Richt turns over the offense

ATHENS – Mark Richt is giving up his baby, and he's OK with that, really.

"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," Georgia's seventh-year head coach said. "But now that I've made the decision, I'm really excited. It's a little bit of a revival for me."

When the No. 13 Bulldogs start the 2007 season Saturday against Oklahoma State in Sanford Stadium (6:45 p.m., ESPN), it will be the first time since 1998 Richt hasn't been the man calling the offensive plays. He's had some time to get used to the change, having given the keys to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo with two games remaining in 2006.

"For the first six years, I'm in there chopping wood like everybody else right in the middle of that forest," Richt said, "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 being able to remove yourself and little bit and see the bigger picture."

That doesn't mean Richt hasn't been a bit wistful this offseason. The intricacies of moving the football have driven him to distraction since he was an all-state quarterback at BocaRaton High School, where his career spanned from 1978-‘82. Since then, his path has been shared by two of college football's most notable offensive minds and a talented but turnover-plagued quarterback who changed everything.

Richt was recruited to the University of Miami by Lou Saban, but Saban soon was replaced by Howard Schnellenberger, whose credentials included coordinating the offense of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the last NFL team to finish a season undefeated.

The pass-happy, pro-style attack Schnellenberger instituted at Miami caught college football off guard, not to mention lighting up the face of his backup quarterback.

"A lot of the principles I learned at the University of Miami are still a big part of what we do today," Richt said.

From there, Richt joined the staff at Florida State, where he worked for 15 of the next 16 years under Bobby Bowden, a coach who is known now for his down-home charm but who put down his roots in offense as a quarterback and wide receivers coach.

Bowden gave Richt more than knowledge; he gave him freedom.

"I got there in 1985 and by about ‘92, he pretty much let us tinker, experiment and go through some growing pains to change the way we did things drastically," Richt said.

The Seminoles and Richt had a breakthrough in 1992, when Charlie Ward took over as the starting quarterback. It did not go well in the beginning.

"Charlie was throwing interceptions out the ying-yang," Richt said.

All the turnovers had put the Seminoles in scramble mode several times already in that season's first six games, and Ward, a future NBA point guard, had scrambled well enough to win five of them. Then on Oct. 17, the Seminoles trailed Georgia Tech by three scores late in the second half. Going back to the hurry-up offense out of necessity, the Seminoles scored on consecutive drives of 80, 80 and 65 yards to win the game. Ward accounted for every yard but 1.

"Even my wife said, ‘Honey why don't you start the game in that (offense)?'" Richt said. The next 10 months did more to shape Richt's thinking on offensive football than anything in his career.

Florida State had a bye week after the Georgia Tech game, and its coaches spent two weeks setting up what would become the Fast Break offense. However, its next game, Oct. 31 against Virginia, was played in the rain, and the coach didn't want to try it in the rain. TheSeminoles edged the Cavaliers 13-3 that night. They wouldn't score so few points again until 1998.

"The next game we did it against Maryland, and they didn't know it was coming," Richt said. "It was just sickening what happened."'

Florida State opened the game with 10 consecutive touchdown drives, amassed 858 yards, never punted and won 69-21. The Seminoles beat Tulane 70-7 the next week and Florida 45-24 the next. All the while, the offense was evolving. What started as a five-wide receiver set with no running back added a running back for pass protection, then another to bring a new threat.

By the time Florida State played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1993, the Huskers had studied the Seminoles' offense for a month and quickly knocked them right back into the I-formation. Florida State won the game, but Richt was convinced that versatility was the key.

"We were like, ‘You know what, we need to have all these things,'" he said "We need to be able to spread the field. We need to be able to at times get in the I-formation and hammer the ball. We might be in short yardage or goal line and have to be more physical.' So we said, ‘We're going to put everything we have in our offense, we're going to be able to code name it and hand signal it and fast break it.'"

Richt and his offensive coaching colleagues visited NFL coaches Sam Wyche in Tampa Bay and Marv Levy in Buffalo that offseason.

"We learned everything we could learn from those two teams and then we spent the whole summer revamping the offense," he said.

The next season, Florida State won its first national title.

The offense "became very hot," Richt said. "We had a lot of people running through there wanting to know what we were doing and how, and that's a compliment to what you're doing."

The no-huddle remains Richt favorite type of offense, he said, but a combination of poor execution, quality SEC defenses and what Richt views as overzealous officiating has caused him to mostly shelve it at Georgia. He remains married, though, to his favorite offensive buzz word – balance.

"I think (the offense) has to evolve according to the players that you have," he said. "If you're super strong at wide receiver, then you might need to be in four-receiver sets and spread the field. If you've got a bunch of big maulers and a couple great tight ends and a powerful fullback and tailback, you might spend more time in the I-formation. We have the ability to get into all those sets and do the things that it takes."


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