SEC MEDIA DAYS: Mark Richt - Georgia

Georgia coach Mark Richt was the third SEC coach to take the podium Wednesday afternoon at the SEC Media Days being held at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. Richt, whose team won the 2005 SEC title, talked at length about expectations and who will play quarterback for the Bulldogs.

COACH RICHT: Hello, everybody. Good to be here again. Thankful to be starting out in year six, and hopefully we'll have a chance to continue to win a few games.

People are curious to know what I think about our team this season. I think that I'll say the same thing I said last year, which is I do believe that we've got just as good a chance to win this year as any season that I've been at Georgia. I think we've done a pretty good job of recruiting over the years, trying to find guys that can help us win when their opportunities come up.

I think the fans sometimes look at our seniors who are leaving and maybe our recruiting class and they tend to forget all those other recruiting classes in between, guys like Paul Oliver that have been in the program going into his fourth season ready to be a junior starter for us at corner in replacement of DeMario Minter. There's a lot of guys like that in our program that sometimes people tend to forget because they're going through the process of getting ready.

Overall, I think we've got a team that can compete. Of course, the biggest question that we have going into the season is who's going to be the quarterback. I'm pretty confident that we have at least one. I think we have more than one guy that can get the job done. Now the job is to find out who that is and make sure that he's ready to help us win.

That's something that I'm not nervous about, but I'm a little bit curious about. A lot of people think I know who that guy is already. I don't. I went through spring with the idea of realizing there were some young guys that needed to just learn what to do. I kept that in mind. I didn't try to move the depth chart in the spring. In the fall, we'll have to be much more objective as to, is the guy really ready or not? I'm hoping within the first few practices, we'll get this thing narrowed down to where we can at least get it to a couple of guys rolling into that first ballgame.

I know that's a question a lot of people want to ask, is the quarterback position.

I think some of our strengths, I think you got to start with our defensive end position with Quentin Moses, Charles Johnson on each side. Those guys -- Quentin has certainly proved he's one of the better players in the league and in the country. I think Charles Johnson is rapidly proving that he can be named in that kind of a group.

Our kickers, our punter and kicker, Gordon Ely-Kelso and Brandon Coutu, I know I've never been on a team that has had such a strong tandem. I think that both of those guys have a realistic shot at winning a national award in their respective positions. That's going to help us quite a bit.

We have five linemen that have all played a good bit up front offensively. We're going to have three seniors and two juniors starting there, which is outstanding. Behind them we've got some holes. We're a little bit like 2002 where we had six seniors that year starting, we had no sophomores, no juniors in the program, just freshmen after that.

We're not quite that bad off across the board. In the tackle position, we are in that situation, which we just didn't do a good job of replenishing that group. You know, will 2007 be like it was in 2003 where we had 47 sacks? I don't know.

But I think this year, if we stay healthy, we'll be fine in that regard.

Another strength that I failed to mention is our runningback position. I think we've got three very talented guys that are all capable of doing great things for us. They've all proved that they can at one time or another in their career.

Our fullbacks are, I think, very strong, Brannan Southerland, Des Williams, guys that both have been starters and can pave the way and are good pass receivers and good runners, too. Overall, I think we're good there.

Wide receiver position, Mohamed Massaquoi is our leading returner, as far as number of catches at the receiver position. I feel confident in his ability to be a starter, be very productive. But after that, it's really wide open for a lot of guys to have an opportunity. We moved Mikey Henderson from corner to receiver this spring. He did a great job. I'm excited about him. I hope that he can make as many plays in the fall as he did in the spring.

Kenneth Harris I think is ready to play. Mario Raley will be a senior, will fill in nicely where Bryan McClendon was. Then there are a bunch of others that have a chance to make a name for them assist, A.J. Bryant, Demiko Goodman, Michael Moore. There's a bunch of them in there, if they just prove they can make the play, they'll get a bunch of opportunities.

With that, I'll just open it up, let you ask anything you want, we'll go from there.

Q. Obvious question. With everything you went through in the spring, how did you handle all that, with your wife being ill and everything?

COACH RICHT: Yeah, well, my wife went from having a routine checkup to having some suspicious tissue to taking a sample of that and finding out there was cancer to having a radical hysterectomy to checking the lymph nodes for more cancer, waiting for that pathology report to finally hearing they feel like the cancer's gone. All that happened in about a month's time.

