Part 1 of our conversation with Georgia coach Mark Richt, which appeared in Sunday’s AJC, made little mention of the 2013 Bulldogs. We remedy that in Part 2.
Do you see this year’s team as any less capable than last year’s?
It’s just so hard to say. A year ago, all the questions were about the offense, and it all came together and that group played exceptionally well. A year ago defense was expected to do (well) and maybe they didn’t do as well as we thought they would. Now, can the offense play as well as we think they will and can the defense do a little bit of what the offense did a year ago? Then we’ll have a chance.
Our biggest issue, obviously, is the front end of the schedule. Are we going to be ready for that challenge at that point? Before this season is over, I think we’re really going to be a good football team. But can we navigate the front end without enough damage to keep us from the ultimate goal? I don’t know.
Well, you just played Alabama. If that doesn’t prepare you for Clemson on the road and South Carolina at home, I don’t know what would.
Yeah, but it’s a different team. There are a lot of young pups on the back end of our defense. That’s a little bit scary.
Not that you need my validation, but I thought you handled the question from Chuck Oliver (of 680 The Fan) after the SEC championship game – about you and Aaron Murray not being able to win the big one – pretty well.
He said, “People say.” That was what got to me. If he’d just said, “I think this,” then I’d have just answered the question. But when he phrased it that way, I wanted to clarify: “Are you saying this, or is someone else saying this?” If somebody else is saying it, then that’s something for you to answer on your show. But if you’re asking me right now, if this is what you think, then I’ll make a comment on it. But I went back (on the podium) to say I thought the timing of a question like that was very poor – considering how everybody played that day.
I’m sure you evaluate yourself . Do you ever look at your performance and think, “The reason Georgia hasn’t won a national championship is because Mark Richt doesn’t know what he’s doing as a head coach?”
No. If I didn’t know what I was doing as a head coach, I’d be long gone right now. The national championship – it is mythical to a certain degree. How many undefeated champions have there been?
Nick Saban has won four, and only one of his teams went undefeated.
Coach (Bobby) Bowden won two, and we were undefeated once. And you could be undefeated and still not win. Tommy Tuberville goes undefeated (at Auburn in 2004) and he’s not a national champion, but does that make him less of a coach? No, and LSU wins one with two losses one year.
If 2002 was a season where other teams had losses, maybe we play for it that year. In 2007, when LSU did get it, Tennessee had some games down to the wire. You talk about one play that could affect somebody’s season … If Tennessee had lost one more, we’d have played LSU (for the SEC title).
Kentucky missed a field goal in overtime against Tennessee.
Yeah, a chip shot or something. Maybe we’d have been the one who played LSU in the SEC championship and maybe we’d have been the one who got to play (for the BCS title) that year. We’re hovering around the top, and hopefully if we keep hovering we’ll have our day.
There has to be satisfaction having gone from 6-7 in 2010 and starting 0-2 in 2011 to winning consecutive SEC titles and being ranked No. 5 nationlly headed into the new season.
Even some of our years where we were 11-2 we could have been 8-5. That 6-7 year, we could very easily have been 9-4. There are probably a couple of plays in those seasons that would have (changed things). You’re usually not as far off (as it might seem). If we were just getting thrashed by people, if we were not competitive, then I think there’d have been greater cause for concern. And every once in a while, like at South Carolina last year, you just have those days and the momentum goes the other way and it’s hard to stop.
Would you say you’ve grown into the job over time? You’ve been able to succeed and you’ve handled peaks and valleys, and here in Year 13 you would seem closer to another peak.
Part of my mission and focus is on the players. I really do care about these guys. I want them to succeed in life. I want them to realize all their dreams – like Kolton Houston getting his chance to play or guys making it into the league and winning championships. Those are awesome stories. It’s fun, it’s awesome and I love it. I really do have a true desire to make a difference with these guys. When you focus on other people instead of yourself, somehow it makes it easier. If I was only focused on me and my career and my record, who knows how I would have handled all those situations?
When things get rough, I’m more concerned about how it affects our staff and our players than how it affects me. That kind of helps me navigate those times. And I do want to say this: We have a really, really good staff here right now – and some of the coaches who’ve been here and gone are outstanding as well – but I’m really impressed with our coaches, their competitiveness, their competence, their desire to do it the Georgia way, to buy into a philosophy I’m trying to sell. We’re all working together and everybody’s believing right now.
How hard was it to change your staff in 2009?
It was horrible. A part of me died there for a little bit. It was the toughest thing I’d ever had to do professionally by far.
Have you gotten less tolerant with players over the years?
How can I say this? I do care very much about the individual player, and I do like a redemption story. I like a guy who when he makes a mistake can turn it around and do well. But what I’ve learned over time is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be at Georgia. He can turn his life around and continue his career and have a great success story where it’s not at Georgia. I also have a responsibility to the other guys. I don’t want anything that can negatively affect the other guys. And I want parents to know and players to know that if there’s an element on our team that doesn’t belong, whether it’s immaturity or just a bad egg, I don’t want that person to destroy what everybody else is trying to build.
I’ve also seen guys like even my own son (Jon). He left Clemson, not because of anything bad, and he went to Mars Hill College. He started four years and had a great opportunity to lead. It was a great move for him. If he’d stayed at Clemson and ridden the bench for four years, he might have lost some faith and some confidence in himself as a person. When you see that, it gives you a little bit different perspective.
I’ve always felt that we owe the players, and we do, but the players owe us as well. It is like a marriage – a contract, so to speak. We’re going to give it everything we’ve got, but they’ve got to give us their best, too. That was kind of galvanized through Jon going through his thing. I’m like, “Son, you owe it to Clemson to do your best while you’re there because they’re giving you this opportunity.” Maybe living through that over the last four or five years changed my thinking just a little bit.
Seeing you get Georgia going in the right direction again has been pretty remarkable. When things start to slide, you’re never sure if it’s irrevocable or if it’s a blip.
Life’s about momentum. Certainly a football game and a season is about momentum, and even a coach’s tenure sometimes has to do with the momentum you create. And when you lose momentum and the momentum is going in the wrong direction, it isn’t easy. The only way you can do it is by believing in each other and trusting each other. We talked about the negative noise — just to be able to shut that out and only focus on the process of doing what we believed was right. And our guys, our players, our coaches and our support staff, everybody hung together. Because if you start pointing the finger, if everybody thinks about their own personal interest, you’re probably not going to survive it.