Mark Richt, Gus Malzahn, Nick Saban speak at clinic

SEC coaches share advice, testimony at GMCA conference

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Gus Malzahn was back in his element.

Auburn's coach was one of three guest speakers -- along with Alabama's Nick Saban and Georgia's Mark Richt -- to speak at the Georgia Minority Coaches Association clinic Friday night at Columbus State. Getting the chance to talk with high school coaches and swap stories is something Malzahn treasure.

"Being a former high school coach, any time you can get around high school coaches, that's a really neat thing for me," he said. (You get to) interact with them and get to know them."

Of course, Malzahn is no stranger to speaking engagements. How does he decide what he will say to each one?

"I think each group is different," he said. "You try to accommodate each group, and the fact that I'm a former high school coach, I can really relate to where they're at. I just try to talk about my experience and different things like that."

For Richt, every speaking engagement is another chance to share his testimony. A key tenet of his philosophy is that he and the rest of his coaching staff has to set an example for their players. They pay attention to everything.

How does the coach treat his wife? His kids? And how does he carry himself on and off the field?

That means he doesn't drink. Not only does he risk losing his job if he was arrested for driving under the influence, but it's also about image. A devout Christian, Richt doesn't want the public to see him engaging in that kind of behavior.

"Every phone has a camera now," he said. "You could see me out in public and say, 'Hey, there's Coach Richt drinking a beer' and then it's all over social media networks. Now that doesn't mean I judge others who drink. I just look at it like this. I'm always telling our players and coaches, 'Let's not do anything to destroy what we're trying to build.'"

And while Richt wants to win a BCS championship as much as any other coach in college football, he said that's not his primary objective in life. He recalled a meeting that occurred just after Florida State won the national title in 1993. It was a long time coming; after years of being dogged by accusations it couldn't "win the big one," the Seminoles finally got the monkey off their back. Part of Bobby Bowden's staff, Richt said the legendary coach went around the room and asked each assistant whether they felt any different. Had winning a championship changed them?

Every person in the room replied "no," Richt said.

"That's because that's nothing something that changes you," he said. "It's accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior. … "I want to honor God in all my actions. Since 1986, that's been my only goal."

Still, Richt wants to do everything he can to ensure his players are successful in every aspect of their lives.

That extends to life beyond the field. All too often, Richt said, players have no idea what do once their career ends, whether that happens after college or after an NFL career. After toying with the idea for years, Richt has established "The PO Network" in honor of Paul Oliver. A former corner for the Bulldogs, he played in the NFL for four seasons with the San Diego Chargers from 2007-11. In September, however, he committed suicide.

Richt admitted he didn't know all the details about, but knew that Oliver's suicide in large part stemmed from the fact that he didn't know how to define himself since he was no longer in the NFL.

"I don't want that to ever happen to another guy," he said. "I don't want them to feel when football goes away, they've lost all hope."

And that's what coaching is, according to Saban: constantly teaching.

"Teaching is the ability to inspire learning," he said. "But when you teach, you learn, too."

The biggest obstacle he has to overcome with the newcomers who join the Crimson Tide every year?

Teaching them the concept of "team."

"They're too self-absorbed," Saban said. "Growing up, everything has always been about them."

Break through that barrier, Saban said, and you're well on your way to developing a championship-caliber team. But he was quick to caution how fleeting prosperity can be.

"I see all these books about how to be successful," he said, "but you never seen books on how to stay successful."

Once a team reaches the pinnacle -- and few know it better than Saban, who has won BCS titles at Alabama and four overall -- the only direction it can go is down.

How does one prevent that tumble?

It's simple, Saban told the assembled coaches.

If you refuse to be satisfied, half the battle has already been won.

"Complacency will derail you faster than anything else," he said. "And that's the only problem with winning: It gives you a blatant, arrogant disregard for wanting to do things right. When you lose, that makes you respect winning."

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