We’re in the middle of the second of three days of the SEC Media Days event. Mark Richt, head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, was interviewed by the media this mroning and below are his questions and responses. Enjoy…
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by Georgia head coach Mark Richt. If you could give us some comments on the upcoming season, we’ll take some questions.
COACH RICHT: We spent the last couple days as a staff just covering last-minute details for the season, talking about how we’re going to handle our football camp, rolling into the weekly schedule, things of that nature, talking to our support staff, making sure we’re prepared for this season.
I can tell you that we’re an excited bunch of coaches. We’re very anxious to get this thing started, get ’em in camp, begin the preparation of this season.
From what I hear from our leaders, our players have had an outstanding summer, have really paid the price. There’s an energy that we have this off-season that we probably haven’t had in a while, quite frankly. Some of it has to do with some of the changes we made.
I know defensively there’s a lot of our young men wondering how it’s going to go. We have coaches and fans wondering how it’s going to go. That’s an exciting thing for us, too. I think it’s a good thing. It’s provided a lot of energy and excitement.
So we’re ready to go. I’m ready to answer any questions that you might have – most any question anyway (smiling).
Q. We actually have you projected to win the Eastern Division primarily because of the offensive talent coming back to the Bulldogs, as well as the schedule. You have a favorable SEC conference schedule. Talk about that. Does that play into a factor for you guys?
COACH RICHT: First of all, I hope you’re right (smiling). What was your name? Dan? I like you, by the way (laughter).
Shoot, I don’t think there is an easy SEC schedule, quite frankly. Everybody is pretty darn good. And I’m going into year 10. I think every team we’ve played has beaten us at least once throughout the time that I’ve been there. So I don’t know if there’s an opponent that we look at and say, Boy, that’s an easy game.
But I am excited about what you had mentioned, the offensive talent, and the offensive experience. I know we’ve got a redshirt freshman quarterback. Aaron Murray came in as a midyear enrollee. He’s been through a spring, went through a season, went through last spring. He understands our system well.
You can get him in the meeting room, get him on the board, ask him anything. He’ll tell you the answer, get it right. And that could be exciting as a coach. But we got to be careful, Coach Bobo and myself, not to get enamored with that and expect him to be able to answer the question quite so well as he’s on the field getting chased by a bunch of 300-pound defensive linemen. He’s got to live the experience of being that quarterback.
But because he’s surrounded by a bunch of veterans and a bunch of guys that have really kind of surrounded him and want to see him succeed, and they want him to lead, I think we’re in good shape. But we’ve got to be careful to go at his pace. If we do that, we’ll be okay.
Special teams, you know, Drew Butler, one of the finest punters in America; Blair Walsh, one of the better kickers in America; a lot of guys back on those special teams. Defensively, we lost a bunch of interior defensive linemen.
With the new scheme that we have and the excitement that that has brought, I think we’re going to get after it, we’re going to play hard. We’re going to play with a lot of energy. If we can do that and find a way to keep from beating ourselves, which I think we did to a certain extent last season with our turnover ratio and our penalty count, if we could find a way to keep from beating ourselves, I think we’ll be a pretty good football team.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the transition to the 3-4, especially with so many new personnel, where it’s been easy and where you’d like to have more time to work?
COACH RICHT: First of all, all of our players are, What position am I going to play? They were uncertain where they were going to fit into the scheme. Quite frankly, when Coach Grantham came if in, he wasn’t sure where everybody would fit. He had our graduate assistants break down film and try to get 30 clips of all of our players so he could study them and place them in the right spot.
We started spring ball. We made a few more adjustments as we went. We moved Darryl Gamble from inside to outside, moved Richard Samuel from running back to outside linebacker back to inside linebacker. We’re trying to get everybody in the right place. We think we’ve got them placed in the right spot.
