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McGeorge: Solid career, tough ending

"To date, it's as emotional a meeting with a player as I've had." – former Green Bay Packers head coach Bart Starr, on the release of Rich McGeorge in 1979<p>

Rich McGeorge was shocked. And he was hurt.

The day all athletes dread, the day they all know will come but are rarely ever prepared, occurred on Aug. 13, 1979, for McGeorge.

After sporting the green and gold for nine seasons (1970-78), after becoming, at the time, the most prolific pass-catching tight end in franchise history the year before, after giving his heart and soul to the team and organization he had grown to love and respect, McGeorge had found himself the victim of training camp cutdowns.

It's a cruel, yearly ritual in the NFL. But it's an act that must be done according to league rules. And while many late-round draft choices and rookie free agents primarily get the ax, veterans aren't immune from the dreaded training camp pink slip, either.

Some know the cut is coming, and some are completely caught off guard. McGeorge was the latter.

"I cried," he said to reporters at the time. "I'm an emotional guy. I blocked. I ran my patterns. I did everything expected of a complete football player. I can't see anybody out there as good as I was."

Sound like bitterness? You better believe it. For years, the thought of being told by Starr, assistant coach Lew Carpenter and director of player personnel Dick Corrick that he no longer fit in with the Packer plans ate away at McGeorge. Worse yet, his pride.

Eighteen years later, McGeorge's wounds have healed, albeit slowly.

"It was an emotional time," he said. "It took some time to get over it, and every now and then, I wonder why (I was cut). It was a tough time for me, and I would hope it was a tough time for Bart, too."

Times certainly have changed for McGeorge, an assistant offensive line coach for the Miami Dolphins. For the past four seasons, he has had to watch the dreams of many young players shatter. It's an image which catapults him back to Green Bay.

"I face this every year now," he said with a certain bit of irony. "Looking back, I probably should have regrouped."

But McGeorge didn't think Green Bay's assessment of his playing ability was right, and he joined the Detroit Lions a day later. However, two weeks to the day after he was waived by Green Bay, McGeorge found himself unemployed again. A solid career in which he caught 175 passes for 2,370 yards and 13 touchdowns was over.

"I thought maybe everyone was right and it was time to get on with my life," he said.

As it turns out, the move was a good one for both the Packers and McGeorge. A young tight end named Paul Coffman ws blossoming into a star, and McGeorge, 16th on Green Bay's all-time receptions list, was on the verge of a challenging, new career – coaching.

"Yeah, I stumbled upon a coaching career in the NFL," McGeorge said, chuckling. "I went to college to get my teaching degree in education, and then I thought I'd be a high school coach. But I turned into a pro prospect and ended up spending nine years out of my life in Green Bay. When I got the ax, I really felt coaching had passed my by."

The 6-foot-4 McGeorge, who played at 230 pounds, was Green Bay's second selection in the first round of the 1970 NFL draft. He attended college at Elon, then an NAIA school and has since moved up to NCAA I-AA status. At Elon, located about 15 miles east of Greensboro, N.C., McGeorge grabbed 224 passes and earned Associated Press and NAIA All-American honors. Those accolades eventually earned him a spot in the NAIA Hall of Fame.

"Coming from a small town, Roanoke, Va., and getting selected by the Packers was certainly something else," said McGeorge. "And then to be given the opportunity to show my stuff was great."

McGeorge immediately made an impact in 1970 when he saw action in all 14 games. Three seasons later, McGeorge was named the Packers' Offensive Player of the Year, catching 16 passes for 260 yards. His best season, though, was in 1975 when he caught 32 passes for 458 yards and one touchdown.

After his playing career, McGeorge spent the next two years as a stockbroker before hooking up with Red Wilson, his former coach at Elon College. Wilson brought McGeorge on board at Duke University as the tight ends coach in 1981.

Two years after that, McGeorge caught on with another former coach, Rollie Dotsch, who was a Packer assistant in the early 1970s. Dotsch was coaching the Birmingham Stallions of the now defunct United States Football League, and he hired McGeorge to be the tight ends/receivers coach.

"It's funny how things worked out," McGeorge said. "After Birmingham, I joined Steve Spurrier as the offensive line coach with the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL, who I coached with at Duke.

"The league folded, and I went back to Duke in 1987 to coach the offensive line before I got back with Spurrier again in 1990 at Florida as the offensive line coach. It's really amazing how coaching has progressed."

Three years later, McGeorge jumped at the opportunity to climb aboard the Dolphins coaching staff. He hasn't looked back since, enjoying the rewards coaching can offer.

"Teaching young players who become successful and watching their confidence grow is a great feeling. That's probably my biggest thrill out of coaching."

In fact, it's the same thrill McGeorge gets when he entered Lambeau Field on July 26 when the Dolphins met the Packers in a preseason game.

"It was exciting," he said. "To see all of those new skyboxes that looked like skyscrapers, and to see those names along the wall – several of them who were teammates while I was there – I can't wait to get back."

That wait won't be long. The Dolphins return to Lambeau Field on Sept. 14, the day McGeorge turns 49. He will undoubtedly turn back the clock in his mind and think back to the days when he felt privileged to gallop on the famed frozen tundra.

"I have lots of fond memories," he said. "But what I think back to the most are the great people, the great fans up there. They were always there, loyal. They made me proud to wear the green and gold."

Editor's note: This story appeared in the Sept. 13, 1997 issue of Packer Report.

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