I pretty much shut down for about two months. She handled it really better than I did. By the grace of God, she's very healthy now. We had so many people that prayed for her and prayed for us. We're just really thankful for that. We also have a greater appreciation for people that are going through a disease like cancer or anything else.

As much as I felt like I have a pretty good perspective, I feel like I've got my priorities in line. I feel like I love my wife as much as I could. I mean, when you go through something like that, you can get a greater appreciation for family and what's really important.

Football wasn't very important at all at that time.

Q. Mike Shula and Bobby Johnson have talked about their quarterback situation. Do you feel like you're in the same boat with them? Is it reassuring you're not the only one going through this?

COACH RICHT: That's good. I didn't think much about it till today. A lot of media has asked me that, do I feel like it's more of an even playing field that other schools are going through the very same thing.

I've been coaching quarterbacks for 20 some years. Coach Bobo is our quarterback coach and coaches them now. I still get involved. I still have to help make decisions on who should play and all. You just get used to the fact that you're going to have a new guy every once in a while. We've been fortunate to have David Green [] and Shockley be ready to step in and help us win an SEC championship. That's been wonderful.

If history repeats itself, we'll find somebody who's going to play well. I think our system has a lot to do with that. I think the way we coach guys has a lot to do with it. I think recruiting the right kind of guys has a lot to do with it.

I'm not nervous that we're not going to find an answer, but I am -- like I said, I'm a little bit anxious just to see who it's going to be more than worried about will we find a good answer.

Q. Because of your depth at runningback, Thomas Brown probably doesn't get as many carries. Could he be the feature back, if you didn't have three guys there? Would he be a guy people would be writing about rushing for 1500 yards in a season.

COACH RICHT: I think if we took any one of those three guys in the season and made them the horse, so to speak, they'd get 12- to 1500 yards. I think all three of them are capable of that.

We rushed for 15-, 1600 yards at the tailback position last year. So we ran the ball pretty good. We just spread the wealth, so to speak.

I think you got to have at least two that can share it. If you got one guy carrying it 20 to 25 times a game, especially if it's a two- or three-year career, that guy's going to get beat up. Very rare that a guy will stay healthy and very rare that he'll have much left over at the end. Just by virtue of the fact that we have three that we can count on, I think it keeps those guys more healthy, it keeps them fresh in any given ballgame and throughout a season.

The fact that they do like each other and respect each other and realize that it's important to put the team ahead of their own personal agendas, I think it works for us. Sometimes it doesn't work.

If you got a guy griping all the time, causing a big stink about it, it can be a morale issue. Just like the David Green and Shockley situation, we've cultivated an attitude of oneness and togetherness and team. I think it's carrying on through that runningback situation right now.

Q. This may be asking the obvious, but when you go through a quarterback transition, you do have an inexperienced player, what are some of the top two or three concerns that a coach has to face?

COACH RICHT: Right. Well, you want to have a guy that, first and foremost, won't give the game away. I mean, when you got a quarterback who is going to make a decision every time the ball is snapped to him, is going to make a decision, a lot of times he's making decisions before the snap of the ball, as far as getting you into the right play or getting out of a bad one. That guy, first of all, he just can't give it away. He can't make bad decisions whether it's throwing into coverage or making some checks that just make no sense. I mean, he's got to be able to handle that part first.

Then ultimately you want a guy that can win some games for you through his knowledge of the game, by his ability to hit his target, by his mental toughness. So in the beginning, we're looking for a guy to manage the whole situation, and then ultimately we want a guy that can make a difference and win some of the big games that we'll play in.

Q. Throughout a whole season there's a lot of tests. We see that your season has already started with the test of your wife and family. We believe you're going to pass that test. Through a season, this season, this team, what test do you have to pass to get to Atlanta and beyond?

COACH RICHT: Well, I'm always curious as to how our leadership will handle adversity. You know, losing at halftime, maybe losing your first conference game, you know, how are we going to handle that? What kind of a team are we going to be if things don't go our way from the get-go? I mean, even last year, we lose two SEC games in a row when we could have clinched the division, but we hung together. We didn't fall apart. We didn't start pointing fingers. We never had a time where we needed to call that team meeting and straighten everybody's attitude out. So our leadership was outstanding.

Now this season, it's a whole new bunch of guys. How are they going to handle those types of situations? That's going to be the most important thing.

When you have a team that is senior-driven or leadership-driven within the ranks of your team instead of coaches always driving it, you got a much better chance of having a great football team and be able to withstand some things, some negative times or some tough times. We just got to find out. That more than anything is what I'm most curious about.

Q. You talked about wanting to have a quarterback who can handle things, not lose the game, hopefully somebody who can make plays. In your five years, four with David Green, one last year with D.J. Shockley, have you been in that situation? Has it always been a guy who could win games for you? This year is it different in that regard? Also, there was some news last week about your son. I wanted you to maybe talk about that.

COACH RICHT: Well, the quarterback situation, I don't think there's any question. David Green won the job, in my opinion, because he sat in those meetings, he listened to what we were saying. You could see him processing the information on the field, getting into the good habits that would keep a guy from making a mistake. He was not reckless in any way. You could tell he was very coachable. I felt like this guy is going to be a very steady football player, and also had the talent to hopefully make the plays when they needed to be made.

Here is the thing about quarterbacks. Usually if a quarterback makes a play to win the game, he's usually doing something that he does every day. He drops back, he hitches up, and he throws it on target. But what happens is he's usually doing it at the time of the game when it's so crucial that all of a sudden people consider it a great play, but in reality it's just the timing of it that makes it great.

As far as my son's concerned, the news got out that he got offered a scholarship to Clemson. Probably got leaked by me (smiling). No, my son, he's going to be a junior. It was kind of a surprise. He was a junior, going into his junior season. We thought we'd send him to a couple camps to get a taste for big-time college football. As it turned out, Tommy offered him a scholarship. That was exciting for him. Sometimes a kid that young, he may decide that he's arrived and he doesn't have to work any more, or it may motivate him to even get more prepared. I think it's done the latter. He's really kind of taken off on his work ethic. I'm happy for him, proud of him.

Q. How much have you improved as a coach from year one to year six? What were some of the difficulties in making that transition from an assistant to a head coach?

COACH RICHT: Right. Well, I hope I'm better. I think I'm better because our staff is better. We've got a lot of continuity. I think we understand what it takes to win. The transition from being head coach from an assistant coach, the buck truly does stop with you. Everybody expects you to have the answers. Everybody expects you to know what to do at the right time. It takes a lot of wisdom and a lot of courage to have that job. It takes enough wisdom to know you can't do it by yourself. I've learned to delegate more than I did in the beginning. But I'm just more comfortable that our staff really understands what we want. So it makes it a little bit easier and a little bit more manageable.

Q. When you have a quarterback competition, do you go by charting what they do in practice or is it more of a gut decision? Is it more difficult when you have the situation with four guys?

COACH RICHT: Yeah, it's tough. It's tough to have that many guys, really be realistic to give them all enough repetitions. We're going to narrow it down I would say relatively soon in practice. We do keep very close statistical data in practice.

But, you know, it is a little bit of that gut feeling, too. You got to sit there and say, can this guy handle it.

The one thing we don't do, a lot of teams don't do, we don't tackle our guys in practice. I don't know how some guys are going to react when they get hit real hard. That's why I've been saying, it could be, you know, a game or two or three into the season before we're really sure. Because I say a guy has to be a good decision maker, he's got to be accurate and he's got to handle the pressure of the job, whether it's on-the-field pressure, physical pressure or just the attention that job gets.

Until we get into the season, some of those answers we can't have yet.

I'd love to say we'll narrow it down to one and one only going into that game, he plays spectacularly, but I don't know if that will be the case.

Q. You've been at Georgia now for five years. You've basically changed the expectation of one to a program that's always going to follow Florida to one now that you've won 52 ballgames in five years. Do you feel the weight of expectations from the fans? Is that any different than what you felt when you were an assistant at Florida State?

COACH RICHT: I don't think the pressure to win is any greater now, in my opinion. When you first come in as a first-year head coach, you're hoping you can win one game. I don't see it as really being any different. If anything, there's a little bit more peace in knowing that you survived five years and actually had a good bit of success. You're thinking maybe some of the things we're doing are good. You always want to improve, but you feel like if we could do it last year, why can't we do it this year. Whereas before, we weren't sure what we could do.

