Regardless of where you were when you heard the news about Coach Mark Richt leaving the University of Georgia, you were probably as stunned as I was. Sure, we all want to win the Southeastern Conference football championship again, and even be national champions, and maybe we will someday.
But Coach Richt deserves our respect, and he deserves credit for all the great things he brought to our football program. Here’s two good reasons I hope you will join me in a “blackout” for Coach Richt this Saturday — wherever you live or whomever you normally cheer for.
First, Coach Richt gave 15 years of his life to the young men who had the honor of playing for him at UGA. His devotion to UGA involved recruiting trips, meetings, speaking engagements, high school games, practices, game film, and all that it takes to make the football program at a Division I school work. His leadership attracted fans, advertising, donations and investment. The coffers of the UGA Athletic Association grew, and our teams won. With a 145-51 record, Coach Richt is second on Georgia’s all-time wins list. Sure, he was paid handsomely for his efforts, but he stayed here and invested in our team.
The second reason to stand with Coach Richt is his valued character. None of us will ever know how much emphasis he put on values, character and faith — though stories abound. He clearly lived those qualities out. Look no further than his words of encouragement to his field goal kicker, Marshall Morgan, before the game-winning kick versus Missouri, or his extraordinary effort to assist paralyzed Southern University player Devon Gales.
Richt’s commitment to character is probably best demonstrated by how much he poured into player after player, year after year. He wanted to equip them for life, not just football. For some, he was the father figure they never had.
Usually his personal impact was compatible with winning, but when there were conflicts, character and integrity came first. He would bench or even boot players who needed tough love. Even with players he dismissed, he allowed them to transfer to rival schools instead of forcing them to sit out a year.
He practices what he preaches,too. I remember after a night game at Tennessee that he showed up in my Sunday school class the next morning — at 9:30 a.m. Talk about faithful. But church is important to him. He is bold about what he believes, and unashamed of his faith. Nevertheless, he is gracious in his approach to others by never forcing his beliefs on anyone.
We owe Coach Richt a debt of gratitude, and I hope you will join me in wearing a black UGA shirt of any kind this Saturday in solidarity for him. You can post to social media with a photo using hashtag #HonorCMR on Twitter.
Thanks, Coach Richt, for 15 phenomenal years. You are a class act.
Tim Echols, a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission, lives in Bogart. He has three degrees from the University of Georgia and serves on the UGA Board of Visitors.