Courtesy of Athens Banner Herald
HOOVER, Ala. – The world record in the men’s 100-meter dash is 9.72 seconds. Reporters only needed about an eye-blink longer to ask Mark Richt about Georgia’s prospects of winning the 2008 national championship.
Richt, senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens, senior receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and members of Georgia’s sports information staff flew out of Athens at 7 a.m. Thursday. They arrived at the Wynfrey Hotel for SEC Media Days at 7:30 a.m. CDT. Richt met with his first large media gathering at 8 a.m. – and 10 seconds later he heard a reporter utter the words “national championship.”
It wouldn’t be the last time.
“Quite frankly, I pray before, during and after,” Richt said after he completed his six-hour Media Days grind. “I just pray to have a good spirit and a good attitude. I pray that God guards my words so that I don’t say something really stupid.”
Richt conducted two large press conferences with print and Internet journalists plus three smaller press conferences with groups of television reporters. He also had individual sit-downs with five national and regional television outlets, including CBS, ESPN and the SEC. Richt’s day at Media Days ended with 10 separate radio interviews.
“It’s flattering. It’s exciting,” Richt said. “It’s a blessing to your program for people to think you’ve come far enough for anybody to even mention you in that light. It’s all good. You do have to manage it, and hopefully we’ve done a pretty good job of it. I like the fact that people believe that Georgia’s one of the finest programs in America.”
The SEC issued more than 750 sets of press credentials for Media Days, so everybody couldn’t talk to Richt and the players at the same time. Instead, coach and players traveled a circuit through print, television and Internet outlets and ended their day on Radio Row, where 25-30 radio stations broadcast live. Representatives from every major media market in the Southeast plus several national outlets attended the event. The vast majority of them do not cover Georgia consistently.
“It’s tough,” Richt said. “For a one-shot thing, it’s not bad. But I don’t think I could do this every day.”
Georgia’s 2007 season had not even ended when fans and observers began talking about a 2008 national championship run. The Bulldogs finished the 2007 season ranked No. 2 by The Associated Press and return most of their top players for 2008. Preseason rankings have placed the Bulldogs consistently in the top three. Georgia is on nearly all the pundits’ short list of national title contenders.
So when Richt, Massaquoi and Owens showed up for Media Days, the subject popped up early, often and in multiple forms.
“It’s always in the first two (questions),” Owens said. “It’s always the same thing, and you have to answer it the same way. ‘We’ve got a lot of work to do and if we take care of what we need to do every day, then that will take care of itself.’ ”
The national championship question surfaced in every session and usually more than once. Sometimes, a reporter asked the question directly. Sometimes they disguised the issue in questions about scheduling, maintaining momentum from last season or the advantage of returning a large corps of experienced players. Richt stuck to his script throughout.
“We try to set goals that we can control,” Richt said at least a dozen times. “We talk about winning Game 1. We talk about trying to win the (SEC) East. We talk about, if we get to the (SEC) championship game, to win it. We know that, in order to get close to that point, you’ve got to put the work in on a daily basis. Our goal is to try to focus on the moment, not way down the road.”
Richt often illustrated his point with personal experience. He was an assistant at Florida State in 1988 when the Seminoles began the season ranked No. 1. Miami punctured the Seminoles’ national championship balloon with a 31-0 whipping in the season opener.
“That’s what can happen when you start thinking ahead and not on what you need to be doing now,” Richt said several times.