I think we have more confidence that we're legitimate contenders for the league title in any given year.

Q. What is your take on Internet message boards, the things fans post on them? Do you think they can be a distraction to the team?

COACH RICHT: I think they're only a distraction if you read 'em. I don't read 'em. I learned a long time ago at Florida State not to get on those boards. You may feel good after reading them, but usually you get your feelings hurt. There's a lot of things that can go across the air waves that can be damaging.

I think in the recruiting area, it's just part of life that you're going to have that going on. Sometimes things get said, it might be by some fan, and all of a sudden it gets blown up and it might cause a kid to change his way -- change the way he thinks about your team or your situation. Sometimes things are being said that just flat out aren't true.

But I think what happens now, all these kids are learning that they're getting interviewed and then they'll read something that they thought they said one thing, all of a sudden it's something else. They're learning not to take everything as gospel.

I just think it's the way things are. I hate to admit it, but I think some of the Internet conversations in recruiting are probably healthy for us. Because if a kid's going to go to any given school and just spill the beans as to everything that happened while I was there, I think it's more accountability for us. If a program is trying to do things that they ought not do, there's a darn good chance that kid's going to say it.

I think it's healthy for our league and for the country as a whole.

Q. Could you talk about Prince Miller, about his potential, what you've seen of him so far?

COACH RICHT: I've not been able to watch him in the summer workouts. Some of our veteran seniors, juniors and seniors have seen him. I asked the older guys what they think of the guys, the true freshmen rolling in town, practicing in the summer.

Our guys have a high respect for Prince Miller in a very short time. They say he's got great instincts, quickness, the ability to catch the ball, even though he's a corner. Corners that can catch it are dangerous. They think there's something special about him. It remains to be seen, of course.

But we're looking forward to working with Prince.

Q. In addition to the quarterback situation, you have a number of new guys coming in on the offensive line. Can you talk about how that group is coming together and the leadership role that Nick Jones plays?

COACH RICHT: Our offensive line, again, we've got Michael Turner, who is a senior tackle, Ken Shackleford who is a senior tackle, David Lemon senior tackle, Nick Jones who is a senior center, then our two guards Fernando Velasco and Chester Adams are both juniors. We feel good about the fact they've been around and they understand what to do. We think they're physically capable of getting it done.

Nick is a great reader for us. He's a guy who has kind of earned his stripes. Played as a freshman, was productive really throughout his career, is a guy that shows up every day with a good attitude, does great things on and off the field. He's a natural as a leader for us.

Again, my concern is what do we have behind that group of six guys? Do we really have players that are ready to play?

Right now, I would say they're not ready. But hopefully, you know, by mid-season, they will get more ready. If we don't get any injuries, it will be a nice transition. If we have a lot of injuries, we might be playing guys that are not ready at all.

Q. What is your opinion of quarterback play around the league right now? Who do you consider among the best at that position in the conference?

COACH RICHT: Well, I think quarterback play around the league has always been pretty good. I think what happens in our league is we have such good defenses, and our defensive personnel matches up so well with our offenses across the league, we don't have these prolific, high-scoring offenses. The quarterbacks may not get the national attention they deserve. I think throughout the years, we've had plenty of guys that have been drafted into the NFL and have done outstanding.

This year there's probably more questions than answers going in. To name who I would consider the top two right now, it would probably be Leak and Cox. There are others that are talented but maybe haven't played as consistently as those two have. Those would be the top two right now.

Q. In the '90s, the league kind of became a passing league. What sort of trend do you see the league going to offensively and what are your thoughts on the spread offense?

COACH RICHT: I think balance is crucial, whether you spread or not. I think you got to be balanced in that you can't rely just on the passing game or the running game alone. I think you got to keep defenses off balance. I think if they know you're a running team, that's what you're going to do, our defensive coaches in our league are too smart to allow you to do that. I think if all you're going to do is chunk it, they'll wear you out.

The balance is key. Whether you are spread or not, I think balance is more important than what formation you're in.

Q. Talk about your secondary, especially Asher Allen.

COACH RICHT: Our secondary, we lost three starters. DeMario Minter at corner, Timmy Jennings at corner, Greg Blue at safety. Tough to replace those guys. I feel very confident that Paul Oliver will be our boundary corner as a starter. Tra Battle is the returning starter at safety. The other two slots I'm not sure of. The field corner position is where Asher Allen is competing right now along with a couple other guys that are really very talented.

I think the future's very bright for Asher and a guy like Prince Miller, guys like Bryan Evans, Marcus Brown. We've got some pretty talented young men. I feel like we'll be already.

At corner I think we'll be fine. At safety, I have a little bit more of a question mark as to are we really ready to play the level of ball at that position that we've had. I mean, we've been fortunate to have Sean Jones. He was an All-American. Thomas Davis was an All-American. Greg Blue was an All-American back to back to back. Now, do we have that All-American safety right now? I'm not sure. Tray battle certainly has earned a lot of respect around the league. Maybe he'll have a year that would allow him to be All-American.

Opposite of him, we have a ways to go. Kelin Johnson is No. 1 right now. CJ Byrd has gotten a lot of work there, really improved by the end of spring. Antavious Coates has been injured all along, but he's got a really good-looking body, he's got tremendous ability. He may be able to do well for us. Donovan Baldwin has his name in the hat. The safety position is a little more up in the air, in my opinion, than our corner position.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about the quarterbacks themselves, kind of break them down, talk about their strengths.

COACH RICHT: Well, Joe Tereshinski is the veteran. He's a fifth-year senior. He's had some playing time - more than the rest. He's an old-school guy. He's tough as nails. He's a team guy all the way. He's a winner. He's a competitor. He understands our system. He's an accurate passer. He's got a lot of the things that you're looking for, other than not a lot of experience.

Blake Barnes is a kid that's an outstanding passer, but in the spring he was hard to evaluate. He had a knee injury, he had some cartilage problems that every time he threw the ball, there would be a grimace of pain. He busted his thumb the last week of spring, was not able to play in the spring game. I think it's been tough to evaluate him.

Joe Cox, you know, fiery competitor, accurate passer. Kind of loves the game, not gonna back down to anybody in competition. He reminds me a little bit of Eric Zeir, former Georgia quarterback, in his size and his mindset maybe so to speak.

Then Matthew Stafford is a guy that is, you know, the biggest of the bunch. He's about 6'3", maybe 235, 240 pounds, true freshman. He wears it well. He has a tremendous arm. He's very intelligent, is trying to learn what to do, trying to keep pace as far as just understanding our system. That's his biggest downfall right now. We just can't play a guy based on potential right now. I don't want to look at our seniors and say, Hey, we're going to play Joe Cox or Stafford because we're going to get them ready for the future. No, we're not going to do that. We're going to try to win this year.

Will it be Joe, Blake, Joe Cox, Stafford? I don't know. A lot of people are trying to make it a two-horse race between Joe T and Stafford, but there's more involved in that race than those two.

Q. A lot of great wide receivers in this league. What makes your man Massaquoi so effective? Made some really key plays for you last year. What are the skill factors that make him so effective?

COACH RICHT: Mohamed played at Charlotte Independence where Leak's from, Joe Cox is from, Mario Raley is from. Scheme-wise, they're ahead of a lot of colleges in my opinion on the things they're able to do. Just a lot of experience of running all the different routes, making different plays, having confidence.

For a true freshman to come in and basically rise above eight other scholarship players that were ahead of him on the depth chart when he showed up is a tribute to his ability to concentrate on the football and catch it. He didn't run the best routes last year necessarily, but I knew if the ball was in his area, there was a real good chance he was going to come down with it, whether or not he was wide open or had somebody near him. That's what's separating him right now, is his ability to catch the ball in traffic and catch it on a real consistent basis.

He is a talented runner. He's got good speed. But I think we'll see a lot better Mohamed Massaquoi because he's just going to be better at running those routes. If he keeps catching the ball like he has, he's going to get a bunch for us this year.

Q. College football coaches lost the battle about the 12-game permanent schedule. I don't think any of them really expected to win it. Where do you go from here? Downplay it? Not talk about it? Make adjustments to your practice schedule?

COACH RICHT: Right. I don't think we do much differently. We may live through it and decide we've got to change, but I don't know if we'll change a whole lot. We have played a couple 12-game seasons, but we did have the two open dates. Now we're not able to have that.

