CHARLOTTE – Thursday, it was the ACC’s turn to begin running its football coaches and selected well-dressed and well-versed players through the media sausage grinder.
All in all, a more civil event than the SEC’s quote-apalooza in Hoover, Ala. – half the media and nobody spending the family vacation in the lobby waiting for Nick Saban’s autograph.
But I could have sworn for a moment there Thursday at the ACC Football Kickoff I was back in suburban Birmingham. It was déjà vu all over again. A flashback straight from nine days ago and the SEC kickoff.
Before us was a coach just starting his first year at a school – and in the ACC, you can barely swing a short iron without hitting a first-year coach, there are four of them this season.
This coach talked about all the support and positive energy that has greeted him at his new post.
This coach talked about returning to the university where he played, and the unique understanding that has lent him.
His players piled on with far more enthusiastic endorsements than one could ever find at the Republican Convention. They talked about what an amazing impression the new coach has made with them and how being in his presence is more revitalizing than a week in a hyperbaric chamber.
As the new coach and his guys spoke, there arose the very strong implication that a return to glory days was nigh.
Any of this starting to sound familiar?
And then it hits you: Holy alternate universe, Mark Richt is the Kirby Smart of Miami.
All the same themes that have greeted Smart at Georgia are now at the doorstep of Richt’s new office in Coral Gables.
The very man fired at Georgia to make room for Smart, the one thought to be tapped out in Athens, is now the great rainmaker in South Florida.
Please, head, don’t explode now.
There is much more coming on Richt in Sunday’s AJC, and on myajc.com, but for now, let us appreciate the weirdness at hand.
Richt’s appearance at an ACC kickoff was strange enough on its face, after his 15 seasons running the Georgia program. It was like Leno doing CBS late night.
Then he said this about his current environment: “Everybody’s hungry for success. There are always some fans (for whom) it’s national championship or bust. But there are a lot of them who want to see us get after people and play Miami football. A couple games in recent memory have been tough to swallow for people.” Change just a few words and that could have been Smart talking about the base he inherited from Richt.
Now instead of wrapping up a long season against Georgia Tech, Richt will be beginning his conference schedule with a game in Atlanta (Oct. 1).
“It’s a great venue, but it we’ll be wearing orange and green this time,” Richt said.
Both Richt and Smart have quarterbacks of some renown – only Richt has the more experienced junior Brad Kaaya as opposed to the great Georgia unknown, freshman Jacob Eason.
And both have set off quite a buzz among the consumers – Smart inciting 93,000 to turn out for a spring game, Richt leading the Hurricanes to believe they can sell 40,000 season tickets before the opener (a very big deal down there, a number not met in a long while).
There is talk around the Hurricanes program of a new indoor practice facility – Richt is said to have pledged $1 million to the project. Smart is about to reap the benefits from the same kind of facility for which Richt campaigned for years.
Guess which coach is being credited for bringing a fresh, vibrant spirit to the program – the fiery Smart or the low-key Richt? Trick question. It’s both.
Smart is Richt. And Richt is Smart. My head hurts.