Now it’s a matter of learning what to do and be able to play fast and play physical, play with confidence. I think we got a bunch of guys that want to do that. We probably don’t have as much depth at the outside linebacker position as we would like to have. I think we must stay healthy there or we’ll have to make a few fairly radical changes.
But other than that, we’ve got pretty good depth at most other spots. We might have some youngsters. Defensive line, I think we had five scholarship defensive linemen, interior defensive linemen, leave our program last year, so there’s a bunch of young guys in there. We do think we have the right kind of guys to get the job done.
Q. Talk about your defense, staying with that theme. You get a team like Arkansas at the very beginning of the season. How difficult is it to prepare for that offense?
COACH RICHT: It’s scary preparing for Arkansas. Arkansas, Coach Petrino, first of all knows what he’s doing. He’s got a tremendous amount of skill coming back. When you have Ryan Mallett coming back, then all of his skill players all back, it’s just going to be very, very difficult.
They were tough to defend a year ago, which was obvious in our game. We had a very difficult time defending them. To think they won’t be just as good or better, they’re gonna be better. So hopefully we made some gains on defense and made some strides that will help try to disrupt it. But they’re gonna make their plays, score points. We just got to try to find a way to minimize that and do our share.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about for the first time in like 50 years Bobby Bowden won’t be in college football this year, and what does it say about coaching when a guy like him can be forced out?
COACH RICHT: Well, Coach Bowden, I talked to him yesterday. He won’t be out of college football. He won’t be coaching. He’s going to be at a lot of ballgames. Everybody around the country is asking him to come and watch their games, be at their spring games, be at their clinics, talk, advise. So he’s going to be very involved in college football still, but not as a coach.
I’ll just say this. I love Coach Bowden. He gave me my first job. He allowed me to grow and mature as a coach, as a man, and he led me to the Lord in 1986. So anything that Coach Bowden didn’t like, I don’t like either, I can tell you that.
Q. So many different college football teams running variations of the spread offense. Any way to look around and see what people are doing that signals what the next trend in offense might be?
COACH RICHT: Not really. I think the next trend will be whatever people are doing — the teams are winning is what I’m getting at. If you win using a certain system, everybody is going to say, That’s the system to go to. I think that’s what has happened over the years.
I do believe that you can win running just about any system. You can probably win running just about any defensive scheme. I mean, you can play great defense in a 3-4. You can play great defense in a 4-3. You can play a great defense in this 3-5, however you want to align it.
I think the thing that’s important is your personnel, how well they understand what you’re doing and how well they can execute what you’re doing. It comes down to leadership of your team, staying healthy, all that.
So I think if somebody does something and wins with it, wins on a consistent basis, I think more and more people will gravitate to that style.
Q. I know several times over the last couple years, Florida in 2007 comes to mind, your team had to play with an emotion and attitude going into the game. With this particular team in 2010, do you think they need to carry that attitude to be successful?
COACH RICHT: Everything I’ve seen so far makes me feel like we’re going to have what it takes from an emotional standpoint, from a physical standpoint. I think we’ve got really fine leaders. We’ve had a couple good leaders over the years, but maybe they were just out-numbered, so to speak. But we’ve got a group of guys that are kind of bonding and saying, You know what, we’re taking control of this football team.
When you got a team that’s led by your players in the right way, you got a chance to be really successful. I see that.
But everybody’s got good teams. Everybody’s got good players. But I feel real good about this bunch.
Q. Can you talk about your running game, some of your runningbacks.
COACH RICHT: We’re really in good shape offensively when it comes to running the football. Caleb King is back, Washaun Ealey is back. They had a great spring. They competed their tails off. They both want to prove they are the starters, get the majority of the carries. They have a great camaraderie. They have fun at practice.
Offensive line is mature. Know what we expect. We have tight ends that are mature. Last year with two sophomores and two freshmen playing tight end, now all those guys are better and in better shape. I think our receivers will be better blockers this year because of their experience and getting Kris Durham back. I think that’s going to help us, too.
