Richt Ready To Just Talk Football

 

 

Richt Attends Press Conference

Richt Attends Press Conference

 

 

The coach of the first Georgia team ever to be voted preseason No. 1 sat before the assembled media on the first day of practice, and of the first 20 questions directed toward Mark Richt, four had to do with football. The others concerned misbehavior, at which Richt’s Bulldogs might also rank No. 1.

Eight Georgia players have been arrested this calendar year. (One charge was dismissed.) Six have been suspended. On the same weekend the USA Today coaches’ poll anointed the Bulldogs the nation’s top team, one player was arrested, two more were taken to the hospital after being injured in a barroom brawl and a fourth is said by police to have caused $2,100 in property damage at that hospital.

“I know there’s been a big buzz,” Richt said in his opening statement, and he wasn’t speaking of the upcoming season. And then: “I guess we can talk about football if anybody wants — I’d be all for that.”

You’d have thought nothing could overshadow the first on-field appearance of what should be Richt’s team of teams, but a summer’s worth of unsavory headlines have taken the focus off Knowshon and Stafford and redirected it toward police reports and court filings.

“It’s embarrassing,” Richt said. “It’s sad … It certainly has been a distraction. There’s no way you can say it hasn’t been a distraction.”

This hasn’t been the first ugly offseason under Richt. The summer of 2003 brought eight suspensions and the selling of SEC championship rings on eBay. The spring of 2005 saw tackle Darrius Swain jailed and linebacker Josh Johnson booted off the team. Each time Richt vowed to teach his players better, but here it is 2008 and we’re again reminded that teaching can go only so far.

And now Georgia arrives at an unseemly disconnect: Its football team is admired coast-to-coast, but 6.7 percent of Georgia’s star-spangled 105-man squad has been arrested in 2008. Said Richt: “The reputation of this team has been damaged, no question.”

The easy course is to suggest that Georgia, in its zeal to play for the BCS title, has come to value talent over all else and has taken too many risky recruits. Richt: “I don’t think so. I can’t tell you how many guys [of whom] we say, ‘We’re not recruiting that guy; we’re not bringing that guy in.’ … We’ve dropped many young guys off the list based on their character.”

There’s no doubt Richt is sincere in his desire to nurture and, where possible, to rehabilitate. (He gave the infamous Odell Thurman every chance.) “If a guy does step out of line, he does get disciplined,” Richt said. “But if the first time a young man has a situation and you throw him out of the house — it’s hard to help a guy when he’s gone.”

Still, Richt needs to grasp that current events have swung public perception against his brand of gentle prodding. It would be a shame if Georgia’s first national championship since 1980 gets lumped with Florida State’s 1993 triumph (remember the Foot Locker raid?) and Nebraska’s 1995 crown (remember Lawrence Phillips?) as tarnished titles. This is too sound a program, and Richt too good a man, for that to happen.

Richt said he has “already read [his players] the riot act” and is considering rendering downtown Athens off-limits. But will that be enough to halt the run of late-night distress calls to this increasingly frustrated coach?

When such a call comes, Richt said, “You feel sick that one of the guys … you love and you care for has gotten himself in trouble. You hate the fact that these guys represent this program, and this program represents this university, and this university represents this state and anybody who claims to be a Bulldog.”

Someone asked Richt if, deep down, he’s simply too nice a guy. “I don’t think you can be too nice a guy,” he said. On this point, alas, the nice guy might be wrong.

– Courtesy of AJC.com

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