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Mark Richt – Still a Top Dawg

By Johnathan McGinty  |  Photos by Evermore Photo Co.  |  Photo above: Jon and Mark Richt

 

If you’ve followed Georgia football with even a modicum of passing interest in the past 25 years, you probably have a pretty clear picture of Mark Richt that lingers in your head.

Likely, it’s one of a calm, measured and focused figure who exuded confidence on the sidelines, pushed for the best out of his players and helped return the Bulldogs to prominence in the college football world. Never too up and never too down, Richt’s gentle persona, coupled with his winning ways, endeared him to the University of Georgia, to the legions of Bulldog fans and to the Athens community.

From “finishing the drill” with a “Hobnail Boot” against Tennessee in 2001 to the 2007 “blackout” victory over Auburn that left Sanford Stadium, and a certain CBS announcing crew, rocking into the night, Richt left his mark on one of the game’s most revered programs departing as its second-winningest coach behind only legendary play caller Vince Dooley.

These days, he’s no longer stalking the sidelines Between The Hedges. Gone are Sunday afternoons focused on breaking down the previous day’s game film and Friday walkthroughs ensuring everything is ready for the upcoming opponent. Now, he’s more apt to answer to “Pooh-Pa’’ than anything else, and you can probably find him strolling over to Five Points, his two granddaughters in tow, for a quick bite to eat at one of the neighborhood’s various restaurants.

As Richt moves into the next chapter of both his personal and professional journey, it’s clear he’s made sure his purpose and passion is squarely on his family. And, that meant returning to the Athens community that first welcomed him with open arms 20 years ago.

It also means spoiling those two granddaughters when he can.

“You get to see how precious they are and how much fun you can have with them, but you also don’t have to be responsible for how they turn out,” he joked.

After his tenure ended at Georgia, Richt relocated to Miami to head up the football program of his alma mater, the University of Miami, where success -- again -- followed him as he led the Hurricanes to an ACC Coastal title and earned ACC Coach of the Year honor. When he officially retired from coaching in 2018, return trips to Athens ensued to see family, particularly those grandchildren.

“I used to joke they could still have residency in Georgia, they just had to put our house down,” recalled his son, Jon, with a laugh.

You see, on these visits, he and his wife, Katharyn, would stay with Jon and daughter-in-law, Anna in order to be as close as possible to their children. These trips turned more frequent -- and lengthy -- in order to get as much time with his family as possible. As such, when a friend who was a realtor in the area pushed him to check out a house for sale, Richt said he humored her.

Less than 24 hours later, they had made an offer, and Athens became a part-time home again.

“We’ve got a lot of relationships in this town,” he said.  “We’ve always loved Athens, we never stopped.”

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A Different Kind of Retirement

Being a doting grandparent isn’t the only thing keeping Richt busy these days.

In fact, at first glance, his seemingly lengthy list of obligations might lead some to believe that his schedule is more full than it was during his time at UGA. For starters, he’s gone into business with his son, Jon, and Fred Munzenmaier, a former player of his at Georgia, to open D1 Training Athens, a fitness facility that caters to folks of all ages and abilities.

He’s also emerged as one of the most popular on-air personalities on ESPN’s ACC Network, providing not only analysis of the top college football stories of the day, but also some of the more entertaining segments in the nascent network’s history.

For instance, if you’d like to know how to prepare the perfect Thanksgiving plate, Richt has done a whole bit on that. If you ever wondered how to cover up a fumble, don’t worry because he’ll gladly dive on the studio floor on live television to demonstrate the proper technique. Unsure of how to make sure every bite of your sandwich counts? Well, he’s got a detailed breakdown with his co-hosts on how to do just that.

“It’s been good, and I’m still involved with football, just from a different point of view,” Richt said. “When you’re doing studio analysis, like I do, it’s a team. You’re dealing with a lot of people and a lot of working parts. Everyone has to do their job, and I’m still working with young people. I’m the oldest guy by far, not only on the screen but behind the scenes too. So I can give some fatherly advice every once in a while.”

Retirement from coaching also means Richt also has been able to find time to pen his first book. Entitled Make The Call and published by B&H Publishing, it’s a collection of life stories and lessons drawn from a lifetime of not just coaching, but also from being in service as a father, husband, son, brother and friend.

During his coaching stint at Georgia, Richt gave some thought to writing a book, but admitted it was difficult to find the necessary time and energy to devote to it. Between preparing for the upcoming game, the year-round recruiting race and the other various obligations that come with being perhaps the most recognizable person in the state, there simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

He was interested in sharing the litany of lessons acquired throughout his life, knowing they might be able to offer some wisdom and guidance to others.

“As a play-caller, you’ve got to make the call every 40 seconds, and you have to make certain decisions throughout the game,” said Richt. “And that is true when it comes to running a program whether you’re in the game, out recruiting or doing fundraising. But there are a lot of calls you gotta make in life, and I’m hoping people can get a few bits of wisdom from some of the stories in this book.”

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Home From The Start

Richt’s homecoming enables him to join a unique and distinctly Athenian fraternity.

Every living former Georgia football head coach lives either full- or part-time in the Classic City. Dooley is renowned for his gardening acumen, with a species of azaleas named after him. Ray Goff is a successful businessman in the area, overseeing several investments. Jim Donnan is a prominent college football analyst, lending his expertise to several local and national shows.

And now Richt has returned, splitting time between Athens and Miramar Beach, Fla., finding purpose in new ways to serve and embracing the community that he and his family have called home since day one.

“My wife Katharyn and I had a philosophy where we weren’t going to (take a head coaching job) somewhere and see if we liked it,” Richt said. “Before we would go there, we were going to love it. It was going to be our home, and we’re going to treat it that way from day one. We’re not going to stick our toe in the water and see if we like the temperature. We’re all in for this community, and we wanted to get involved any way we could.”

Athens was home from day one, and the Richts became involved  in their church, their kids’ schools and several non-profit organizations. The bonds they forged during their first stint in town enabled them to put down deep roots for not only their immediate family, but for a full slate of Richts who eventually would come to call Athens home.

From parents to in-laws, brothers and sisters, a familial migration took place throughout Richt’s tenure as Georgia’s head coach. Even during their brief time away, Athens persisted as the place where family resided, where memories were made and where home remained.

“When we first took the job, we felt like Athens would be a good place to raise our family,” Richt said. “That was probably the most important factor in getting into the interview process. We weren’t going to interview anywhere that we didn’t think would be good for our kids. And Athens was everything that we hoped it would be as far as the type of community you want to raise your family in and work in.”

Today, those children are out of the house, leading their own lives in Athens. And the Richts have returned to the town that helped shape them. It’s a sweet homecoming for both them and the community which loves them.

Dawg Bites with Mark Richt

What do you like to do in Athens: “Where we live now we can walk to Five Points and go to these great restaurants. I will say I was a little heartbroken that Waffle House was gone, but … just being able to walk to shopping and the food is nice. We’ve done that a few times already with the kids and grandkids.”

Favorite spot on the UGA campus: “On a normal day it may not wow you, but when you walk through the ‘Dawg Walk’ it’s pretty emotional. I remember the first time walking through the ‘Dawg Walk’ and seeing all of those fans. You take the job, you recruit, you go to the office, you practice and you go home. You don’t really get out around the fanbase as much you’d like, but when I went to the ‘Dawg Walk’ for the first time, you could see how special it is.”

Favorite coaching memory at UGA: “The first season where we played Tennessee in Tennessee -- the ‘Hobnail Boot’ victory. That stands out because it was year one for me as head coach, and we were still trying to establish ourselves as a coaching staff and as a team. We won a game against a really good team in dramatic fashion. It maybe gave us more credibility with the fans, the administration and the Georgia people and with our own team, even amongst ourselves as a staff. We gained a lot of confidence that day, and then in the locker room that game crystallized our motto which was ‘finish the drill.’”