If you haven’t read Seth Emerson’s piece on Mark Richt’s Paul Oliver Network, take a minute to do so now. It’s a terrific take on how Georgia’s head coach is wired and how he’s lucky enough to be in a position to do something about a matter that concerns him.
But that’s not why you should read it. This is:
Richt sat in a private room at his office this summer. His voice lowered.
“Paul, somewhere along the way, lost hope,” he said.
Oliver never called Richt looking for help. Richt doesn’t want to presume that the inability to find work was the reason for his depression. But Richt sensed that any man with a wife and kids would feel pressure to provide.
“It’s one of the things that I believe God has ordained us to do, is to provide and protect for our families,” Richt said. “When you’re not able to do that, your ego takes a beating, or however you want to say it.”
The coach took a deep breath.
“I don’t want any one of our guys to feel like, ‘I don’t know where to go, I don’t know where to turn,’ ” he said.
There will be cynics who argue that this will help Richt with recruiting, that it can help his good-guy image and encourage players to go to Georgia.
Richt himself brought up that side of it.
“I can promise you it doesn’t have anything to do with recruiting,” he said. “I’m sure it could help recruiting. But I can assure you I’m doing this because I really care about these guys.”
After fourteen years in Athens, it’s amazing that he still thinks there’s a need to reassure some part of the fan base about his motives. And that’s not meant as a reflection on him. But it’s obvious that he does.
This season will be Richt’s 14th as Georgia’s head coach. He’s only 54, and yet there is always speculation that he could walk away to pursue non-football measures.
But the Paul Oliver Network is just that, and Richt feels he can do more good by staying as the head coach at Georgia. It empowers him, because this is a major way he can make a difference on the job.
“It fires me up,” Richt said. “I’ve always had a greater purpose in coaching than trying to get a raise or trying to win a championship or coach a Heisman Trophy winner. I mean I’ve been blessed to win championships, coach Heisman winners, All-Americans, national championships, ACC championships. I know we didn’t do that at Georgia as a national champion. But you know, I experienced all that. And if that’s all there is at the end it’s empty, unless you help these guys.
“And that’s what people misunderstand sometimes. I’m highly motivated to win the national championship. But just because I care about them beyond football they think, ‘Oh he’s more worried about that than he is winning.’ No that’s not true at all. Not true at all. I want to win, and we’re gonna do the best we can to try to win. But I feel like we truly are educators, and we truly have a responsibility to help these guys.”
And, sadly, he’s right about that.