The following is a transcript of coach Mark Richt's comments with the media at SEC Media Days on Thursday morning:
MARK RICHT: I was told I can get started, so here we go.
Glad to be here this morning. Glad to still be coaching in the Southeastern Conference after seven seasons, going into eight. That's an accomplishment in itself. I'm excited about that.
Excited about our football team. We've got an awful lot of returning starters that have played a lot of ball for us. We've got a lot of guys that have backed up that have played a lot of ball for us. I think a year ago we did a good job of allowing more guys to play. I think that paid big dividends as the season went on. It helped our morale. It helped our team speed. I think it helped our health. I think we were fresher. I think we were healthier. We're going to continue to try to do that as time goes on. But we're going to report here in a couple days and get it going. With that I thought I'd answer what you want to know, not what I might want to let you know (smiling).
Q. Obviously expectations are nothing new at Georgia. This year they seem heightened. How have your players dealt with it? How do you want them to deal with it as you approach the season? MARK RICHT: Dealing with the expectations, of the fans, our Bulldog fans always have high expectations. We've always had high expectations. We expect to win. Our goal is always set to win the Eastern Division. Our goal is always set to try to win the Southeastern Conference. From that point, you don't know if you'll get in the National Championship game or not, quite frankly. It's hard to set a goal that you can't control. I know that Auburn went through it. Auburn goes undefeated in this league and finds themselves watching the National Championship game. We try to set goals that we can control. Those are the things that we talk about. We talk about winning Game 1. We talk about trying to win the East. We talk about, if we get in that championship game, to win it. We know that in order to even get close to that point, you've got to put the work in on a daily basis. Our goal was to try to focus on the moment, not on way down the road. I mean, people started talking National Championship after the Sugar Bowl last year. That's too long to be chewing on that bone, so to speak. We had to break it down into the smallest component, which is today, what can you do today to get better and to prepare yourself for the opportunity. I told the players that this pre season hype could be a blessing or a curse. It's a curse if you think it gives you a sense of entitlement to where you think you don't have to prepare. It could be a blessing if you look at it as one of the greatest opportunities of your life and you put the work in to even be in position to have a chance. So the latter, I think, is what we took on as a team. As I watch 'em, I don't see any complacency. I see guys working extremely hard and getting excited about it. That's kind of how we're trying to handle it.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about Prince Miller and his development as a player and importance to the secondary? MARK RICHT: Yeah, Prince, he's a very quiet, unassuming guy. He came from a great high school in South Carolina, Burns High School. They do nothing but work there. They do nothing but work there. He knew how to work the Georgia way. He knew how to compete. He played as a freshman. He's been very steady since he's been at Georgia. He's a tremendous special team player and a field corner for us. He's gotten stronger, he's gotten faster, he's gotten more mature. He was always a pretty tough son of a gun. I just expect him to play extremely well for us. With the amount of spread offenses that are being added to our schedule, you know, in and out of conference, our corners are going to be their tongues are going to be hanging out because they're going to be playing a lot of three cornerback defenses. He's certainly one of those top three, that's for sure.
Q. You became a more emotional, animated coach in the second half of the season. Your team responded to that. Do you regret not maybe doing that sooner? Also, this year, what kind of coach do you expect to be on the sideline? MARK RICHT: I don't regret not, you know, being any different any sooner. When I first came to Georgia, not only was I head coach, I was also our game planner and play caller. If I got too excited, outwardly excited, I would lose my focus. I learned that way back at Florida State when I was calling plays there. I needed to stay calm and peaceful to think as straight as I wanted to be able to think to be able to make the right decisions every, you know, 30 seconds or so. Once I delegated that role and gave it to Mike Bobo, it's probably mid season before I realize I don't have to continue to stay in that type of a calm mode. I was a little bit more free to let my emotions go. After getting beat so bad by Tennessee, without much emotion, I was taking inventory of that game. I was kind of wondering what went wrong. As I looked around, I was seeing that everybody was kind of waiting on someone else to do something, coaches and players. I was getting kind of mad at them until I looked in the mirror and realized that they were just basically reflecting me. I was sitting there watching, waiting for somebody to do something, too. I realized that if we don't play with emotion and energy, which usually we do, but we didn't that day, I said, Something's got to change. I knew it had to start with me. And then it did kind of catch fire, you know. Now, how am I going to be this year? I'll probably be very much like I was from mid season on. I'll be a little bit more free. I mean, I still have a lot of big decisions that have to be made game day. It's not like I'm not making some decisions, and I don't need to stay relatively calm, but it's not like it was. You know, before, if you got the ball, it's every few seconds. If you don't have the ball, you're still focused on, What am I going to do next series, as you're discussing with your coaches upstairs, what are you seeing, what are they doing, downs and distances and all that, I mean, I'm not doing that like I was, so I'm a little bit more free to kind of turn it loose. And that's what you want your team to do, is turn it loose.
