ATHENS – It was a full 90 minutes, maybe longer, after the UGA Senior Gala had concluded Saturday night before Mark Richt finally left. He remained up on the stage in the main ballroom at the Classic Center posing for pictures and signing autographs until every single person that had stood in two massive serpentine lines to wish him well had a chance to do so. Even servers and busboys got a chance to talk to him.
Beyond sheer length, this was no ordinary receiving line. It consisted not only of fans, but also of players, players’ families, UGA support personnel. Everybody, it seemed, wanted to get in one last word with the Bulldogs’ not-long-gone coach.
Most of the exchanges were about the same.
“I hate to see you leave, Coach,” said one fan, who had Richt autograph his program.
“Well, you know what, it’s an exciting time for both schools,” he replied. “That’s what I think.”
As long as Richt was at Georgia – 15 years – his end and new beginning came breath-stealingly quick. Three days is all it took for Richt to learn he’d been fired by Georgia and hired by Miami. And not even two weeks later, he was back in Athens giving a final sendoff for the Bulldogs’ seniors — and them for him.
Richt said the only reason he came back is the UGA seniors insisted that he did. That he could do it without disrupting recruiting weekend at Miami clinched it.
“I was fortunate to have someone who allowed me to jet in here and I’ll jet back out at 6:30 in the morning,” said Richt, who was accompanied by wife Katharyn. “I’ll be back in time to finish with the official visit weekend.”
After he’d posed for his last picture, Richt cleared up a few things for the record. He said he first was contacted by Miami back at midseason when Al Golden was fired, but did not consider it then.
“But I gave them the same answer I always give: Not interested; Georgia’s my home,” he said. “When I got let go – when we mutually agreed; quote it that way if you don’t mind – my agent got contacted again.”
Richt said he was actually contacted by six schools in all, but he declined to name the others. In the end, he said Miami was the only one he would seriously consider. He interviewed with them Dec. 1 in Atlanta and accepted the job then.
He’ll make $4 million a year, same as he did at Georgia.
Richt said he considered taking a year off. Some in his family thought he should. But the timing with his alma mater coming open was just too perfect — and possibly divine.
“That was an idea,” he said of a year’s hiatus. “But I knew the Miami job wouldn’t be open next year. So if you’re going to go back and do it again, you want to do it at a place you think you’ve got a chance to win, you’ve got to do it. And it being my alma mater, the whole thing was the right time.”
Richt said he honestly believes Miami is “a sleeping giant.” And he clearly believes he’s the man to awaken it. His ability to recruit South Florida was formidable at Georgia. The thinking is he’ll be extremely tough to beat as an in-state resident.
Meanwhile, several members of Georgia coaching staff remain in limbo. John Lilly, Bryan McClendon and Tracy Rocker are among those who haven’t been designated an assignment beyond the Taxslayer Bowl. It’s safe to say some of them may end up with him at “The U.”
“We’ll let everybody know when the time comes,” he said.