Mark Richt’s nice guy reputation followed him during his 15 years as Georgia football’s coach.
It may have to some extent drowned out the record he built up during that run from 2001-15 that included two SEC championships and five trips to the conference championship game and averaging nearly 10 wins a season.
It’s that on-field record—145-51 at Georgia and 171-64 overall including his three seasons at Miami that followed—that carried Richt into being elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
The announcement came on Monday.
“It’s important to me,” Richt told the Athens Banner-Herald in December. “I think anybody who does any type of job, if you’re considered one of the better ones who’s ever done it, it’s a good feeling. A lot of people have tried to define my career as a guy that only cared about the players and didn’t care about winning enough. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. I always felt if you built a better man, you built a better team. I don’t know if it needs validating, but it would be more validation of that.”
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Richt will become the fourth former Georgia coach inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame after Vince Dooley, Wally Butts and Jim Donnan. There have also been 14 former Georgia players inducted.
Richt is 10th on the all-time SEC wins list with 145, 14th on the winning percentage list at .742, just ahead of Steve Spurrier. That ranks second in Georgia history behind current coach Kirby Smart.
Richt’s teams finished in the top 5 in the final rankings three times—in 2002, 2007 and 2012—but that was before the four team playoff. Kirby Smart was able to get that national championship that eluded Richt, but Richt was in Indianapolis a year ago when the Bulldogs ended a 41-year drought.
“He’s one of the greatest human beings I feel like that you can come across, period., regardless of football,” said Georgia wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon, who played for Richt and coached on his staffs with the Bulldogs and in Miami and considers Richt an influential mentor. “He also showed that you can do it at a high level and not have to compromise the person that you want to be, do it the right way and treat people right. That’s not always as common as you would like to think of it as being.”
Richt and wife Katharyn have made Athens their home again essentially full-time now after his diagnosis for Parkinson’s Disease in the spring of 2021. The progressive disease affects Richt’s balance when standing still and he said it takes him two hours in the morning to shower and get dressed in a coat and tie for his analyst role on the ACC Network. Sometimes he needs assistance.
He began taking the drug Levodopa in December as his symptoms worsened.
In Athens, Mark and Katharyn are close to their three grandchildren and on this day, Richt had taken his SUV to a local car wash to clean up their mess.
“There’s dried ice cream, M&Ms in the back, it’s horrible,” Richt said laughing.
Son Jon helped Prince Avenue Christian to the state championship as offensive coordinator.
Richt already will be inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 25 in Macon, a week after he turns 63. Before that, he’s slated to coach in the Polynesian Bowl in Hawaii on Jan. 20, a high school all-star game.
“The thing about Coach Richt is he’s always consistent, he does what’s right for the kids regardless of what people think,” said Georgia offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who served in same role under Richt at UGA from 2007-10 and at Miami from 2016-18. “ He’s got a huge heart. What many people may not know is how doggone competitive he is. He’ll compete in everything whether it’s cards, racquetball and especially football. He’s a competitor. He’s a great role model for young people.”
Richt turned to the coaching profession after the former Miami quarterback tried out for the Broncos and Dolphins. He played quarterback at Miami at the same time as future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly
He was a phone solicitor for an insurance company until he was out of work when his boss was arrested for some unscrupulous activity. He was a bartender then at Scarlett O’Haras in Delray Beach, Fla., but it wasn’t his thing.
“I didn’t know how to make an aperitif,” Richt said. “That was doom. That’s what got me.”
So he then simply cleaned the bar.
He wrote some letters to land a job in coaching. He was all set to go work under Bill Arnsperger at LSU with his bags and U-haul packed when Florida State coach Bobby Bowden called him the night before about an opening he had.
It turned out to be a life-changing move for Richt who was a graduate assistant on staff, coached quarterbacks and eventually became the offensive coordinator during a time when the Seminoles finished top 5 in the AP poll for 14 straight seasons. He was there from 1985-2000 except for one season at East Carolina.
Richt coached a spread, no-huddle, mostly shotgun system at Florida State that flourished under Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward.
“Basically, all I knew was the Florida State way, the Bobby Bowden way of doing things,” he said. “I had a clear vision of how I was going to start out doing everything from recruiting to the offseason program to the offensive system. The whole she-bang.”
Georgia’s 2002 SEC championship in Richt’s second season was the program’s first since 1982. He took the Bulldogs back to the SEC title game in 2003, 2005, 2011 and 2015, winning it twice in his first five seasons.
“Every coach has to be able to connect with his team and the team has to believe in him,” Richt said. “Between how I treated those guys and the success I had along the way, some of those defining moments even in year one in the Tennessee game (the Hobnail boot touchdown from David Greene to Verron Haynes), the kind of finish the drill game and the next year in 2002 when we went 13-1 and won some games that were really tight…The offseason program, the mat drills, were torture for those kids. They hated it. No kid that has ever gone through it has enjoyed it, but at the end when you do something that tough as a team, you gain confidence in what you can handle in a ballgame and in life.”