Q. You have what is on paper appears to be a possible NCC Championship team and maybe even a National Championship contender. On the other hand, you have a very, very challenging schedule, maybe the most challenging schedule in the country. How do you pretend to wade through that and possibly reach some of those goals that possibly a lot of people seek for your team? MARK RICHT: Again, you know, here's our deal. We know everybody on our schedule can beat us. I mean, we know everybody in our division can and has beaten us. We know when we play Alabama, Auburn, LSU in the West, that's rough. We know when we play Arizona State at Arizona State, playing Georgia Tech, you know, when we play Georgia Southern, who has won national championships, Central Michigan, who won their league two years in a row. I mean, everybody we play, they all know how to win. We don't sit there and say, Well, we got this one, we got that one. Boy, that will be a tough one. We know they're all gonna be tough. Our state of mind going into the game, every game, is that it's gonna be a 60 minute war. And if you think it's gonna be anything different, and it becomes that, you're in trouble. So, I mean, I'm thinking of what plays we're gonna call in an overtime period before the game even starts. That's kind of how I go into every game (laughter). When we win games, I feel relief. I don't feel like, Well, we should have had that one, just get puffed up about it. You know, I know every victory's a tough one. But that's the exciting part about this league. That's the exciting part about this season in particular. It's a great, great challenge, as you said. We've got outstanding coaches. We've got outstanding players. We've got some experience. But so does everybody else. I mean, LSU won the National Championship. Great football team. Not good team; great team. They lost twice. You know, that's just the way college football is. That's the way our league is.
Q. Does Stafford and Marino remind you of any other tandem you've ever had, whether at Georgia or even before at Florida State? How creative can you get offensively when you have those two guys? MARK RICHT: Well, there's been Charlie Ward Warrick Dunn was a pretty great tandem, no doubt. These guys, I don't know if they rival that or not. When you look at the production of Charlie and Warrick together, it's pretty outstanding, pretty spectacular. Will they be as productive as those two? I don't know. As far as being creative with those guys, Knowshon is versatile enough to do something besides just be an I back, no question. Matthew can certainly play under center. His whole high school career he was in the gun. He's got much more running ability than I think people give him credit for. We have incorporated QB run with Matthew because he's a legitimate runner. He's a guy that if you don't make a plan for him, then you could get hurt by him. We don't want to game plan it where he's going to be the runner, you know, 10 or 20 times a game necessarily. But we'll pick our spots. They do give you some good versatility. A more mature line, that gives you more versatility. I mean, last year we had three freshmen starting for us, and you can't be quite as creative when the line can't quite hold up like you want it to down after down. Hopefully we'll be a little bit better up front earlier in the season, and that will help us, too.
Q. You're one of several coaches in the league that have won BCS games, five guys that have won national titles. Can you talk about the coaching in this league, what that's like. And what do you think Bobby Petrino is going to add to the mix? MARK RICHT: Well, Bobby Petrino is a great coach. I mean, if you've been through the NFL, I don't care how many years, you've been through something tougher than our league, I'm sure. You know, there are a bunch of great coaches in our league. I think you said five coaches have won national championships. Tommy Tuberville had an undefeated season. Probably by all rights should have at least had the opportunity to play for a national championship. Great coaches, great players, great passion. I mean, it doesn't change every year. But to claim that many national championships among your group of coaches, it's kind of intimidating sometimes, I guess (smiling). I'll say this. In our schedule, the teams that we're playing, the coaches have accounted for nine national championships when you talk about the guys we play in league and then out of league. We've got some coaches. Dennis Erickson had two. Chris Hatcher has had one or two. Paul Johnson has had one or two. So we're playing a bunch of great coaches this year.
Q. When you send guys out recruiting, how locked do you get on height and weight and what's it take to get outside of that? MARK RICHT: We don't. I think a lot of people do have a certain size that you have to be or speed that you have to be to play a certain position. If we were really caught up in that, we wouldn't have Rennie Curran today starting as a true freshman at linebacker. Some guys just break the mold and are highly, highly productive. What we have to gauge is can he take that high school productivity and actually be able to get it done at our level. Sometimes there are great high school players that can't translate. So you do have to be careful. You can't have a massive amount of those guys. But every once in a while there's a guy that can do it. I mean, for me, we've had 5'6" receivers and we've had 6'6" receivers. If the guy is 6'6" and doesn't run as fast probably, at least he can out jump somebody or out muscle somebody. There's something about him that makes us feel like he can win and he can produce in our league. The character of the man makes a big difference, too. You know, you might have a smaller man in stature, but he's a very big man when it comes to integrity. You know, that goes a long way for us and how we decide who we're gonna bring in.
