Mark Richt - Georgia's Head Coach - A Man Of Character And Faith
Mark Richt - Georgia's Head Coach - A Man Of Character And Faith
Mark Richt, like many of us, came to Christ a bit later in life. While many get saved younger in life; in sunday school, or perhaps vacation bible school, the truth is, many of us find Christ only after living life on our own terms for a while, convinced we are our own person, and we are at the top of the mountain. Sure, we may have a belief that God exists, but, even if He does we think, 'hey, I've got this, I don't need any help'.
It's only after we've been out there in the real world a while, and lived a little, that we lose that arrogance. Once we've come up against some trials that get the best of us, or face some tough problems that we just don't have and answer for, that we come to understand that maybe there is an easier ...better ...way of going about life.
And this is true of Mark Richt.
God Was Laying The Foundation
Born in Nebraska in 1960, Richt moved to Boca Raton, Florida, graduating from Boca Raton High School in 1978 as a star quarterback, he was recruited to the University Of Miami. He felt as if he would dominate in college as he had in high school, and leave the University of Miami early for the National Football League, where he felt he would have a long, storied, and successful career. Richt had his plans for life laid out before him, yet, God had other plans for him.
The University of Miami had signed another quarterback in the same freshman class with Mark Richt. Jim Kelly, an all-state quarterback from Pennsylvania. Kelly had wanted to play for his home state school, Penn State, but he didn't receive an offer as a quarterback. Penn States coach, Joe Paterno, did offer Kelly a scholarship, but, as a linebacker. Miami wanted him as a quarterback, so Kelly headed to Miami alongside Mark Richt.
Kelly beat Richt out for the starting quarterback job, and Richt began to realize that his plans at Miami were not going to go as he'd planned. Richt said if this, "I realized that none of what I had planned for my career would become a reality."
While at Miami, one of Richts teammates went on a retreat, while Richt stayed behind and continued to partake of the party lifestyle. Upon the teammates return from the retreat he spoke to Richt about God and about how he had accepted Christ into his life. He read bible text to Richt. Richt said he noticed a genuine change in his teammates life, and it caused him to consider Christ for himself. But, he 'reasoned' his way out of a change of heart, and soon enough was back to his party lifestyle.
After college, Richt went undrafted, but decided to try out for the Denver Broncos in hopes of making the team and having his NFL plans pan out after all. But, another roadblock was put in his path, as that same year John Elway arrived in Denver, and Richts plans for the NFL took another hit, as he was cut from the team one week later.
Depressed, Richt moved back home, but wouldn't give up his NFL aspirations. Seeking out your dreams is an admirable trait, but, in Richt's own words, he said "he had no peace in his life", as he worked different odd jobs.
A year later, Richt got another shot at his NFL dream, as he tried out for the Miami Dolphins. Yet, just like in college and in Denver, Richts arrival coincided with the arrival of another quarterback. This time the other quarterback was Dan Marino. Less that a week later Richt was cut from the Dolphins.
A New Door Is Opened
Richt was soon contacted by Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who offered him a graduate assistant position on his staff, working with quarterbacks. Richt, having not only been a good quarterback in his own right, but had learned from being around great quarterback talent; talent that beat him out at each stop in his football career; felt he was a good judge of what it took to be a great quarterback, accepted Bowdens offer.
In his second season in Tallahassee, a FSU player was killed at a party. The next day, in a players-only meeting with Coach Bowden, Richt was in attendance. He was in the room only to take roll.
In this meeting, Bowden addressed the situation and began speaking with the players about faith and spirituality. Pointing the the empty chair assigned to the deceased player, Bowden asked the room of young men, "if that were you, do you know where you would spend eternity?"
Bowden laid out the gospel message to those young men, and, thanks to all of Richts own personal failed plans, he was in that room as well.
The next day, Richt went into Bowdens office and spoke with his boss about Christ. Bowden led Richt to Christ that day.
