Originally created 07/31/05

Summer provides no vacation to Richt



A stenographer's transcript is a cold document.

The gray wall of text doesn't reveal the heart, if there was any, in the 2,815-word opening ramble of Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer.

Without inflection and tone and expression, it's easy to take a string of words and lose all sense of context.

So what are those who weren't present at the Southeastern Conference's annual football-a-palooza in Alabama supposed to make of Georgia coach Mark Richt's initial salvo at the podium Thursday?

"It's hard to believe I am still alive and thankful to be at Georgia," Richt's transcript reads.

Assuming he didn't take his family on a beach trip in Iraq, it's not to difficult to believe he's still among the living. Considering the summer that was, however, still being thankful to be at Georgia is a whole different story.

The off-season for the Georgia Bulldogs has been one constant stream of arrests, academic casualties, cheating accusations, early departures and injuries - not entirely unlike the extracurricular activities at Tennessee or South Carolina.

Coming off three successive 10-win seasons, it clearly hasn't been as rejuvenating as Richt might have preferred.

"It wasn't as relaxing of a summer I would like it to be personally, but that's part of the game, part of the business," Richt said. "And, you know, I accept that, and I am glad to be right in the middle of it."

Richt is right in the middle of his biggest test since he took over the Georgia program in 2001. The successes of his teams on the field have made it easy for some to overlook the abundance of behavioral outbreaks by Bulldogs off the field that make any problems under the previous regime seem positively monastic.

Now Richt embarks on Chapter 5, without some of the people around him who made Chapters 1 through 4 so enjoyable.

Gone is the winningest quarterback in collegiate football history. Gone is the most decorated defensive Bulldog ever. Gone is the defensive coordinator and several of the foundation pillars that made that unit so stout.

Richt enters training camp in 2005 insisting that his program is not "out of control" and hoping the new cogs he assembles will perform as reliably as the well-oiled machine Bulldogs fans have gotten comfortable with during his tenure.

Motivation, Richt knows, is the one thing he won't have to worry about.

"I don't think we're going to be a complacent football team," he said. "I think that the greatest danger to success is complacency, and usually you become complacent when everyone tells you how great you are. We haven't had a lot of people say how great we are. They say we're pretty good, but maybe not great."

Georgia fans don't really want to accept good. They want great. They want to beat Tennessee and Florida and Steve Spurrier and Auburn and Georgia Tech, and they want to win the SEC championship and compete in a BCS bowl.

Richt has shown enough coaching prowess so far to believe that none of that is outside these new Bulldogs' reach. But he's not worried if the outcome doesn't quite meet the results of three straight seasons ranked among the top six in the nation by his coaching peers.

"It would be nice to be able to continue the momentum that we have right now," he said. "It is exciting for your program if you can do that. It would be nice to continue that type of a streak. But ... I think that Georgia football is very, very healthy. And one season of sub-par play in the minds of Georgia people I don't think is going to be devastating."

Neither will a sub-par off-season of transgressions - provided it doesn't become habit.

Richt estimates that 75 percent of his head coaching duties deal with everything other than actual Xs and Os. It makes you wonder, why would anybody really want that job?

"Why do I coach?" Richt said. "I coach because I love these players and I want them to succeed in life, and I hope that I can make a positive impact on their lives to where they can become a very good husband, a very good father, a very good employee, a very good citizen. But it's a learning process. I mean they don't show up perfect, and they don't leave perfect, but I hope they're better men when they leave our program than when they come."

Richt is certainly a better coach than when he arrived. He's still alive and, for now, still thankful to be at Georgia.

And for all of his players flaws, the Bulldogs are still very thankful to have him.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.