CORAL GABLES, FLA. — Just one week ago Mark Richt was in final preparations for the annual venom-fest with Georgia Tech. Over 15 seasons as the Georgia Bulldogs coach, that rite was as familiar to him as the Lord’s Prayer.
Friday, he awoke 600 miles to the south, a steady rain beating the palm fronds and the high rise condos of south Florida.
Dressing for another press conference, this one to introduce him as the new coach of the Miami Hurricanes, Richt knotted a strange tie, a green and orange one this time, the colors of his new employer. What about all those red ones that were the requisite wear of a Georgia man? “I didn’t get rid of them,” he said, smiling. “Might be somebody who can use them.”
This was his look now — the neckwear of odd hues, the Miami “U” pin that appeared on his lapel. The new ties that bind.
As he later told the gathered media, “To put the pin on, put the tie on and BE Miami — it feels awesome, feels great. I am humbled and overwhelmed at the opportunity that’s here.”
Driving to work, a place he played as an afterthought quarterback 35 years ago, Richt was disoriented. His GPS did not spit out the specific building he needed, so he tried to rely on the fuzzy memory of a 55-year-old who had been mostly a stranger to his alma mater. “I thought I was on the right street,” he said, “then I’d look around a see a building I had never seen before.”
On arrival, Richt was put through a maze of the unfamiliar. Just a week ago, everything was so ordered and routine. Now nothing was, not even the rhythm of the football day. He was surprised to be addressing his team for the first time at 8 a.m. rather than in the afternoon, when most college teams gather. But at Miami, unlike at Georgia, players practice early and go to class late, in part as a concession to the tropical afternoons.
His message to the players had the same steady ring as many of his proclamations at Georgia.
“I told them we’re not going to start bragging about what we’re going to do. We’re going to talk about the process of winning,” he said.
A week ago, Richt knew every soul inside Georgia’s Butts-Mehre athletic building. Friday was one continual introduction, a meeting with the school president here, one with a board member there, a sit-down with the school’s compliance officer to determine when and how he could begin working the verdant high school recruiting grounds around him.
They even drug-tested Mark Richt Friday.
An institution within the institution of Georgia football, Richt was dismissed the day after beating Georgia Tech, the finishing touch on a disappointing 9-3 regular season. Let go after 15 seasons, he was the Bulldogs second winningest coach (145-51), who had led to team to a pair of SEC titles and 15 bowl games. A preseason pick to win the SEC East this year, Richt’s ‘Dogs were undone by losses to Alabama, Tennessee and Florida.
He wasn’t on the market long. Two days after the news of the break-up with Georgia broke, Richt was meeting with Miami officials in Atlanta. Three days after that, he was being introduced as the new coach of a Miami program that won five national titles between 1983-2001 but has gone quiet since. Terms of his Miami contract were not revealed.
During his press conference Friday Richt made only one small slip-up betraying old loyalties, when explaining his desire for a long relationship with the Hurricanes.
“I’m going to be at the University of Georgia – excuse me – I wasn’t going to say that today, but 15 years is a long habit. . .but my goal and my wife’s goal is to be at the University of Miami until I retire or until they throw me out the door.”
Among those in attendance was Vinny Testaverde, Heisman-winning quarterback and briefly a teammate of Richt’s at Miami. He spoke for a fan base most grateful that Georgia had fired Richt.
“(Georgia’s) loss is our gain, selfishly I’m glad they did it,” said Testaverde, whose son is a sophomore quarterback at Miami.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Testaverde said, “but Mark has the experience, he has the knowledge, he has the energy, he has the respect to be able to accomplish what we know he’ll be able to do here.”
Cast off just days ago, Richt was received in Miami as the coach most able to rekindle old glories.
“He’s one of the biggest names in college football,” Hurricanes long-time play-by-play man Joe Zagacki said. “When you have that guy, you tend to forget about him. When you don’t, you embrace him.”
And for his part, Richt embraced Miami in return. So long a fixture in Athens, having spent 15 seasons as the face of Georgia football, Richt could have taken more time to re-orient himself. There were reports that his family tried to persuade him to take off a year.
But convincing his wife Kathryn to make the move, Richt said, “did not take as long as you might think.”
“When I got excited about the job, she got excited,” he said.
“We’re going to love (Miami). We already love it,” Richt said. “We’re not going to test the water. We’re going to dive in.”