Q. With so much hype and expectation surrounding this team coming into this year, how are you and your coaching staff approaching kind of keeping players grounded, especially the superstars that are on that team?
MARK RICHT: Again, for us it just goes back to preparation. It goes back to work ethic. It goes back to breaking it down into the least common denominator, the smallest frame of time, which is each day, and even within the day each practice, and within the practice each rep. Or when you're in the weight room, each rep that you take. You have got to take advantage of this moment to build that block strong enough so when you get to the season you have a chance to have the great things that you want to happen. But, again, if you think too far down the road and you don't prepare on a daily basis, and you lose a day or two because you think you're it, you won't be ready at the moment of truth. We gauge our players' attitude by the work ethic that they have. I've seen nothing but work from these guys. They're just used to it. That's the Georgia way.
Q. Going back to your discussion of your sideline demeanor, which do you feel like is more characteristic of your personality, the first half of the season or the second half? MARK RICHT: If you talk to my family members, people that really know me, I mean, there's been people saying, you know, Mark Richt, he's a true gentleman of the game. He never gets excited. He's just kind of calm and stoic. My family members are just texting me saying, We know better, we know better (laughter). Not that I'm not a gentleman. But I get riled up; I get fired up. When I compete myself, whether it's racquetball or volleyball, whatever it might be, I mean, cards, my family knows I want to win. I'll do a little trash talking. I'll do whatever I got to do to get things riled up (smiling). Again, as a play caller, I stayed a little more calm. Now that I'm not, you'll see a little bit more of that. I did spend a lot more time having discussions with officials, which I really would never do before, because I was just so busy and I didn't think it was going to do any good anyway. When I made that little transition, I spent about two or three games getting in the ear of officials. I'll never forget one of the officials looked at me and said, I thought you were a class act. I said, I am a class act (laughter). So, anyway, I told the staff after about two or three games, I said, Look, I know you guys want me to get after these guys, but that's not me. Now, every once in a while I will. But every play, I'm just not gonna be doing that 'cause it takes too much energy, number one, and it really doesn't help anyway, so...
Q. Was Blake Barnes just a casualty of numbers for you guys at the quarterback position? MARK RICHT: You know, Blake's a wonderful kid. I still text Blake. We keep up with each other. I mean, we're Christian brothers. We get along great. He was not mad when he left. He just knew Stafford was gonna play. He wanted to play. He wanted to see what it felt like to be the leader of a football team. So he found a place where he would have that opportunity. He's excited about his opportunity. You know, every once in a while that's what a guy feels like he needs to do. You know, D.J. Shockley, on the other hand, he wanted to wait through the David Green era. Even if he had a shot to only play that one season, it was worth it to him. Joe Cox is here playing behind Stafford in the same age group. They're both juniors right now. Some guys decide they want to stay and some guys decide they just want to go and try something. I'm all for that. Just as long as they continue their education, keep chasing their dream, I'm happy for them.
Q. We want to get your opinion on the idea of an early signing period and a plus one or playoff system. MARK RICHT: The early signing date, I was not really in favor of it. In my opinion, if we move the early signing date up, then all of a sudden we're gonna have a lot more official visits in season when you're trying to coach your team. You want to coach your team. It's hard to have a great official visit and do a great job coaching your team. Now, the idea came up, if a guy wants to sign early, which is somewhere around the junior college signing date, December, whatever it was, they said if a guy the only way a guy can be eligible to sign early is if you did not participate in an official visit because you already knew where you wanted to go. So now, with that idea in mind, my fear of having too many official visits all of a sudden disappeared or dissipated anyway. I'm thinking, That might not be a bad idea. If you got 10 guys that know doggone well they want to be at Georgia, don't want to take any official visit, that's going to make our life easier maybe in season. That's when it turned me, that suggestion tagged onto an early signing date, turned my thinking to saying, That might not be a bad idea. Then you could concentrate. Let's face it. If a pool of players have decided what to do early, then everybody else knows where to go. The players know. Let's say a guy committed at his position. He knows to go to another school. We know we didn't get this guy. We know to go after another player. I think that's not a bad thing. But it moves that calendar up, if it forces more official visits in the summer or something like that, I'm like, Forget it. We all need our summers, coaches, our families, the players, the high school coaches. Even our academic advisors. I mean our academic advisors are on call all summer when an official visit walks in town and wants to learn about what's going on. We all need to take a little break.
