NEW ORLEANS — Mark Richt was at College Football Playoff Media Day to provide analysis on the ACC Network on Saturday.
But while catching up with old friends at the event, at Xavier University of Louisiana, Richt indicated Georgia is never far from his mind.
“The first few years after leaving Georgia, there was a lot of kids I recruited, even some coaching staff, at least, support staff, so you cheer for people sometimes more than you cheer for a team,” Richt told DawgNation on Saturday.
“But my wife and I are still Georgia fans, we’re still Florida State fans,” Richt said. “I coached there for 15 years, coached at Georgia 15 years, and we’re still Miami fans, of course, it’s my alma mater.
“We just always chose to love where we were planted and try to do the best we could to bless the team and the community around us.”
Richt has transitioned effectively from the college coaching ranks to television analysis since leaving Miami after the 2018 season.
The 59-year-old Richt looked tanned and happy in New Orleans, less than three months removed from a heart attack he suffered on Oct. 21 and alerted fans to via his Twitter account.
Georgia football became an annual SEC Championship contender under Richt during his tenure in Athens, from 2001-2015. The Bulldogs won two SEC titles and five SEC East Division crowns with a 145-51 record (.739) under Richt.
The former Miami quarterback (1979-82) and longtime Florida State coordinator under Bobby Bowden said he likes the direction the Bulldogs are headed under Kirby Smart.
“The facilities are beautiful now and they were good, maybe not THE best, but now they are some of the best in the country,” Richt said. “That’s hard to do with the arms race in that regard.”
Unprompted, Richt shared his take on Georgia’s newest addition, Jamie Newman.
“They just recently got this quarterback out of Wake Forest, Jamie Newman, I’ve had a chance to watch him all season long,” Richt said.
“This kid is legit. I would not be shocked to see him become the best quarterback in the Southeastern Conference next season. I think he’s that good.”
Richt said he was pleased to see another graduate transfer have success at Georgia last season, even if he did leave Richt’s Miami program.
“I’m watching ACC games all the time … although I did keep an eye on Georgia the best I could,” Richt said. “Lawrence Cager, I know had a great year. I know he got hurt, and it hurt him, and it hurt Georgia.
“But he’s a great kid, his family is awesome. I get guys making decisions like that. They have a little more control than they did in the past.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but he’s a very talented guy who came in and learned quickly and proved to be one of the go-to guys. It’s a tribute for a guy to be able to do that.”
Richt, who coached three seasons at Miami before resigning, remains one of the most respected and beloved coaches in recent SEC history.
“Mark has his priorities in the right place with his faith, and now he’s young enough to get out and enjoy life,” said former rival coach Phillip Fulmer, who stayed removed from daily football operations for nine years before returning as Tennessee’s athletic director last year. “Mark did do things the right way, and he had a great career.”
Nick Saban agreed.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person, professionally as a coach” Saban said, “and his contributions to our profession over a pretty significant amount of time.”
Richt’s cool disposition defined him on the sidelines.
But each offseason, Richt would depart from his vanilla disposition and take to the high dive board for a backflip.
“The backflip started at the Boca Raton inlet bridge as a kid, as a teenager, it was kind of a big deal to jump off, but it was a bigger deal to do a back flip off,” Richt said. “So I had to humble myself and ask this surfer dude how to do the backflip, and by the grace of God, I’ve landed on my feet he first time, and I’ve landed on my feet ever since, and I was gong to do it every year until I missed it.”
Richt said if he was still coaching, he’d still be doing the backflip. It probably wouldn’t take much encouragement from the ACC Network for Richt to make a televised splash this offseason.
“The fact I’m not coaching anymore took the pressure off, I don’t have to do that backflip anymore,” Richt said. “But it’s a very non-athletic move, and you’re high enough where if you just fall backwards, you’ll rotate enough to land on your feet,.
“So it’s a lot of fun, and it’s one thing I could do that the young guys can’t, or won’t, do.”