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The Legacy of Mark Richt

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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If Mark Richt's professional story is done, it's a tale worth telling.

I will be forever grateful for the time and love he put into making me not only a good football player, but an even better man, husband, brother, dad and son.
~D.J. Shockley

Mark Richt will go down as one of the premier college football coaches of a generation. A head coach for 15 years at Georgia and three years at his alma mater Miami, in addition to a decade-plus stint as an assistant at Florida State, Richt has a prominent place in the history of the modern game. With a career record of 171-64, his 72.8% winning percentage is a rate higher, for point or reference, than Steve Spurrier, Vince Dooley and Bobby Dodd, to name a few. Success followed Richt everywhere he went; so, too, did a certain standard. 

In his time as a head coach and coordinator, Richt won nine conference championships and two national titles. He was a two-time SEC Coach of the Year and the ACC and Walter Camp National Coach of the Year in 2017. Along with Richt, the only others coaches with at least 170 wins at a 72% clip, ever, are Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Dan Devine, Woody Hayes, Howard Jones, Frank Kush, Dan McGugin, Tom Osborne, Joe Paterno, Darrell Royal, Bo Schembechler, John Vaught and Pop Warner, all in the College Football Hall of Fame, and Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and Bob Stoops, all headed there.        

Richt was notably a winner, but also a champion for the players on his teams. What Richt did was develop successful programs at the game's highest level, all while committed to developing young men. Strong in faith and family, Richt was more than just a football coach for many who suited up for him and even others who watched.  

Leadership is Richt's ultimate legacy.

"Sad day for football," nodded former Georgia All-American safety Greg Blue. "I would like to thank Coach Richt for not giving up on me and giving me a chance to attend UGA as a partial qualifier. Coach Richt is the ultimate role model. I continue to strive to be a great man, husband and father just like Coach Richt."

A quarterback at Miami who, after starring at Boca Raton High School, played with the likes of Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinnie Testaverde, Richt headed home in 2016, taking over the Hurricanes in replace of Al Golden. Soon after Richt returned to Miami, the Hurricanes, correspondingly, were at least part of the way back. In his debut, Richt won nine games with a bowl victory, a feat accomplished for the first time at Miami since 2004. He and the Hurricanes opened the season 10-0 two years ago and peaked as high as second in the national polls. Quickly, Miami was in the national spotlight once again.

After a 5-1 start this fall, a mid-season regression hit the Hurricanes. Even with a poor showing in the Pinstriple Bowl and a dissapointing finish to Richt's tenture, Miami, in his third year, still finished with a winning record. The late struggles and his sudden resignation doesn't diminish the progress that was made. In addition to the aforementioned, Richt went 26-13 with the Hurricanes, took Miami to its first-ever ACC Championship Game and went 16-8 overall in conference play. Richt compiled winning records against rivals Virginia Tech and Florida State, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles.

Revitalizing, Richt's hiring came with a boost for a program that needed it. His players saw his passion in more ways than one. 

"He taught us how to take care of the little things in our lives to make us better men first and would help us be better players as well," shared former UM and current Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Kendrick Norton.

Prior to his stint at Miami, Richt became a national brand in Athens. He has the second-most wins in Georgia history and transformed the Bulldogs into a college football power. In the 17 years prior to Richt's arrival, Georgia had reached double-digits in wins just twice. After eight victories in his debut, Richt won at least ten games in six of the next seven seasons, winning nine games in the one near-miss. Most consider Richt's 2002 squad, which went 13-1, to be one of the Bulldogs' very best teams ever.

Richt brought championship expectations back to Georgia. Long-awaited SEC titles in 2002 and 2005 were the Bulldogs' first since the Herschel Walker era. During Richt's tenure, Georgia advanced to the SEC Championship Game five times. Of head coaches with more than three years on their resume, Richt has the program's best winning margin at 74%. He helped lay the foundation for the dominance the Bulldogs are currently experiencing under Kirby Smart, a former assistant under Richt.   

In addition to changing the status quo at Georgia, Richt, quite literally, changed lives. He, relatable and selfless, positively impacted countless of people, players and beyond, during an esteemed coaching career. Richt treated others with respect, was thoughtful in the media and was an extension of the principles he often preached. In some of the game's most high-profile positions, Richt filled numerous roles. That comprehensive approach has meant a lot to a lot of people.

"Part of the reason I went to UGA was because of Coach Richt. He cared for his players on and off the field," added former second-team All-SEC center Brandon Kublanow. "He was an absolute role model and taught us how to be great young men and lead a full life. I am the way I am because of him to this day. He was a great coach and an even greater person. It was an absolute honor to play for Coach Richt."  

Though Richt is out of coaching, the impressions he made continue. 

"Coach Richt and his impact is bigger than football," shared former UGA tight end Jeb Blazevich. "His faith as well as his passion for the game brought in so many amazing athletes who he made not only better football players, but better men."

Growing up in the coaching ranks under the legendary Bowden at Florida State, Richt was a key figure in the Seminoles' dynasty run. He was an ahead-of-his-time pioneer in Tallahassee, helping to implement the fast-break offense well before it was commonplace. Richt served as quarterbacks coach for the 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward and offensive coordinator for the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke. Florida State won it all twice with Richt as play-caller, including going wire-to-wire ranked first in 1999.   

An all-time icon, Bowden finished his career winning 74% of his games; Richt, as mentioned, won 72.8%. He also followed in the footsteps of Bowden, and many other coaches, in serving as a close mentor to a number of student-athletes. That perspective remains a powerful one. 

If Richt's professional story is done, it's a tale worth telling. The true measure of Richt's message is that others are proud to tell it for him. 

"Everything!" exclaimed former All-SEC UGA quarterback D.J. Shockley when asked what it meant to play for Richt. "He is the kind of coach and man that helped shape me as a man today. Pushed me to new heights on and off the field. I will be forever grateful for the time and love he put into making me not only a good football player, but an even better man, husband, brother, dad and son."

Upon Richt stepping away at Miami, there were hundreds of messages of gratitude posted on social media. Almost all of them showed appreciation on a deep, personal level. 

"I learned so many leadership lessons from you that were way bigger than football. You showed us what it meant to be a devoted husband and father. You showed us how you can be in a high position while still being humble, down to earth and approachable," shared former All-American UGA linebacker Rennie Curran as part of a message. "You were hard on us when we needed it, prayed with us, surprised us, and even to this day make sure that we're successful in life. People can talk about wins and losses, but the things you've done beyond Xs and Os, along with the amount of men you impacted, are priceless."

While college football will honor Richt, the coach, many of his players most remember Richt, the man. Both distinctions make him great. 

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports