Happy To Be Here

West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez and Georgia's Mark Richt were jovial and talkative as both commented on their teams' invites to the Sugar Bowl.

And why not? The two coaches know and respect one another from their intertwined background from Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden. Richt was an offensive coordinator on Bowden's staff when Rodriguez was coaching at Glenville State and later under Bowden's son, Tommy, at Tulane and Clemson. They also socialize at various Nike coaching clinics and meetings, where their wives became friends.

"Mark, what has it been, 10 years?" Rodriguez said. "When I was at Glenville State and he was running that offense and winning championships in Tallahassee, I knew there was no question when he went to Georgia that he would do a great job there. His teams get after it.

Said Richt: "When Tulane went undefeated, Rich ran that. And now at West Virginia he has that thing going. He has always done a fantastic job offensively. Hey Rich, you still calling the plays?"

Rodriguez: "Yeah, you and me both, huh?"

Besides the lightheartedness, the coaches both genuinely appreciate the chance to play in a major bowl - the Sugar especially. Richt said he expects Atlanta to provide a great atmosphere, maybe one too great for his team.

"We love Atlanta, for sure," he said of his fan base's largest contingent. "We have a lot of guys familiar with the town and we'll have to make sure we keep a close eye on them. There will be a lot of friends and lot of distractions. We can take care of business but still enjoy the city."

Neither team was expected to make it to a BCS bowl. WVU was picked third in the Big East and Georgia wasn't even supposed to make the SEC title game.

"We're still pinching ourselves to make sure it really happened the way it did," Richt said of UGA's SEC championship. "We're happy for victory and to be SEC champions and get change to play in Sugar. Our guys look forward to it. It has been a couple years since we have been there, but most of the seniors have been there before.

"I definitely felt that the preseason picks, guys were hurt that no one gave us much of a chance. They took it a little bit personal. I have 24 seniors, and they did a great job. I can't blame people for picking us how they did, but I felt like we had as good a shot this year as any year."

West Virginia's preseason perception - and to a lesser extent its current one - was largely the same.

"It's a little more surprising to folks," Rodriguez said, "because we lost a lot of guys to graduation. We knew there would not be a lot of talk about us competing for the Big East, but our guys took it to heart to prove we are still there at the top. You can see how those guys bought into system and competed. They put a lot of pride in it and stayed focused even when we had the BCS wrapped up. Our guys wanted to prove something.

"The bowl games the Big East plays in are important this year and for the next few years as we reestablish ourselves as a conference. But I am more worried about us. If we do play well, though, it will help the Big East. There has been so much said about that, I think there has been a little bit of a piling on with national media to bash it."

Rodriguez expects a great challenge from No. 7 Georgia (10-2), which has as much skill and speed as any No. 11 WVU (10-1) has played this year.

"For being a young team, we can watch film and see how talented UGA is and how well coached they are," he said. "It will be great challenge. This is a great experience for our young men, but I won't say that if we don't play well it will diminish the season. It has been great for our guys and it has the University and community excited for the program. But we have done enough already to help us continue to build.

"We're very excited and honored to be in the Sugar against a great football program at Georgia. There is a lot of tradition there and at the Sugar. You know, expectations were not very high, but we are proud of our team. It's a great honor to be a part of the BCS and we will go down and do the best we can."

Georgia won the Sugar Bowl in 2002. It has lost just one game this season when quarterback D.J. Shockley was healthy.

"D.J. has been patient and waited his turn," Richt said. "He is a team guy all the way and he has been blessed with great season, and to play three games in his hometown with Georgia Tech, the SEC championship and the Sugar Bowl.

"But Shockley's not quite the runner Pat White is. That kid runs like a deer. He's so fast. Shockley is athletic, but we won't have as much designed quarterback runs for him. For one, it's not his nature, and we wanted to keep him healthy this year."

Richt also noted that UGA's two Sugar Bowls in four years can't compare to Georgia's most storied run from 1980-84.

"It's always great to win the SEC," Richt said, "but we have had enough success that people at least know we put a pretty good team on field and do things right way. Our fan base understands winning the SEC is very difficult to do, and one can't believe any team can win it every year. Those (1980s) teams won at a higher rate. They won three SEC titles, won one national championship, and had the great Hershel Walker. We don't quite compare to them. That was the greatest period in UGA history, four years with 10 victories or more and four finishes in top the 10. We can't match championships."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories