I feel very good about our program. I almost feel like we're starting over in a lot of ways. I feel like we built this program on a very solid foundation. I think we've got great coaches that are very competent and believe in what we're doing, then doing it the way we expect things done.
Got great kids. We got a chance to win and do it in the right way, and I'm excited about that.
With that, I'll just open it up and let y'all have at it.
Q. When you see the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn, it's not suffered after they moved away from Legion Field. What is your feeling about the possibility of Georgia and Florida playing in Gainesville, in Athens, and every third year in Jacksonville?
COACH RICHT: I think there's a lot of possible scenarios. I'm not even sure when the contract ends. But when it does end, I'm sure there will be some conversation as to what to do with it.
I think the rivalry would be outstanding whether you kept playing in Jacksonville or moved it around. I think it would be exciting for our fans to go to Gainesville. I think it would be exciting for the Florida fans to come to Athens.
If you're going to do any kind of a rotation like that, I think we'd be more apt to rotate to each school, rotate to Jacksonville, then I would be in favor of rotating to the neutral site of Atlanta in the Dome. I think that would be a pretty good neutral site, too (smiling).
Q. Could you talk about your secondary, how you expect that to be this year with Prince Miller in there, as well.
COACH RICHT: You know, Prince is a very good football player. We played him as a true freshman. We actually redshirted nine of our defensive signees last year. They were outstanding football players.
But Prince Miller and Asher Allen we felt like we better play at true freshmen because we knew they were going to have to play big this year.
With Paul leaving as he did, we thought there was a 50/50 shot of him leaving after his junior year anyway. We felt like we better get some guys ready to go.
Right now Asher Allen will play the boundary corner where Paul Oliver was. Thomas Flowers, who had an injury last year, missed most of the year, if not all of the year; he's back. He's got boundary corner experience.
Then in the field, Bryan Evans out of Jacksonville, Florida, is the starting field corner. Prince Miller also battling for that job right now. Prince could very easily be our nickel back if we don't keep Asher in that spot. Both of those kids understand that position.
At safety, Kelin Johnson, CJ Byrd are slated to be our starters. Kelin is the only one that has starting experience, game to game starter. Might have another guy start twice in a nickel package. Kelin is the only really returning starter in our secondary.
But we got a kid named Quintin Banks and Reshad Jones, everyone is very excited about, two young guys we think resemble Greg Blue and Thomas Davis, which is saying a lot. Another guy, Antavious Coates, who has been injured since he came to Georgia, but he's got tremendous ability and potential and he's healthy right now. If he holds up through camp, he's going to have something to say about who starts at safety.
Q. The east is supposed to be so tough this year. Everybody agrees on that. You seem to be flying low under the radar. Do you like that?
COACH RICHT: Yeah. Well, I don't worry too much about it one way or another. I was talking to another group of writers just a little bit ago. They were saying, How do I feel about none of our guys being on first team, all SEC. All that kind of thing, offense, defense, or special teams, none of our guys were first team.
I told them the one that matters the most is the end of the year. I said, If we win, we'll have guys on the first team. If we don't win, we won't.
The teams that win get the accolades. If you go by what happened last year, you know, we absolutely finished strong. It was an exciting finish for us. It meant a lot to us to finish the way we did. But when you look at the course of the year, we were 1 4 in the east. We thankfully won our western division games. If we didn't, it would have been really bad.
So if you judge by what happened, who we're losing, I can see why people are putting us there.
Q. Coach, Mikey Henderson had an excellent spring for you. How do you see his role expanding in the offense more this year?
COACH RICHT: Of course, Mikey was one of the top punt returners in the nation and in our league. He's very electric in that role.
But we did move him to receiver last year. We saw a lot of great things in the spring prior to this one going into the season. When the season started to roll, it didn't really translate into the production that we hoped it would.
Now he's got even another year under his belt. I think we will do even a better job of finding ways to get him the ball where he's in his comfort level. I think we'll get more production out of him than we did a year ago.
A guy that fast, that shifty, you know, he's going to create problems if we can just get him the ball with a little bit of space. He'll make people miss.
Q. Moving the kickoff back to the 30, a lot of coaches think it's going to be a significant change. Talk about how much of a change you think that will be even in the way you approach that part of the game?
COACH RICHT: It will be very significant. It will be I wouldn't say it's doubly important. It's probably going to be three or four times as important. I say that because we just were having meetings with our staff yesterday. We were talking about that very thing.
I asked Coach Ball, our kick return coach, you know, about how many kicks were we returning percentage wise last year. He said we only really returned about 25% of the kicks. Now we predict we'll be returning 75 to 90% of the kicks. That's going to be at least two, maybe three times as many kicks we're returning this year than we did a year ago, so that's crucial.
Then, of course, the same thing is true of your coverage team. You're going to have to go down there and cover kicks.
