A man of conscience

“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back.
That’s real glory. Thats the essence of it.”

Vince Lombardi

(Coach Mark Richt during the Bulldogs’ game with Missouri in Dooley Field
at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.
(Photo by Tony Walsh))

I had the wonderful opportunity yesterday of attending the
University of Georgia/ Missouri football game.

I can honestly attest to the fact that old dawgs never die…
Long long ago, I spent about 5 years of my life
sitting in the very same stadium cheering on my DAWGS…
It was as if yesterday slipped right back into place to
almost 45 years prior.

During yesterday’s game the University of Georgia and the Football Athletic Dept.
chose to honor one of their own…former head football coach Mark Richt.

I wrote a post about Richt seven years ago while he was still the head coach.
I’ve cut a chunk of that post and have pasted it in below.

I’ve opted to revisit that original post about Coach Richt for several reasons.
All because I was poignantly reminded yesterday about the man who is the essence
of faith, conscience and valor.

Richt spent 15 years at the helm of UGA’s football program.
Eventually leaving UGA to become the head coach of his alma mater,
The University of Miami Hurricanes.
After 3 years at Miami, Richt retired from football and moved
“back home” to Athens.

Richt recently revealed that he is battling Parkinson’s Disease.
It was evident as we watched him take to the field during Saturday’s ceremony.

It was also recently revealed, following the death of legendary FSU
Seminole Coach Bobby Bowden,  Richt’s former boss, that Bowden attributed Richt “for leading
him to Jesus”.

And then there was the recent story about former football player Tra Battle
who publicly shared the deep personal encounter of how Richt helped
him during a major crisis as he contemplated ending his life.

Here is a portion of Tra Battle’s encounter with his former Coach:

If Mark Richt had any reservations about the impact he had on his players,
they were all but eradicated on Tuesday night.

The former University of Georgia and University of Miami head football
coach was the headliner at the Neighborhood Cooperative Ministries’
2021 celebration, speaking to hundreds of attendees that had a goal
to serve others in need about his life and his faith.
He didn’t expect someone he’d helped in the biggest way possible to
make an appearance.

Tra Battle, one of Richt’s former players at Georgia,
told his story about a night he will never forget.
He had retired from football and returned to UGA to finish his degree,
but felt like his life had no direction.
He drove to a bridge near Athens, but right before he was about to jump,
something told him to call Richt, who he hadn’t spoken to in years.

Richt’s response saved his life, Battle said.
Richt invited Battle to his house, where former teammates and a
chaplain were waiting.
Richt paid for Battle’s therapy, and on Tuesday,
Battle made his appreciation known.

“I’ve never said this to your face, Coach,” Battle said to Richt.
“But I thank you. I thank you for saving my life.
I thank you for being there when I made the call,
and you answered. I’ll always be grateful for the man that you are.”

Neither of them could hold back their tears as they embraced in front
of a standing ovation.


And here is a portion from my post written 7 years ago–a post about a man
who is a giant on and off the field.
Ode that there could be more Mark Richts in our world…

If I had a son who played football,
I would want him playing for a man like Mark Richt.
Richt is a man of conscience, who is driven and steered by a faith-based compass.
His has a deep based unwavering faith in a God who is full of mercy and grace.

Oh I can hear those who lead the atheist protest groups and those of the ACLU,
all raising their wary little antennas worried we’re mixing Christianity on the field of play.
However my observation of Coach Richt is not of a man leading a team of
Christian soldiers—but rather a man who happens to be a Christian who
happens to be a leading SEC football coach who happens to merely
be a ‘lead by example’ sort of man.

When Auburn’s current quarterback, Nick Marshall,
who was recruited and signed by UGA, was caught stealing from fellow teammates,
Richt cut him from the team.
Richt believes that for all actions there are consequences and that everyone
must see those consequences through, as painful as they may be for
everyone involved, even at the risk of winning.

Nick Marshall has since worked his way back to a leading role in the SEC,
much to Richt’s delight.
Never smug or condescending, Coach Richt is a believer in second chances
and the turning around of misguided character.
He was pleased that lessons were obviously learned and that this
young man is finally seeing a dream come true.

The guidance and teaching of young men is a big factor as to why Coach Richt
is in the business of coaching—
for you see coaching goes well beyond the calling and formulating of plays–
anyone in education or who has ever played on a team under the leadership
of either a good or bad coach knows.

Yet frustratingly positive events for Mark Richt do not always come
easily or readily as they do for his counterpart head coaches who seem
to bask in the ever constant lime light of the big wins and success.
Why that is, I’m not sure but somewhere I hear the idiom
“good guys finish last” rolling around in my head.
He and his team often seem plagued and deluged by a constant series
of bad luck, bad breaks and bad calls year after year after year.
The latest incident of famed running back Todd Gurley,
who just finished sitting out a 4 game suspension handed down
by the NCAA for the profiting of signing sports memorabilia,
is just one case in point—

The crowning blow of Richt’s season, a season that had been so highly
anticipated as the Bulldogs were highly touted, sitting atop
leading polls back at the end of the summer,
in this now surreal world of a college football playoff…
yet all of the hopes and dreams which had slowly faded from losses to
both SEC rivals, South Carolina and Florida, came crashing down on one
particular play at the end of Saturday’s game against Auburn.
Todd Gurley had come back from the suspension chomping at the bit to play.

His Heisman Trophy hopes already dashed by his own poor choices,
Gurley still had some things to prove.
The first play of the game, Gurley ran the kickoff back for a touchdown
which was then immediately called back due to a Bulldog penalty–
the continuing curse of the penalties has been a self inflicted
slow bleeding demise for the Bulldogs.
Gurley continued to work in tandem with teammate and fellow
running back Nick Chubb throughout the game,
gaining yards and racking up points.
Yet it was during one of the final plays of the game when Gurley,
running the ball, was hit.
He goes down grabbing his leg yet eventually gets up,
walking off the field under his own power. He wasn’t carted off the field,
he could even be seen walking the sidelines.
However it was a MRI which later confirmed the fears of the Bulldog Nation,
Gurley had blown out his knee, tearing his ACL–
ending not only his playing season, but his tenure at UGA.

Does one player make a team?
Does one play make a season?
However Gurley’s suspension and now torn knee are but a few pieces of the
never ending litany of bad breaks which have besieged this most mild mannered
coach and of this often maligned and under respected team.

Todd Gurley will have surgery to repair his knee. He will rehab
and be as good as new. He will most likely be a high pick in the draft,
going on to a lucrative career in the NFL.

There will be those who question Richt’s decision for
having left Gruley in the game when it was clear the game was in their hands.
There are those who have thought that Richt is not aggressive enough,
too nice to be a head coach in one of the biggest powerhouse conferences of the game.
There are those who clamor that Richt just can’t win “the big one”
or that the team lacks consistency.
He hangs on to his offensive coordinator,
Mike Bobo, when others have called for Bobo’s head on a platter.
Anything and everything that is wrong with the
Bulldogs all comes back to Richt.

Yet one thing is certain, Mark Richt is consistent.
He does not bend under pressure. He does not acquiesce,
he does not put his moral compass aside if its inconvenient for his audience.
He is a leader,
a quiet man,
a kind man.
He is often unruffled on the playing field.
He is steadfast, not one given to the emotional fits and tirades often displayed by so many other emotionally charged college coaches.
He is a rock during a crisis.
He consistently does the right thing by all under his command regardless of position, his paycheck, or pressure.
He is the example of how one human being should treat a fellow human being.

College coaches are often compared to opposing strategizing generals
who formulate plans of attack against “the enemy”—
a steely game of chess with the elusive checkmate hanging in the balance.
I know that I would be more than happy to follow a man like Mark Richt
into battle as he is cool under pressure and always has the best of
his men in the forefront of his mind.

All those attributes are great and grand you say,
but they don’t win football games.
What about the Glory days you ask.
What about the multimillion dollar endorsements?
What about all the money generated and brought to the schools that win?
What about the fame, the fortune?
Yeah, you’re probably right…
…but there once was a time when winning wasn’t everything.