HOOVER, Ala. — Mark Richt says he has “really enjoyed this summer.”
Given that seven of his players have been arrested, three have been kicked out of the program, another transferred after being suspended for half the season, his boss was arrested for a DUI and ultimately was forced to resign and the NCAA just phoned to announce their impending arrival in Athens, we’re left to wonder: Just how low does Richt set the bar for his summers?
Or has he just become used to this sort of thing?
“It’s like, you know [something is] gonna happen,” he said Thursday morning. “It’s just like a ballgame. You know there’s going to be a penalty or a turnover, even though you don’t want there to be. Now you have to decide: How are you going to react to that? You can lose your cool and start spouting things you wish you didn’t say. Or you can just take care of the issue and move forward. That’s what I try to do.”
Problem being: It’s not working.
We can go round and round about how players are individuals who make individual choices (sometimes dumb ones). We can talk about how a coach, who has given a thousand speeches and made a thousand threats, may be on a remote tropical island while his quarterback is drinking himself into oblivion and groping a woman in a small-town bar. But does it really matter?
Whether Richt is saying the right or wrong things, or recruiting the right or wrong players, or setting the right or wrong tone, this is his program. He knows that. Anything that happens, whether it’s a stirring win in Tuscaloosa or an ugly arrest in Remerton, reflects on him.
Right now, the ugliness reflects on Mark Richt.
When he met with a small group of media members Thursday, prior to his main news conference at SEC media days, Richt was typically calm and cordial, even as a storm swirled around the program. Some would say that’s one of his strengths, not seeming like he’s going to put his fist through a wall every time something goes wrong. The downside to that is it gives others the perception, whether accurate or not, that he’s either bringing in the wrong players or he’s not a strong enough disciplinarian when they get here.
Question: Do you get a sense that when Nick Saban walks into a locker room that every one of their players is just a little bit intimidated. If so, do you get that same sense with Richt?
“I’ve got a process of handling these situations and I think I do a good job of it,” Richt said, calmly.
He was asked if he has tightened restrictions on player, in light of the arrests this summer. He declined comment.
He was asked later about some media outlets having him on a “hot seat,” partly because of last season’s 4-4 conference record.
“Not really. I understand the business,” he said. “I don’t worry about it. My goal is to focus on the important things and the things I can control.”
Coaching at the same SEC school for 10 years will grow a man some thick skin.
“In the end, we’re still in process of educating young people: How to handle adversity and rebound from that,” Richt said. “[Former UGA linebacker] Dannell Ellerbe. He had an issue early in his career: a DUI and a car wreck. I said, ‘Look, what you did damaged your reputation and Georgia’s reputation. But it didn’t destroy it. It only destroys it if you let it destroy it. If you allow this to put you in the tank, then you’re probably not going to make it.’ He was on his last leg at Georgia. But he got his act together.”
He has had those success stories. But arrests and losses have a cumulative effect. To use Richt’s words, they can damage the reputation of a man and a school.
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