immediate future?

Until I really sit down and look at the big picture, I couldn't tell you. I look at that along with everything else that you have to try to decide how to get better.

Is there any piece of coaching advice that has come back to you this year in the down times?

It makes you reflect on the process I think and how you go about your business, and (think) have we fallen away from it in any way? Have we let anything slip or erode? We talk about that every offseason. That's one of the main things in (offseason) hideaway. That's one of the main things we always talk about. We can't become complacent in any area. We can't stand still in some areas. In some ways, you want to do what you've been doing because it's gotten you there, but on the other hand, you've got to also be willing to move forward. If you change anything that's been successful, then you take the risk of making a mistake and hurting the team, but, on the other hand, if you refuse to change anything out of being stubborn or complacent or whatever it is, you also take a risk of falling behind. You have to change not for the sake of change, but you have to study what you're doing enough to know if you're going in the right direction or not. We have certain principles by which we want to run our program, and we don't want to change that. When things aren't going good, we don't want to panic and say, "We're going to do this, or we're going to do that, that's out of character." You don't want to do something that's out of character. There's a difference in the principles by which you live and run your program as compared to do you change a scheme here or do you change personnel or do you say, "Hey, we're going to bring more pressure, or we're going to play more four-wide (receiver sets) or those kind of things." The game of football is constantly changing and evolving and you have to try to stay on the cutting edge of that, but I don't think the true principles by which you live and go about your business, I don't think those things should change if you're doing things right.

As you reflected back to see if you were getting away from anything, do you feel you did at all?

I could never put my finger on anything, but you're just thinking, "Hey have we done something different to get us to this point? Could it possibly be that we just lost a couple close games?" It could be that the other teams got just a little bit better. Could it just flat out be we turned the ball over too much? When you reflect back, the amount of times we've turned the ball over, if we were No. 1 in the league in turnover ratio, we could very easily be 9-2. And then no one would be wondering… You have to be careful not to say, Oh my gosh, the sky is falling, we've got to change. We've got to do this; we've got to do that." Panic cannot set in. You cannot let that happen. That was one thing, I was determined that we weren't going to panic. I wasn't going to brow beat these guys, we were going to try to correct them and encourage them, and we were going to try to stay together. Above all else, we were going to stick together. People would ask me, ‘How'd you keep it together?' Well, that didn't happen overnight. That's been one of our major goals is to play as a team, is to find a bunch of guys who are willing to put the team before themselves and understand that by doing so, everyone is going to benefit. If we were trying to build unity once things started going bad, there's no way we could do it then. You either have a solid foundation or you don't. What we found out was we had a very solid foundation when it came to chemistry and unity, and I still point to that as the No. 1 reason why we were able to play that (Auburn) game the way we did. I don't think there's any prayer of us having that kind of performance if we'd pushed the panic button or if we'd started blaming each other of if we'd started breaking down the core of this team.

You seem to have an affinity for this team that you maybe didn't get a chance to have for some of your other teams?

This was just one game, but it was more than one game. We changed the momentum of the season. Now, I don't know what's going to happen from this point forward, but it's hard to do that. It's so hard to do that. I talk to the team all the time about momentum. If you have that positive momentum, it's hard to slow that down, too. It's so difficult to change the momentum of a game or a season. Mostly with us in the past four years, we've maybe changed the momentum in a game. When the game maybe wasn't going our way, we were strong enough to stand in and turn the tide and win the game, but to actually lose as many as we did in such a short amount of time, that was a whole different kind of momentum, a whole different kind of dynamic than we've had to deal with. It was definitely new ground for us and for me. I think it was a good life lesson for our guys to persevere and to trust and stay together. There's value in that. There's value in not pushing the panic button. There's value in not trying to blame somebody else. There's value in trying to look inward and say, "What am I doing that I can change that might help us win?" Instead of, "What can he do to fix it?" When I talk to the staff and the team, I say, "We've got to look inward. Every guy here could have probably done something better, whether you're on the scout team or the first team, whether you're a coach or a manager. There's probably something you could have done better to help us win, and that's what I want you guys to be concentrating on, not whether the coaches might have messed up or the players might have messed up or the offense or the defense or whoever. You think about hat you could have done better."

Is there anything you'd give up coaching for?

If I felt in my spirit that God wanted me to do something else, I'd do it.

Do you know what it would be?

I don't have any desire to do something else, but if somehow I got the message, through circumstances or revelation or whatever it may be, if I felt in my spirit that God was saying, "I want you do to something else."

What kind of missionary work have you done?

I've not done a lot of mission work.

Is there something you would like to do?

We've been talking about doing something with the family. We haven't really done any mission work together, but you don't have to go off somewhere to have a mission.

Can this job be your mission, this platform, and have you thought of that?

Yeah. Here's what I think, this job is way too big and way too tough and a little bit on the nutty side you know as far as hours and all the energy that it takes, to do it, and I don't need it. I don't need it for my ego at all. I don't need it. I felt that God was leading me to this job to begin with or I wouldn't be here today. It's like I said before, I never had this burning desire to be head coach. I never sat there and said, "Man, I've got to be a head coach or I'll just feel like a failure, or if I'm not a head coach, I'm getting out of the business at age 40." None of that stuff ever crossed my mind. All I was ever trying to do since 1986, when I accepted Christ, was try to live a life that would be pleasing to God and try to do my work hardly for Him. That's it. And love my family. I've really enjoyed everything that I've done in coaching. The most fun I ever had was when I was coaching QBs and calling plays (at Florida State), for two years I was doing that before I was the coordinator. That was fun. So, if it's about just having a good time, shoot, that was the most fun I've ever had in coaching. I just could see and feel that God was moving me down a certain path. I felt like in my spirit that a head job was going to happen, and I felt like I had to get prepared for that moment. I didn't know when it was going to happen, but I really felt deep in my spirit, this is going to happen. It's going to happen some time. I didn't think it was going to happen right away. This was after that Pittsburgh situation. (Richt turned down the Pittsburgh job following the 1996 season.) That was a wake-up call for me to say, "You get ready because it's going to happen whether you like it or not." That's when I began to at least try to think in terms of how it ought to be done. And in the meantime, I was just trying to live as obedient a life as I could. I'm not saying I never sin or anything like that, but the goal was to be as obedient to God as I could possibly be and on a daily basis do the best job I could unto him, which is Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, do you work hardly for the Lord rather than for men. That was it. Then wherever he was going to lead me, I was going to go.


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