Marlon Brown is a heck of a blocking wide receiver as well as a receiving wide receiver.
When we’re talking about the running game, I think we’re going to be in better shape. That’s going to help Aaron Murray. And I’ll say this, too. When you have A. J. Green, you got to be careful not to get too many one-on-one situations out there. If they want to double A.J., it pulls somebody away from the run game.
I think there’s a chance to have a great complement of run and pass and keep people very honest with it.
Q. Other than winning games, which is kind of obvious, what does a coach have to do in the SEC to survive 10 years at a school?
COACH RICHT: Well, for me, I didn’t know what it was going to take. I just knew that I was going to go about my business in a certain way. My goal was to represent the University of Georgia with the utmost integrity and try to coach in a first-class manner within the rules. My goal was to try to help young men grow up. I think we’re still educators. I think it’s still very important that we not only teach them how to play football, but teach them how to function in society once their time is over, once their playing days are over.
I’ve always relied very heavily on God, on my Lord and savior. I know that I don’t have all the answers. I know that I don’t have enough strength humanly to do this job or enough wisdom to do this job. I rely heavily on the Lord and I rely heavily on our coaches to get the job done.
You know, every decision that I’ve tried to make at Georgia has been one that I was making for the long haul. Sometimes you can try to fix things quickly or take a shortcut or try to make it a decision that might help you for the moment. But you know down the road you may pay a price for it. I’ve always tried to make decisions that I think would serve the program well in the long run.
Q. You mentioned the energy at Georgia. Can you talk about that.
COACH RICHT: I think the biggest thing is the change defensively, to have a brand-new scheme, to have a bunch of guys a little bit anxious about where they’re gonna play, how it’s gonna unfold, guys that might have been veteran starters got to prove that they deserve to be starters. Guys that were setting at third team got to prove that they deserve to start. That have provided a lot of energy for our players and for our coaching staff, too.
Let’s face it. Coach Grantham is really the only one that truly understands what he’s trying to accomplish. I’m still learning it. Scott Lakatos is still learning it; Warren Belin is still learning it; Rodney Garner is still learning it. There’s an energy in knowing that you got to prepare and be out of your comfort zone a little bit.
Offensively, I was just talking to Shaun Chapas on the way in here. He’s like, I can’t wait to see what the defense does. The other thing, too, offensively, when you have a bunch of veterans that have been around each other, they know the guy next to them has done it before, they know this guy loves Georgia, they know this guy wants to see the team succeed and is willing to pay the price, it gives everybody confidence. I think that’s what I’m talking about.
Q. The NCAA is soon going to be releasing APR rates for various coaches in different sports, much as they’ve done for various individual sports. Nationally, your take on that. Do you think it’s a good idea to look at that?
COACH RICHT: I think it’s a good idea because ours is going to be very high. Last year, we led the Southeastern Conference in the APR. This year we are second only to Vanderbilt. We’ve done a very good job in that area. For that to become public is exciting to me personally.
I think it’s a good idea (smiling).
Q. You sound real positive about the offense this year. You got a good offensive line coming back, set at runningback, good core of receivers. I want to ask you a question about Aaron Murray. With him not having that much experience, do you talk to him and have a philosophy of managing the game and not trying to make the big play and let the players around you make plays or do you continue to be, I would say, a wide-open offense and don’t limit everybody else?
COACH RICHT: We don’t want to limit the skill and the experience that we have, but we also, as you say, can’t just say, Let it rip, and hope that he doesn’t stumble. I mean, we have to manage him. We have to help him understand that he does have a very strong core of people around him and he does not have to make a spectacular play every time the ball is snapped. He needs to do his job. He needs to put the ball on the money.
When the protection is there, the route is open, put it on ’em. If the protection is not there, let’s throw the ball away, let’s hit a check down, let’s take a sack if you have to. Let’s make sure at the end of every drive we kick the ball, an extra point, field goal, or punt.
I think he understands that. But he’s just got to live it out. And I think he’s smart enough to know that he has the support around him. I’ll say this about our team. They respect this kid because he prepares, because he puts the team first, because he has talent. They know by virtue of the fact that he is the quarterback, he’s in the leadership position, he has to succeed.
So they’re all rallying around this kid. He’s not abusing that trust because he’s working his tail off. It’s our job as coaches to help him understand that you do not have to be a hero. You just have to take care of business and have a healthy respect for that football.
Q. As the defense learns on the job a little bit, how important is the role that a Drew Butler plays for you guys?
COACH RICHT: It’s huge. I mean, Drew, as we all know, won the Ray Guy Award. He did it because statistically he was way out in front. I mean, his punting average was outstanding. Our net punt was number one in the country, punting average was number one in the country. A lot of the reason was, quite frankly, we struggled offensively. When he was punting, there was a whole lot of grass in front of him, too much grass. But he changed field position for us in a big way last year.
This year my guess is he won’t have quite the average because I think and I hope he’ll be punting with less grass in front of him. Hopefully he punts a lot less.
I think his focus is going to be more on, you know, trying to pin people deep. His focus will be more on maybe some directional kicking if we’re trying to keep it away from a special return man. And then when there are times we’re back deep and we need help, he can still boom it out of there like he’s done in the past.
He’s a tremendous weapon. He’s a guy that has nothing to prove other than he can do it again. He’s really worked hard to be great.
Q. A. J. Green has had a pretty solid college career so far.
COACH RICHT: Very solid.
Q. What are some of the things you think he could still improve on this year?
COACH RICHT: One thing I’d like to see him be able to go the entire season healthy. If you have a really good off-season in the weight room preparing in the heat, getting acclimated to that, preparing to run the amount of routes, the volume of routes he’s going to run throughout a season, throughout a practice. And I think he’s done that preparation. If he can stay healthy the entire time, I think he’ll do well.
I think he’s been a good blocker, not a great blocker. I think he needs to get better at really becoming a factor as a blocker. I can’t hardly say much about his ability to run routes and go after a ball and get it. He’s as good as I’ve seen. He’s special in that way.
He’s a very humble kid. He loves his teammates. He wants to win. You know, when you have some of your greatest players be guys that care about the team and are willing to work and pay the price and be there when he doesn’t have to be there, that’s pretty important. That’s what I really love about him.
Q. Are you insulted at all that you have a 90 and 27 overall record and some publications have placed you on the imaginary hot seat?
COACH RICHT: Not really. I understand the business. I understand just how things go. So I don’t worry about it. My goal is to focus on the important things and the things I can control. I can control my attitude. I can control my effort. I can control, you know, certain things. That’s what I focus on. Then the things I can’t control, I just trust the Lord with that. That’s kind of how I’ve been operating since 1986.
Q. Could you speak as to how the departure of Damon Evans has affected you personally and whether it affected your staff’s preparation for the season. Also, will you have input or an impact on the hiring of the new athletic director?
COACH RICHT: I don’t do good with three-part questions, but…
Personally, I have a very good friendship with Damon Evans, was very saddened by what happened. Has it affected our preparation? I don’t believe it has. I really don’t. I don’t think it’s affected our coaches’ preparation or our players’ preparation. It certainly was news, no doubt about that.
In regard to having input on the new decision for athletic director, I don’t think I will. The last time we did this, it was at the time of the year where I could be on the committee. This year I was not on the committee. I’m sure a part of the reason was we’re fixing to start a season.
I really do trust Dr. Adams to make a wise decision. You know, Georgia is the kind of place that if you get in there, kind of like Aaron Murray, if you get in there and manage it well, I think it’s a plum athletic director’s job, a chance to run one of the finest college sports organizations in the country and one of the most fiscally sound programs in the country. I’m sure we’ll find the right man or woman for that job.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Richt.
COACH RICHT: Thank you all very much.