I think the best news of all is everybody's dealing with the same situation, same circumstances. If we're a little bit more tired, they're probably a little bit more tired, too.

I think it's fair. I just don't know -- I mean, I would not have voted for that. I don't know if anybody cared about my vote or any of the coaches' votes (smiling).

Q. Do you have strong feelings one way or the other about the new rule that allows somebody to graduate and then transfer and enter graduate school?

COACH RICHT: It's interesting (smiling). I don't know how big of a difference that's going to make. I would vote against that. I'd vote against that. I have been strongly against the one-time transfer rule to be allowed at the Division I football level. I think this situation is a little bit more palatable than anybody just deciding they can transfer one time without penalty.

I'm afraid if you decided to discipline a young man, if you decided to push him hard, do the things that really will help them grow into good people, good football players, if they're allowed to transfer any time they wanted to, I think you'd lose a lot of guys. I think they would suffer for it, you know.

Hey, things get tough. Okay, I quit. I'll go somewhere else.

My guess is some coaches would probably be more reluctant to discipline their guys, be more reluctant to do the things that it takes to be great because they might be afraid of their guy deciding he's going to go take off somewhere else. I wouldn't like that.

You know, if a guy goes through, graduates, I could see that being a little bit more palatable and less likely to happen, make a big effect.

Just think about it. If you had a guy like Quentin Moses, if you had a guy like D.J. Shockley, he goes through his career -- or even David Green. You take David Green, he could have easily graduated after his junior year. All of a sudden your senior year, everybody's kind of counting on him, he just takes off and goes somewhere else. That would be devastating to his teammates, too. I don't think it sends a good message.

It is the rule. We'll go by it for now. I don't know how long it will last.

Q. What do you think has been most important in y'all's consistency as a program since you've been there?

COACH RICHT: I think the main thing is within about a couple months of being at Georgia, I didn't feel like we were hitting on all cylinders, but I felt like the potential at Georgia was almost limitless. I felt like if we just do things right; if we just work hard; recruit within the rules; expect these guys to do the right things on and off the field; just put a good; sound system in; do a good job of coaching it up; getting guys to buy in and play together, I just thought we could win. That's what we've done.

So far it's really been great. I always felt like I would never sacrifice our integrity or sacrifice doing things in the right way just to try to win a ballgame. It's just not worth it. I'd just as soon go do something else for a living. We just try to do things as straight up, as good as they can be done, and hope that it's good enough. The fact that we're in the state of Georgia, which has so many tremendous players, that in itself may be the number one reason why we're winning.

Center Nick Jones

(On moving from guard to center) "I've referred to it all day like riding a bike. I played center as a freshman, started five games. The transition has been smooth. I'm just doing the little things, working on getting the ball to the quarterback and making sure the call is right at the line."

(On having a new quarterback) "Whoever they put back there, there will be a small change. The plays will be the same, but it'll just be a different guy calling the plays. Don't get me wrong, I'll miss D.J. (Shockley), but I have lots of confidence in the new guys."

Defensive End Quentin Moses

(On upcoming season) "I'm very excited about the opportunity to do stuff all over again. I'm excited about the opportunity to do what I love to do, and that's play football."

(On the team) "We had a strong offseason. Our guys are working hard and ready to step up. As a team, we have to have the right attitude heading into the season."

(On quarterback competition) "They fought hard in the spring. I was happy to have the opportunity to play with those guys. They all bring positive attributes. I feel like they'll handle the role when given the opportunity."

(On rivalry with Auburn) "Auburn beat us the past two years. Georgia and Auburn are right next door and it's a big game. Auburn has just as many Georgia players on their team as we do. It's good to get to play against guys from high school. It's a big rivalry."

(On SEC talent level) "In the SEC, you gotta take it one game at a time. Any given game, if you're not focused, you can lose. East or West, you can't take any team for granted. Arkansas, I'm not sure what their record was, came to Sanford Field and almost beat us last year."

(On having the advantage during the SEC Championship in Atlanta) "I was shocked in 2003 when we lost to LSU. You expect to have the home advantage and then you get there and see more purple and gold than anything. When you get inside the dome, it's pretty much even."

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