Q. When you get away from the Florida game last year, anything about the celebration that you have rethought, regretted, the first touchdown? Did you talk to Irvin about it at all? MARK RICHT: Yeah, I'm going to tell you what happened. We played Tennessee. We got no fire. We got to have fire. I knew I needed to get better at that. I'm not talking to the team or coaches or anything. I'm deciding I'm going to get all exuberant, and maybe I can rally the troops against Vanderbilt. We're losing 10 0 at halftime. I don't see a whole lot more emotion in that game. We win by the skin of our teeth. We have an open date before Florida. Then I announce to the team, Man, we are going to have to have more enthusiasm and energy or we're not gonna win. I said, Even if we got to fake it, we're gonna have more energy. Then I said, As a matter of fact, after the first score against Florida, I want you guys to celebrate so hard that the referees throw the flag. Now, I'm thinking in my mind, my little pea brain, 11 guys in the game, score a touchdown, 11 guys jump up and down and celebrate until the official throws the flag. That's my intention of what I had said. I actually did it a couple years when I was offensive coordinator at Florida State. I never had the authority to have a whole team do something like that. I was just kind of going back to finding a way to get guys jacked up. Well, anyway, we got two weeks before the game. We're preparing for that game. I got guys scoring a touchdown against a scout team, spiking the ball. I got a guy scoring against the scout team and dunking it over the goalpost. I have a guy scoring against the scout team and pretending he's throwing the ball in the stands. I'm watching this thing as it's going on thinking, That's not the way it's gonna happen. Right before we left the hotel to go play Florida, I said, Man, I want a little housekeeping before this game. I says, Number one, I am going to stay true to my word and let you celebrate after the score. But I don't want some individual to do a little dance or throw the ball in the stands. I said, The reality is the defense is probably going to set that score up. I said, You're gonna have teammates probably blocking for you. You have 50 guys back home who probably got that scout on that scout team that prepared you to get in the end zone. So it's not an individual celebration. I want it to be a team celebration. Again, I'm still thinking 11 guys celebrating. Well, somebody in the crowd thought I meant everybody. The other thing I said in that housekeeping thing, I said, First of all, if we don't score a touchdown in the first half, we're not celebrating anything. I said, I don't want to celebrate when we're down 31 7 or 31 6. So, anyway, we go to the game. Sure enough, defense gets a turnover. Offensive line blocks them down the field. We score the touchdown. Then, bang, guys start leaving the sideline. I was in shock as much as anybody else. My initial reaction is, Oh, heck, you know, what's going on (smiling)? Then I'll say this: When I saw the exuberance, when I saw the energy, when I saw the passion and the fire get unleashed that had been dormant in this football team, I got excited. I was fired up. Now, I didn't even think that it could probably have turned into a melee. The other thing I didn't think about was that thing was under review. If that thing wasn't a score, it would have been third and 30, you know. That would have been ugly. But, again, I had no intention for our team to clear the bench. Now, I called urban, I called Coach Meyer on Sunday. I told him what I told you. I said, I was a coach desperate to try to get some enthusiasm, and I was willing to take a 15 yard penalty. Now, in hindsight, I asked the team to do an unsportsmanlike act, because it's called unsportsmanlike conduct, excessive celebration. In hindsight, I shouldn't have done it. I won't do anything like that again. It could have easily turned into a big stupid brawl and everything else. That's as truthful as I can tell you what happened.
Q. You look pretty solid at every position, other than kicker. In 22 positions, what are your biggest concerns? MARK RICHT: Well, still offensive line. We have one junior lineman, no senior linemen. We have one junior lineman, Vince Vance. He's a second year junior college player. He's one of the few junior college guys that can come out with three to play three because he didn't play one year in junior college because of an injury. That's our junior, but he's only been here two years. The rest are freshmen and sophomores. Yes, three did start last year. But we literally could be starting, you know, four sophomores and a true freshman possibly. That's still a very young unit. At safety, we've got three guys right now that I think are really game ready. You get one of those guys hurt, now you don't have any substitutes that have had any game experience at all. That's a little bit of a concern. You know, there's other positions that even tailback, let's face it, Knowshon, he's a heck of a tailback. I have zero game experience behind him. Caleb King is a redshirt freshman, and the other three guys are true freshmen. There's no other game experience besides Knowshon.