It was through Richts supposed failures that he found himself in Coach Bowdens office that day, instead of living out his boyhood dream of being an NFL quarterback. If you'd asked him when he was a senior in high school if he would believe he would not make it to a career as an NFL quarterback; that, instead, he would be a graduate assistant QB coach at Florida State, he would tell you 'no way'. Yet, God knew exactly where Mark Richt would be.
Richt Leaves His FSU Success For A Head Coaching Position Between The Hedges At UGA
In December of 2000, the University of Georgia hired Mark Richt to be the head coach of their football program.
From day one, Richt instilled his faith into how he ran his football program.
His success at Georgia, if judged by wins and losses and championships, is certainly unquestioned. His Bulldogs have a record of 118 wins against 40 losses; a 74.7% clip, finishing 6 of his 12 seasons in Athens ranked in the Top Ten in the AP Poll, winning 6 SEC Eastern Division crowns, and winning the SEC Title twice.
But what sets Mark Richt apart from other winning coaches is the way he conducts himself on and off the field. Coach Richt is a man of character who has stuck by his faith and his ethics and morals when other coaches, under the incredible pressure to succeed, have compromised themselves and their programs by cutting corners and bending; or outright breaking the rules.
This reflects not only well upon himself, but on the university he represents.
Coach Richt tolerates less trouble out of his players than coaches at most other programs do. UGA makes the news more often with players that have gotten into trouble, simply because, at other schools, a player making the same mistake may not face any discipline at all.
He runs such a high standard that some fans of the program get annoyed with his policies, saying "other schools let their players get away with it, so why can't Coach Richt be like them?" But Richt is right to keep his standards high. He is aware that while his job is to coach football, he also has a responsibility to his players to be a guide and a mentor who will teach them the right way to do things; the right way to conduct themselves; and that if they fall short, there are real consequences to be paid.
He does so, first and foremost, because he understands his faith. His Christian faith guides him to live his life to a certain standard; and that doing otherwise can, will and does lead people astray. He does it because he's well aware that there is life for these student-athletes after football, and, he is in a position to instill good morals and ethics into them; things that will serve them far better the rest of their lives than an 'undefeated season back in the day' ever will; things that, once learned, can be passed down to their kids.
Coach Richt is doing it the right way in his life, and in Athens. Want proof? Ask his current and former players. They have high praise for their coach, saying he's the real deal. They mention how they know he's honest with them, that what you see is what you get with Coach Richt. They see his high standards. One of his players said of him "Once, I saw him get really mad and almost swear ...he said fiddlesticks!"
Many of his players come from broken homes, with no father figure around; or maybe worse, one that is around but is a blueprint on how not to be a man. These young men are the better for being mentored by Mark Richt, and they'll tell you that.
How I See It
Personally, I am an UGA fan. I have been my whole life. I was ten years old when UGA won the 1980 national championship. I was also a fan during the years when the Dawgs struggled to records like 4-7, and an SEC Championship was nowhere to be found.
Some people are unhappy with Richt because, under his leadership, UGA has not won a national title. And, I think in some ways, Richt is a victim of his own success; his teams have been so close to the national title game three times in his tenure in Athens but have never quite made it.
And, in our culture, 'no one remembers number two'. College football is a prime example of that very thing.
But, speaking for myself, I do not care if the Dawgs ever win a national title under Coach Richt. Because I understand that, as big of a fan as I am, there is far more important things in the lives of the young men that are sent miles from home by nervous mothers, than a championship and a ring.
Me? I'm just a fan. My wife may call me 'rabid', and maybe she's right. But, when you boil it down, I have nothing real invested in the wins and losses of a team full of college kids. I'm not out there on that field, i'm in the stands, or sitting at home ...screaming at the tv...
In the year 2000, I would never have told you that. I was younger, both in terms of years and in my Christian faith. Now I have a son that is of college age. And, viewing things as a parent, there is no promise of winning football games that would supersede what Mark Richt offers in Athens; an incredibly high level of success, earned fair and square, by a Christian mentor.