James “Friday’’ Richards, a former Marietta High star football player and head coach and one of the school’s most iconic and beloved figures, died Sunday. He was 64.
No cause of death has been announced, but former Marietta track and field coach Roscoe Googe, one of Richards’ closest friends, said that Richards had undergone heart surgery in recent weeks.
‘’The last time I talked with him he was in good spirits and saying he was doing pretty good,’’ Googe said. “He was not someone who would burden others with his problems. He kept things to himself. The Marietta community was better for Friday Richards being there and will miss him. He was a beacon.’’
Richards grew up in the projects of Marietta and was a water boy for the football team as a boy, then one of its greatest players. In 1971, he rushed for a school-record 2,090 yards. He was voted Mr. Marietta High School as a senior in 1972, a testament to his popularity and a proud accomplishment for an African-American at a school that had fully integrated only four years earlier.
After playing at the University of Florida, Richards was drafted by the New York Jets in 1976 and played two years in the NFL, though he never got in a regular-season game and is not listed in official NFL records.
Richards returned to Marietta to coach and teach in 1978 and remained there until his retirement in 2010. He coached basketball and track and field in addition to football.
Richards became the head football coach in 1995. His record was 108-57, and his teams won four region titles. Googe believed Richards might’ve been an even better track-and-field coach. Formerly a top sprinter himself, Richards specialized in teaching the long jump and relay teams and coaches several state champions.
Richards was best known, however, for his mentorship and his love of Marietta’s student-athletes. He didn’t keep many trophies or mementos of his own, but his home displayed several framed jerseys of his former players. Several had lived with him to get them through rough patches.
Over 100 of his former players went on to play college sports, many because Richards spent time driving them out of state to camps and college visits when they didn’t have the means to get there on his own.
‘’He had one of the biggest hearts of anyone that I ever knew,’’ Googe said. ‘’He always tried to make life better for people. He’d take kids who had the worst kinds of days and he had a way of settling things down, making them believe that things were going to get better.’’
Some of the football players who came through Marietta and were touched by him during his time there were Eric Zeier, Josh Cooper and Richard Shelton, all who went on to play in the NFL.
‘’He was just a kind-hearted, caring person and as likable a guy as you’ll ever find,’’ said Jeff Wheeler, who retired as Marietta’s athletics director in 2006, when Richards was inducted into the Marietta City Schools Athletic Hall of Fame. “He loved the kids he was coaching and the people he worked with. The whole Marietta community is going to miss him. Even after he retired, he was still a big part of what was going on.’’
No funeral arrangements have been announced.