What looks like a tremendous strength may not be, especially if he tweaks his ankle and he's out for three weeks or something. Even at fullback right now with some injuries, I've got one fullback with any experience at all for that first ballgame. We moved two linebackers to play fullback, at least for the first couple ballgames. We're waiting on a couple guys to get healthier off of a suspension. So those are some of the areas. You mentioned kicker. We think Blair Walsh is the number one candidate for that position. We scholarshipped him because we thought he's a heck of a player. Brian Mimbs, our punter, has been working with him all summer. He likes what he sees. We're excited about that. Hopefully he can handle the pressure of the job.
Q. Do you expect to learn a lot about your team on the early road trips? MARK RICHT: I think we will. Until you play the first game, you don't really know what you have. Once you get into conference play and you start going away from home, you get a little bit better idea of how we'll handle that. We've done pretty well in other people's home stadium. I think there's enough guys that have been through that that there will be at least the confidence that we can go on the road and win. But until you do it, you're just not sure.
Q. Back to the celebration topic again. I don't know if you saw Urban Meyer's comments in his biography that he's going to handle it and it will be a big deal in response to the celebration. It's something that has been talked about a lot. How much do you think that intensifies the rivalry with Florida for this year? MARK RICHT: I don't think there's any doubt it's intensified the rivalry. But what intensified the rivalry is that we won, okay? I mean, that's the reality. But, you know, people want to talk about streaks in that game. The way I see it, we won last year. We won two out of the last four. And if you want to start going back in history, you might as well go back to the beginning of the history of the series and see where Georgia is there. You know, I don't know why everybody wants to go just 15 games back. I mean, if you want to go back, go back to the beginning. If you want to talk about recent history, let's talk about last year, the last few games, you know.
Q. A lot of coaches will talk about injuries. You're going to get asked about it. Some don't. The ACC sort of half heartedly adopted an NFL policy where the questions were not allowed. Would that make it easier? How do you feel being forced to reveal limited injury information? MARK RICHT: For us, I don't think it would change one thing what we do. I pretty much tell everybody what's going on. I'll say a guy's probable. I'll say a guy's doubtful. I'll say a guy, he's gonna play. I'll say a guy probably won't play. I don't mess around.
Some coaches are trying to hide this or that. I just tell it the way it is. You know, again, sometimes I might sound a little wishy washy on a guy, but you don't know. A guy on Monday night look terrible and on Thursday he's running around, so you can say doubtful Monday, and all of a sudden the guy's froggy by Thursday or even game day sometimes. I don't think it would change how we do anything at all.
Q. One of the reasons I think the ACC is doing that is because of gambling concerns, imitating what the NFL does. Would that be a reason to do it? MARK RICHT: Well, if gamblers or the people that run that kind of stuff are getting their information by trying to squeeze a player or trying to squeeze a trainer, something like that, then I think it might be a very wise thing to do. We got these HIPPAA rules and all these kind of things, too. Our kids pretty much sign off on our ability to communicate those things. But I'll say this: There are times I won't say anything because I haven't talked to the parents yet. That's probably the one thing that keeps me from saying something, until I know somebody who loves that kid understands what's going on before they read it on the Internet or in the newspaper. I didn't answer the BCS question. I'm sorry. When I get multiple questions, I rarely get to the second one (smiling). The BCS as it is, I mean, I'm fine with it. I'm fine with it. Just tell me what the rules are and let's play by 'em. That's kind of how I am about that. But, you know, do I think a four team situation would work with the plus one? I think it would work. I think it would work without really throwing our Bowl system into any you know, throwing it off kilter. Do I think we could do eight? I think eight would be the maximum number of teams you could have and still keep your Bowl system and have something very close to what you have with the BCS without destroying or damaging the regular season. Our regular season is the best regular season of any sport in America and maybe in the world because every game is so crucial. You lose one game, you might be out. You might not be out, but you might be out. As you're playing that game, you're thinking, If we lose this game, we might be out. But after you lose it, you're looking around, you're saying, So we still got to keep fighting because we still might be in. Then last year you lose two, you're pretty sure you're out, and then all of a sudden a team with two losses wins the National Championship. So now if you got two losses, you're still thinking, I might be in, I got to keep fighting. I don't have to change my goals. So I like the way it is. If you have too many teams in a playoff, then a regular season game, you might have two teams that play. I always liken, we had Notre Dame Southern Cal a few years ago where they had that dramatic victory at the end with the quarterback sneak. If those two teams were in an eight team playoff system, when that game was over, they might say, So what, I'll see you here in a couple weeks, no big deal, we're still in the playoffs. Well, the way it was, the way we're designed now, that was just a gut wrenching, heart breaking moment for one team, and total exhilaration for the other team, 'cause you're still in the race. So I'd be careful changing it too much. Thank you very much.