August 30, 2011

Q-and-A: Georgia coach Mark Richt

Georgia coach Mark Richt is aware of the "hot seat" talk, but he seems unfazed as the 2011 season dawns.

Richt, 51, is entering his 11th season in Athens with a 96-34 mark (including 55-28 in the SEC) and has two league titles and four East Division crowns. But recent struggles look to have hurt Richt's job security. Georgia entered 2008 ranked No. 1 in the nation by some outlets, but the Bulldogs finished second in the East and played in the Capital One Bowl while rival Florida won the national championship.

The past two seasons have been much worse. Georgia has gone an aggregate 14-12 overall and 7-9 in the SEC. There have been some ugly losses, too, including a home defeat to Kentucky in 2009. But 2010 was the nadir. Georgia punctuated a 6-7 season with a 10-6 loss to UCF in the Liberty Bowl, the Bulldogs' first losing record since a 5-6 mark in 1996, Jim Donnan's first season as coach.

Richt also has been dogged by poor record against Florida; he is 2-8 against the Gators, with three losses in a row.

Richt talked to Rivals.com about a variety of subjects, including a huge season-opening game against Boise State in the Georgia Dome.

How has the offense been looking?

"I think we have had a good camp offensively. If we can keep the line healthy, we have a chance to be pretty decent. Receiving corps, I think we've had some guys grow up a bit. Tight ends have had an excellent camp. Moving Richard Samuel back to tailback [from linebacker] makes us wonder why we moved him to begin with. He has done a nice job. Isaiah [Crowell] has shown some signs of being pretty good. We'll see. We have to go play Boise and some SEC competition to know for sure, but I think we have a chance to be pretty competitive."

Do you have any idea how many freshmen could end up contributing this fall?

"There will be a good many of them. I'd say at least half or more that we signed. Any given day, Isaiah Crowell at times, Malcolm Mitchell, Damian Swann. [JC transfer] Jonathan Jenkins has had his moments. Ramik Wilson has done some nice things. There have been others here and there, Jay Rome and Justin Scott-Wesley. Chris Sanders started out well but had an injury issue and missed some time. I'm not sure how many will be able to win starting positions, but they are going to be highly productive before it's over. I know I can say that."

How good can Aaron Murray be?

"We think he's a lot better than he was a year ago as far as practice and preparation and just running the show and having the confidence of being the leader of the team. His accuracy has improved, too, which is pretty typical when you have a guy who is more comfortable with what you are doing. He can anticipate things better."

How big is the Boise State game?

"It's a huge game. I think it's a big deal. I know Boise State is a great team. I've seen enough film over the past 25 years to know when I've seen a good team. And they are that. It's going to take a monumental effort to beat them because they are really good at what they do. And the other thing - a team that's used to winning is hard to beat, period. I don't care what league. Just like when App State went to Michigan. App State was used to winning. ... So when you play a team that's used to winning, it's just hard to beat them, period."

How do you respond to talk that you are on the hot seat?

"I don't think much about it, to be honest with you. I just know that this program is in a good place right now. Our players are having a good camp and we are excited about what's going to happen this year and in the future. I'll let whoever wants to write stuff write it."

Do you think that the SEC East is down?

"We will see when the season is over. If you had to predict which side is stronger or look at it and say which side is stronger, I would say the West, too. But one team is going to win the East and one is going to win the West. Four teams won't show up for the SEC title game. On any given Saturday, anything can happen. The bottom line is - say the West has four good teams, but only one gets to show up for the title game. And one from the East. The winner of that game is champion."

Can you believe that you are the longest-tenured SEC coach?

"When I took this job, my goal was for it to be my last. I didn't want to leave Florida State [where he had been offensive coordinator] unless I felt like I was going to a place that I could make my home for good. My intention from the beginning was to be here a long time. So I'm not really shocked. It has been my plan all along to try to make decisions that would be good for the program in the long haul and try to handle my business in such I way I could perpetuate it for some time. So I'm not shocked by it."

You are 2-8 against Florida. How frustrating has the rivalry been for you?

"I hate losing, period. Of all the matchup with SEC teams, it's by far the worst record. So, yes, it has been frustrating."

"I don't think much about it, to be honest with you. I just know that this program is in a good place right now. ... I'll let whoever wants to write stuff write it."
- Georgia coach Mark Richt,
on whether he is on the hot seat.
Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger already has announced he's retiring at the end of the season. You played for Schnellenberger at Miami from 1979-82. Do you think he gets enough credit for what he started at Miami?

"Probably not. Part of the reason is the timing of him leaving [after the 1983 season]. If he had stayed another five years, who knows what would have happened at Miami. He certainly would have gotten more credit if he had put together just one more national title. Let's just say he stayed the whole time. Who knows? But the fact he left when he did cut all of that short."

Do you talk with him?

"I have, from time to time. Most recently it has been about scheduling a game. We talked about it a few times over the years and I have seen him at some conventions. And way back, when he was looking for a head coach to get Florida Atlantic going, he asked me if I would be interested in it when I was at Florida State. I respectfully said I wasn't. He called me back some time later and said he had found the perfect guy for the job. I said, 'Who?' He said, 'Me.' I said, 'Coach, that doesn't surprise me.' "

You coached at Florida State for Bobby Bowden from 1990-2000. Do you still talk with him?

"Just lately, no, but I have talked to him a few times since he has retired."

Is Vince Dooley still a part of the Georgia program?

"I talk to him the most because he is town. There are events we see each other at. We asked him to speak to our freshman class this year. So I keep up with him a little bit more."

Do your religious beliefs help you in football?

"Bottom line is I'm a born-again leader in Jesus Christ. No matter what happens on earth, it's nothing compared with forever. That gives me peace to go about my day and life. But God also wants us to live our lives abundantly, not to just wait until we get to heaven to enjoy it. He gives us His word. There is no better guide to parenting, discipline, marriages, work, to money management - everything is in there. To have that type of guide from almighty God, it just gives you some peace that you are moving in the right direction and doing things that hopefully will be pleasing to Him. And the rest of the stuff, people can do or say what they want to say."

Do you think the SEC should expand?

"Not really. I am up to my ears trying to get ready for Boise State, but I'm always confident that our commissioner and presidents will do what's best for our conference. I do think we have the best conference in the country and a lot of it has to do with leadership, so that's just not my call. I trust them."

There has been a series of schools that have gotten into trouble for breaking NCAA rules over the past year. What do you think should happen to rules-breakers?

"Every situation is different. We all need to try to do our best to stay within the rules. If we step out of bounds, we need to be honest about it. We need to take whatever discipline there is for it and move on in a positive way, hopefully. I just think it's impossible to do it 100 percent right. The rulebook is very big. I think some of the rules are a bit vague and leave a lot to interpretation. It's hard to know for sure. I'm not throwing any stones."

How have things changed at Georgia in the past year?

"Biggest change: We went through an expansion of our football facility. Last year we were living out of trailer and it was really dysfunctional. It was not easy. ... Now that this thing is finished and I'm sitting in my office, looking at our practice facilities and weight room, indoor area, new meeting rooms, the strength room, the whole thing is awesome. I really do feel like a brand-new head coach even though it is year 11. Some of it is because of the newness of the facility and some of it is because our new A.D., Greg McGarity, has come to me many times asking me what we need to do to help Georgia football have success. That has revived me in a lot of ways. I'm energized right now and feeling great."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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