One thing we've done strategically over the years, and Jon Fabris handles our kickoff coverage team. He's always believed in a directional kick with height, cover, make the tackle, where a lot of other people say, Let's just knock it out of the end zone.
That's probably one of the number one questions I ask with our fan base. Why don't we just kick it out of the end zone, you know?
I think now everybody is going to have to go into the season with that type of strategy, maybe not being able to count on a guy knock it out of the end zone or deep enough into the end zone where guys will not return.
If you kick a low line drive, it makes to the end zone, there's no hang time, you're at risk of a big return. I think people will be more apt to get air under the ball, try to put it in a spot where you know your people can cover, and try to tackle.
I'll say this, too. You think if you move the ball back five, you're probably going to get five more yards of field position. My guess is it will be more like 10 to 15 yards of field position because, you know, that kickoff return is going to create a lot more space.
Q. Two questions: Your thoughts on missing out on being offensive coordinator full time, and also other than speed, what are some of the attributes that make SEC defenses so tough to go against?
COACH RICHT: I'm not sure I'm going to miss it now. When I turned it over it was tough to give up because I'd been doing it for 15, 16 years, calling plays, planning the game. But I did it because I felt like it was in the best interest of our team. Felt like it was in the best interest of myself physically. It is a grind.
If you're just the coordinator alone it's a grind. But if you're the coordinator and the head coach it's more than that.
Even when I was just the coordinator only I had an off season. I had a time to get revived again. As a head coach sometimes your off season is very, very limited. You try to figure out where it begins and where it ends sometimes.
The other thing, too, is Mike Bobo has matured to the point where I know he'll do a better job than I was doing. So I think that's healthy for the team. I think it's healthy for me.
I'm able to now see this program from a different perspective. For the first six years I'm in there chopping wood like everybody else right in the middle of that force, and that was my perspective. I think there's some merit to the leader being at the point, you know, right in the middle of where all the battles are.
But I think there's also some merit to having being able to remove yourself a little bit to see the bigger picture, to be able to make sure everything's running as it should.
It's definitely a new role for me. I'm excited about it. At first I was leery of that decision. But now that I've made it, I'm really excited. It's a little bit of the revival for me.
SEC defenses. Here is the thing about offensive football: you are always trying to find a match up. Where can I get my talented guy to overmatch a defensive player? In other leagues, in my opinion, I think that match up is easier to find than in our league.
You say speed; speed is a factor. But the problem is, there's not very many times I can take an offensive player, put him across from a defensive guy and say I've got an advantage. I think that's true of the NFL. I think that's why those scores are usually in the 20s or something, because they match up so well. That's the thing.
But there's very competent defensive coordinators that know what the heck they're doing. All those things together are the reasons why it's tough to score a bunch of points in our league.
Q. You have two pretty tough games coming right out of the gate: Oklahoma State and South Carolina. During the spring, do you talk with your team about the need to come out from the first play of the first game be ready to go?
COACH RICHT: Yeah, that's a big factor. I think the more exciting of an opponent that it's perceived to be Game 1 makes a difference. But I've said before, I don't think anybody goes into the first game of the year and not be excited. I mean, you went through spring ball, off season, summer, 29 practice opportunities in camp.
When it's time to play the first game, I think everybody's excited to play. I don't think people care who you're playing.
But we do have a great challenge. Oklahoma State is one of only two teams in the nation that averaged 200 yards rushing, 200 yards passing. They were seventh in the country in scoring. They're returning 9 of 11 starters on offense. It's going to be a heck of a football game.
Q. Along the lines of depth in the east, what does it mean to you when you hear Steve Spurrier say South Carolina is ready to compete for an SEC title?
COACH RICHT: I think he has every reason to believe that. I think Coach Spurrier is a very realistic guy, and I think he shoots everybody straight. I think he says exactly what he feels, and that's based on a lot of experience and a lot of success.
Last couple years he felt like he wasn't ready to say we were ready to compete for the championship. After what's happened in the last couple years, some of the great victories they've had, some of the close losses they've had to great football teams, there's no reason to believe they can't compete for the Southeastern Conference championship.
So I think one thing about Coach Spurrier, he's going to tell you how he feels and he's not going to, you know, sugarcoat it much. I think he's got every reason to believe they can contend.
Q. At the beginning you said you were somewhat surprised you're here after seven years. Is that because of tenure of coaches?
COACH RICHT: Well, you know, when you're a first time head coach, you're going into the Southeastern Conference, to sit there and say, Boy, I'm going to be here seven years from now, that's pretty bold to think that. I mean, I was hopeful I'd be here. I knew how I wanted to go about my business. I wanted to do things a certain way, hope and pray it was good enough to succeed. Thankfully it has to this point.
Yeah, I mean, it's a rough league. It's a rough business. I mean, I don't know what the average stay for most coaches are. It might be four to five years. So far so good (smiling).
Q. How is Matthew a better quarterback than when we saw him in the Peach Bowl?
COACH RICHT: Matthew Stafford. Well, if you go to a year ago, a year ago he was a brand new freshman, trying to get used to college life, trying to fit into the program, so to speak. A year ago he was just trying to learn the plays. A year ago he had no game experience whatsoever.
Now, I know his last semester was a 3.75. He knows the system. Instead of trying to fit in, he's now leading our program. I mean, he's come so far. Now he's had the experience of knowing what it's like to play in a pressure packed ballgame, many of them. I hope he's learned the value of protecting the football.
He's learned that if you hang on to that thing, you don't throw it to the other team, you have a chance to win. In the five game stint where we lost four out of five, I think we turned it over 14 times to the opponent's seven times. We, of course, doubled the turnovers of our opponent.
The last three ball games, against great football teams, a No. 5 team, a No. 6 team, a No. 14 team, I think three of the best five or six defenses in America, when we didn't turn the ball over, when we won that turnover ratio, we won the game.
He's so much better off than a year ago. I hope it shows on the field.
Q. How have you and your staff changed your recruiting strategy with the anticipation of the ban on text messaging going into effect on August 1st?
COACH RICHT: Oh, the text messaging. First of all, we're going to text the heck out of them till we can't do it any more (laughter). There's really a period of time, a month there, where we can't text them any more and we can't call them. We better get emailing. We better be writing letters, personal, handwritten notes during this time frame. There's 30 days where we don't want to get whipped and lose momentum in this recruiting.
Of course, we're going to be able to start calling once a week there right at the very end of August, I think. That will open that line of communication again. Hopefully we're texting our kids and encouraging them during this month. They can call us all they want still. So hopefully we've built enough of a relationship with these guys where they will stay in contact right by phone or visiting your campus, if they have time during their camp.
So those are the things you're trying to do. Don't lose a guy in this 30 day period because you got outworked with the change, the new technology you got to deal with.
Q. Could you just discuss your offensive line, if you have a feel for what to expect from some of the new guys in there that will be starters.
COACH RICHT: First of all, adding I'm very thankful for Neil Calloway, what he did for Georgia. He did great things for us. Did a superb job. I'm thankful he's got a chance to be head coach. I know it's something he's always wanted to do.
When he left, we had to hire somebody. That somebody is Stacy Searles. Stacy is a tremendous coach. He's already come in and infused a lot of new ideas and also he's a great teacher, great technician. I think our guys are really taking to him.
We only had six scholarship linemen after the season ended for a lot of different reasons. Thankfully we were able to bring in five kids at the midyear. Two junior college linemen, a prep school two prep school linemen and a true freshman. Maybe we brought six in. Because they were in the spring, it gave the guys a chance to compete.
Right now if we started at left tackle, it would be a true freshman, Trinton Sturdivant. If we started right now, it would be a redshirt freshman left guard, Chris Davis. We have a center, senior center, Fernando Velasco, who has been a guard most of his year.
You know, that more than anything else is probably why people aren't giving us much of a chance. But I think Coach Searles has done a great job of bringing them together to this point. I think Mike Bobo has a good sense of understanding you can't do anything you want offensively and expect these guys to hold up. We're going to have to be a little bit careful what we do with this bunch until they get their feet wet.
Q. You only have three seniors on defense. Can you talk about the leadership those three give since last season.
COACH RICHT: Right. Well, leadership is so crucial, and normally your seniors are naturally your leaders. They know it's their last season. They know it's kind of on their watch, so to speak. Right now I know Kelin Johnson has done a fantastic job of leading for us in the spring, the off season. He's always been a leader from day one because he works hard and he did the right things.
Brandon Miller, he's the key to our whole defense in my opinion. If Brandon Miller can play big and lead the way he ought to, moving into the Mike linebacker position, he's really going to be a key for us. He's very talented. He's very capable.
If you do certain drill work where he knows exactly what's going on, he's a dominant player. But when you change a guy from a Sam linebacker to a Mike, there was a bit of a thought process going on where he couldn't be quite as aggressive as he was at the Sam position.
If he can get comfortable in the role of the Mike linebacker, we have 29 practices to get him ready, if he can play full speed, he can make a huge difference for us.
The thing about leadership, usually your best leaders are some of your most productive players also. Every once in a while you'll get a guy who can lead, not even start, not even play. You might have a spiritual leader of your team or a guy that everybody respects, even a walk on who has been in your program for four or five years. There's guys that can be a very good leader.
Normally a leader that can transcend the entire football team and program, those guys need to be really productive. That's what we need from those two guys.
Of course, Thomas Flowers, coming off an injury, could give us a boost, too.