Winning the Mark Richt Way
By BJ Bennett
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For all of his accomplishments on the field, Mark Richt is most-known by his players for a special consistency off it.
Mark Richt, having been the head football coach at Georgia since 2001, is the longest tenured coach in college football's toughest conference. Based on simple wins and losses, he is also the league's most successful. Richt, not Alabama's Nick Saban, has the top career winning percentage of any current SEC head coach. He has brought stability to a league often known at his position for anything but.
In Athens, Richt has changed the culture. He has won two conference championships at a program that had not won one in the two decades prior to his arrival. The Bulldogs, with Richt at the helm, have played in five SEC Championship Games and will be looking for a third consecutive division crown this fall. Richt has the highest career winning percentage of any coach in UGA history with more than one year on the books. The runner-up, Herman J. Stegeman, has the basketball stadium bearing his name.
For all of his accomplishments on the field, Richt is most-known by his players for a special consistency off it.
"The greatest thing is that he is the same person that recruited you. He's not someone who is in there feeding you a bunch of lies and being all nice. The guy that was in the living room eating dinner is the same man every single year he coaches you, and that's awesome," explained quarterback and AFCA Good Works Team member Aaron Murray, recognized as CoSIDA Academic All-District, on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "Truly an unbelievable man. Not only a great football coach, but a great man. A man that is going to develop us as football players, but also help us mature and grow as men as well."
To those who play for him, Richt's reputation is much more meaningful than his resume. He is a man who puts the needs of his players first. Even in an era where unrelenting expectations seem to minimize the importance of any and everything else, Richt continues to stand up for a bigger and better purpose. At times, his passion for the person has brought him criticism. Never, to a man, has that angst come from within.
"It's a blessing. Coach Richt, he is a genuine guy. A lot of coaches out here, a lot of people put on a facade, 'I'm a Christian', and try to use that as a recruiting tool to get points. I can honestly say that Coach Richt, he really is a good guy, a good Christian guy. He stands for everything that he says," end Garrison Smith, a participant in UGA's Student-Athlete Leadership Academy and an SEC Academic Honor Roll member, detailed on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "That is why I chose to come here, because Coach Richt is a stand up guy. He really is a real dude."
Richt, much like his mentor Bobby Bowden was, is continually cited by those who play for him as someone who deeply changed and charged their lives. Richt has earned the reputation as a leader who will take full responsibility, even in moments where others sometimes should. Through ups and downs, players can count on Richt for guidance. It's a certain direction that, regardless of circumstance, doesn't change.
"Couldn't ask for a better guy. I think that is the most important part. The person Coach Richt is, it's unmatched," acknowledged tight end Arthur Lynch on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. "There's no one who sticks closer to his morals than coach and has a code of conduct that he really lives by. At the end of the day you are here to play football, earn your college degree and grow into a man. Because of Coach Richt, I can definitely say that I am doing that."
Georgia's head football coach has long opened the doors to both his office and his home. Among those to feel that warmth are Richt's two youngest children, Anya and Zach. Mark and his wife Kathryn adopted the now 16 and 17 year olds back in 1999, bringing them to the United States from Ukraine to join older brothers David and Jon. Countless football players are now tied to that extended family, a group that gets larger each year. For those young men, Richt is constantly looking to set the right standard.
"As a guy that wants to raise a family one day and be a father and a husband, there is no better example than Coach Richt," added Lynch, also an SEC Academic honoree.
Entering his 14th season as head coach at Georgia, Richt has seen a lot. He has seen expectations grow. He has seen the game, itself, change. He has seen at least parts of a fan base fall in love with him, grow disgruntled, then suddenly appreciate him once again. He has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. In last season's dramatic SEC Championship Game and BCS title play-in loss to Alabama, he somehow saw a little bit of both. Through it all, those around Richt have seen his emotions stay exactly the same. After all, this is a man who coaches from the sidelines as much as he does his heart.
To Richt, there is a certain responsibility that comes with his role, one where he is generally the first authority figure for young men away from home. Those who come play for the Bulldogs will do so, at most, for five years. Years after football has faded, what they learned during that time will long be on clear display. Richt's big-picture goal is to make sure that his players finish their careers with more than just memories.
"I just remember back in my day, 18 to 22 years old, I needed help. I needed someone to be there for me and help show me the way. Of course your mom and dad do that but then you head off to college and its a little bit different. You want to become more independent of your parents to a certain degree. I want to be there to try to help them understand that there is more to life than football, there is more to life than even your education," he, on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network, concluded. It is important what type of man you are and we try to instill that into these guys."
Richt, by any measure, is a winner. He has two national championships from his time as offensive coordinator at Florida State. He watched his team fall mere feet short of playing Notre Dame for the national championship this past December. Had the situational stars aligned back in 2002 as they have for Alabama, Florida, LSU and others in recent years, Richt would have very likely added another.
This is a coach, however, who measures himself and his program by much more than just ten yards intervals. Even when it isn't always popular, even when other headlines top the news, the current patriarch of SEC football stays true to form. Make no mistake about it, Richt wants his players at their absolute best. He just doesn't want their victories coming on gameday alone.