Mark Richt left a legacy of consistency at UGA not only on the field, but also in the lives of the players he coached.
After 15 seasons, 145 wins, six SEC East titles and two SEC Championships, UGA decided to part ways with Richt. The move was expected by some, but not all were prepared to accept it. Count former All-American offensive lineman and UGA alumnus Jon Stinchcomb among them.
“It’s difficult,” Stinchcomb said at an Allstate Good Works event this week. “He’s meant so much to the University of Georgia, and to the fans, and to the team, across the board. Any time you make a transition like that, you’re going to ruffle some feathers.”
The one ruffling those feathers was UGA athletic director Greg McGarity. Parting ways with Richt was a move that, to many, signaled the school’s loss of confidence in his ability to lead to team to a championship.
And yet UGA’s consistently high performance in the SEC has earned Richt a reputation as one of the best coaches in the country. The Bulldogs reached nine wins this season for the 11th time under Richt.
“I was a little disappointed,” former UGA quarterback David Greene said of Richt’s dismissal. “I don’t know if there was really any easy way to go there. I wish it had been a situation where he left on his own terms, or he didn’t feel like he was not appreciated or no longer believed in by the administration. There’s a lot of things that go into whether a team is successful or not, and a lot more than just Coach Richt and his decisions.”
Following his exit from UGA, several pundits believed Richt would take some time away from coaching, if he even decided to return to the sidelines at all. However, Richt was hired by Miami on Friday.
“I’m excited for Coach Richt,” Stinchcomb said. “Obviously he still wants to be in coaching, and for him it’s got to be exciting to be back at your alma mater. And really I’m excited for those student-athletes. Having benefited from his leadership and his coaching ability, they are in for something special.”
Stinchcomb’s brother Matt, also a former All-American offensive lineman for Richt at UGA, believed Miami would greatly benefit from his former coach.
“I think he’s certainly capable of it,” Matt Stinchcomb said of Richt leading Miami back to prominence. “They’ve had some pretty glorious days.
“Yeah, he’s a guy that’s proven he can win at a high level, and Miami has proven to be a program that can do it as well. So it could be a good marriage.”
Beyond a strong coaching pedigree, Richt is considered a man who cares for his players and has a vested interest in their well-being.
“I was Coach Richt’s first recruit to the University of Georgia, so I have a unique bond with him that a lot of people don’t,” said D.J. Shockley, the quarterback for UGA’s 2005 SEC Championship team. “I just remember everything he taught me on and off the field about how to become a better man, be a better brother, be a better husband, be a better friend, be a better teammate. That’s stuff that he instilled every single day.
“Everything wasn’t about x’s and o’s all the time. As big as college football is, and we know it’s all about wins and losses, he actually cares about the players, he cares about the young men he brings in. That’s what was so special for me: he cared enough to ask me how things were going at home, how my family was, was there anything on my mind? I took that to heart, and really felt like he was a man that I would love to call dad.”
Richt will end his career at UGA with the highest winning percentage of all the coaches who coached for more than one season. For his players, however, it isn’t his wins or losses that will be remembered as the years progress.
“I just wanted to express my gratitude, as so many of us do,” Jon Stinchcomb said. “What he did on a personal level, and in the leadership he provided. The life that he lives is a shining light for all of us that, no matter what the restrictions or the description, you can live for something much bigger. He does that on a daily basis in a very authentic and real way.”