I love Mark Richt.
He deserves my love. He deserves my respect. He’s earned my admiration. Mark Richt has been kicked in the gut, and he is standing tall. Taller, in fact, than the very people who kicked him. During what has to be one of the lowest moments of his life, Mark Richt is a giant. Every time he opens his mouth, he sets another example of decency and virtue.
There is no need to continue the debate over whether or not he deserved to lose his job as football coach at the University of Georgia. That ship has sailed. What’s left is to cling to the standards he set. Mark Richt never compromised. He loved his players. He loved his school. My school. He knew the importance of pleasing wealthy alumni and fickle fans. He also knew it was far more important to honor and please his Lord.
Mark Richt doesn’t know me, and that’s okay. We met once, very briefly, years ago. It was one of the many coach-reporter encounters he’s had in his life, and he won’t remember it. On the other hand, he’s had a tremendous impact on me. I see in him a man of peace. As pressure and criticism rains down on him, he is steady and unafraid. He’s given it all to God, and in God he has assurance. The demands of unreasonable fans don’t scare him. Gators don’t scare him. Yellow Jackets, Tigers, and Rolling Tides don’t scare him. The Lord tells him to fear not, and Mark Richt is an obedient follower of Christ.
I wish I had that kind of faith, that kind of strength.
Mark Richt’s wins aren’t always kept on a scoreboard. His most important victories are measured in character. Talk to his former athletes. Ask Marshall Morgan, the once automatic kicker who found himself short on confidence. Prior to a big field goal attempt, his coach embraced him.
“No matter what happens,” Coach Richt assured his kicker. “I love you.”
Marshall Morgan made the kick.
Richt has booted players for various infractions, but he never abandoned them. Instead, he encouraged and continued to guide the very athletes who let him down.
Now, Georgia has booted Richt. His reaction?
“I love our fans.”
That includes the fans dissatisfied with the lack of championships, the fans who demanded Richt’s ouster.
“I respect the media.”
There were writers who called for Georgia to can Mark Richt.
“I love everybody, quite frankly.”
Not everyone loved Mark Richt. There are people who celebrated after the University of Georgia announced that Richt had lost his job. Imagine people partying over your demise. Mark Richt didn’t deserve such disrespect. Some of his harshest critics pointed to a program that was above reproach.
“We need a football coach,” some would say. “Not a preacher.”
My biggest fear is that Georgia will backslide when it comes to integrity. A national writer actually suggested that the Bulldogs need to soften up when it comes to discipline, that the new coach needs to be “freer” when it comes to second chances. No way. Mark Richt set a high standard for good behavior, and that standard should not be compromised. Georgia doesn’t need to be like everyone else. We should not be ashamed of requiring our athletes to act like decent human beings. They need to know there are rules and consequences, that the world is not one big rug where you can sweep your transgressions. Mark Richt did it right. He lifted his team high in terms of morality, and the next coach should have the strength to keep it high.
I pray that the character of Mark Richt will remain a part of Georgia football forever. It is his influence that caused Georgia to lift Devon Gales after a devastating injury, and turn a rival player into a Bulldog fan. It is Mark Richt’s compassionate spirit that leads his players to charity work. There’s a reason why other college coaches voted Richt as the man they would want tutoring their son.
Mark Richt loves the Lord. He is comforted by God, and that is why he answered questions about his firing without bitterness or resentment.
“I’m really at peace that it was part of His (God’s) plan,” said Richt. “I want to continue to be as obedient as I can be to the Lord.”
Mark Richt isn’t worried about tomorrow. He’s not concerned about the championships he didn’t win, or the fans he disappointed. His eye is on a Lord who loves him, who loves all of us, even as we fail.
Mark Richt is a champion.
And I love him.