Wiedmer: Richt still thrilled to coach UGA

Wiedmer: Richt still thrilled to coach UGA

April 25th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Georgia starting quarterback Hutson Mason (14) warms-up under the watchful eye of coach Mark Richt 2013 file photo.

Georgia starting quarterback Hutson Mason (14) warms-up under...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

DALTON, Ga. - The hair is a bit more gray than it was in 2001, his build perhaps a pound or two heavier. Georgia football coach Mark Richt may even speak a wee bit more softly these days, if such a thing is possible.

But that doesn't mean he isn't looking forward to many more seasons bossing around the Bulldogs past this coming one, his 14th on the job.

"I wouldn't have predicted this," Richt said Thursday night before a UGA meet-and-greet in the Carpet Capital. "But I desired it. My goal when I took this job was to make this my home for good."

That sentiment seems almost quaint today, as out of style as landline phones or vinyl records. Among SEC coaches, only Missouri's Gary Pinkel has been at the same school as long as Richt. Next closest to them in longevity are LSU's Les Miles and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, who both are beginning their 10th seasons at those schools. Alabama's Nick Saban will coach the Crimson Tide for an eighth straught autumn.

After that comes Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, who'll begin his sixth season in Starkville. None of the rest of the league's coaches have yet lasted five years.

"Obviously, you have to win enough to stay," Richt said. "But sometimes I think guys just think it's easier to bolt. You kind of have to choose to stay, to commit to toughing it out through the rough times."

When you win nearly 74 percent of your games, there aren't a lot of rough times, of course. Richt has reached the SEC championship game five times in 13 seasons, winning twice. He's won 10 or more games eight times. Only once has he finished with a losing record, going 6-7 in 2010 after a bowl loss to Central Florida. Determined not to give the Bulldog Nation a reason to encourage him to bolt, he guided the Dawgs to the SEC title game the next two seasons.

But to go back to his original point, after he spent 15 years as an assistant at Florida State, Georgia was also where he wanted to remain for as long as the school was willing to employ him.

"I wanted stability for my family, my coaching staff and my players," Richt said. "It's been very gratifying for me to have players come back 10 years later, and I'm still here to see them."

It is different than that first year in 2001, when Georgia beat Tennessee on a last-second play in Neyland Stadium, the Volunteers' only home loss that season -- the remarkable Voice of the Bulldogs, the late Larry Munson, proclaiming in words that will live forever: "We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose!"

There's social media, for instance, everything from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram.

"The good news is," Richt said, "if I want to get information to 100,000 people, I can tweet something and it's instantly out there. But it's also tough for the players not to get caught up in it. A lot of them are becoming celebrities before they walk onto your campus. You have to spend a lot of time making them understand that the world doesn't revolve around them."

Thanks to the NCAA board of directors' decision Thursday to allow the five super conferences -- Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC -- basically to set their own rules, the world could theoretically revolve around those players more than ever. If put into action, those 65 schools could set their own rules on issues such as cost-of-attendance stipends, medical coverage and travel to games and tournaments for players' families.

Though Richt didn't comment on that, he did say of SEC commissioner Mike Slive's desire to add a ninth SEC game to the schedule, "I don't think we as coaches will decide."

No, when it comes to administrative issues, whether you've been on the job 14 years or 14 months, it's usually up to school presidents, athletic directors and conference commissioners to make the rules that coaches must live by.

But Richt decided long ago which school he hopes to work for while abiding by those rules.

"How can you not walk into Sanford Stadium on a football Saturday and not get fired up?" he said. "Georgia is where I want to spend the rest of my career."

If he keeps winning 74 percent of his games and reaching the SEC title game nearly 40 percent of the time, that shouldn't be a problem.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com