Richt returns from Middle East

DESTIN, FL – It's not Purple Heart worthy, but Georgia head coach Mark Richt still is nursing an injury he suffered last week during his tour of military bases in the Middle East.

"I think a pulled a calf muscle doing a chest bump with our quarterback," Richt said.

The tour, which was sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment, ended Sunday with Richt and his counterparts coaching a flag football game between soldiers. Richt and Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville coached one team against Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki and Miami head coach Randy Shannon. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, the final participant, officiated.

Tuesday, when Richt spoke to reporters here on the first day of the SEC's annual business meetings, was his first full day back in the United States since the trip. He still was wearing the personalized dog tags he received, under what he described as the only clean shirt left in his bag.

Richt suffered his injury after his team stopped its opponent on a two-point conversion attempt on the final play to preserve a 14-12 victory. The game was a fitting cap to what Richt described as an eye-opening trip.

"I had an awful lot of respect for our military going in, but it's exponential now," he said. "It's really pretty high morale over there. They have a mission. They know what they have to do. Everybody has their job. It's very similar to the types of things we do in terms of putting a team together, a lot of different parts have to come together to have success."

The coaches did not go into Iraq or Afghanistan and were never in situations that made Richt fear for his safety, he said. He was limited on the details he was able to share but said the coaches visited four military bases and spent one night aboard the USS Nassau in the whirlwind tour.

In Germany, where the coaches stopped on the way to the Middle East, Richt met a solider who had lost his leg to a roadside bomb two days earlier.

"I was amazed at his sprit," Richt said.

When Richt arrived in the Middle East, one of the first people to greet him was a Georgia fan who handed him a note, he said.

"He said, ‘Tell the Bulldogs we are watching them, and we love them,'" Richt said. "We'll get up at three o'clock in the morning to watch them. It's a great thing for them over there, college football. He said, ‘Make sure you tell the team that we're not doing this in vain. We believe in what we're doing.'"

The coaches flew back into the United States on Monday, when they visited with President Bush in the Oval Office.

"He knew a little college football," Richt said. "He asked how we got that young man out of Highland Park High School in Dallas (quarterback Matthew Stafford). He's definitely a big Texas fan, the state of Texas."

The highlight of Richt's trip to the Oval Office was watching brother-in-law Billy Francis (each coach was allowed to invite one guest) squirm when he had to sit in a chair next to Bush, which is normally reserved for Vice President Dick Cheney.

"The President said, ‘Well, you can sit in the Vice President's chair if you want to,' so he did," Richt said. "(Bush) wanted to know what we did and what we thought of it, and he thanked us probably six times in 10 minutes."


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