Mark Richt always sounded like a Southern boy when he was Georgia’s head coach, his low and soothing delivery floating as natural as can be over every deep-fried meal he shared with every recruit’s family in every little red-clay crossroads town.
It wasn’t an act. He made a real home and a real life for himself in Athens, and in Tallahassee before that as the play-caller for two Florida State national championship teams.
Richt’s Boca Raton High School years were still a part of him, but not the biggest part any more. To tell the truth, most of our transient population down here had forgotten, if it ever was widely known in the first place, that Richt once played quarterback at the University of Miami, too.
Well, folks are talking about it now.
Richt, soon to be introduced as the Hurricanes’ new head coach, is being hailed as the perfect finishing piece for this puzzle of a program, and not only because he was a big winner for 15 seasons in the SEC, college football’s competitive headquarters. It’s the coach’s alumni status that really rings the bell with multitudes of UM fans, the ones who seek a sturdy connection with the Hurricanes’ dynasty years.
Funny thing is, you have to go farther back than that. Richt played at Miami before Howard Schnellenberger was the coach, and, to be truthful, Howard himself is an ancient reference to the high school prospects of today.
Ottis Anderson, Super Bowl MVP of the 1990 New York Giants and a UM football legend, remembers what it was like when Richt arrived on campus, tagged by veterans with the nickname of “Boca Boy.”
The Hurricanes were 6-5 in Richt’s freshman season of 1978 and he didn’t play much for coach Lou Saban. Still Ottis, who starred at running back for West Palm Beach’s Forest Hill High School, knew to keep an eye on this confident kid who earlier had quarterbacked Boca Raton into the state playoffs. Kept an eye on him, too, through all of Richt’s coaching journeys to come.
“A lot of us are jumping for joy right now,” Ottis said Wednesday night from his New Jersey home. “When I found out Mark was coaching at Florida State, I couldn’t believe he was up there. Then when he went to Georgia, I said I hope one day he can be at Miami. I knew he would build a great organization if he ever had the chance.
“I remember seeing Mark and Jim Kelly and Mike Rodrigue standing on the goal line at practice and seeing who could throw the farthest. To see those guys compete was unbelievable. He was a good teammate at Miami. He competed for a starting position, but unfortunately he was competing with one of the best who ever played the game in Jim Kelly.”
“The best ever” is a tag that Miami fans love to throw around while discussing the five national championship teams that came later under Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson and Larry Coker.
Richt’s job, for openers, is to make Miami the best in the ACC Coastal Division, all the while knowing that its in the DNA around here to crave much more.
He’s not scared by the challenge, though. If he were, Richt would have taken the job at Virginia, or he would have taken a year off from coaching to spend time with his large and loving family and to think about whatever he wanted most.
Now we know what he wants, a chance to get right back on the horse, and a bucking bronco at that.
Al Golden thought he was ready to coach Miami, too. He came along at a time when the Hurricanes were about to get socked by NCAA sanctions in the Nevin Shapiro investigation. He came from Temple, not the kind of big-name program that you would expect Miami would go to for a head coach. It was a stretch from the beginning and finally, a couple of months ago, the whole thing snapped.
Richt is better built for this gig, more durable, more seasoned. He’ll be at Miami for a long time if things go well, and why shouldn’t they?
Nothing wrong with the other candidates, but this is the way the Hurricanes needed to go. Right to the top of the coaching profession. Right to a genuinely good man with skin thick enough to take what Georgia’s fans and administration dished out toward the end and never to lose his manners, much less his mind.
It’s proof that the Hurricanes got this right, because sooner or later, working at Miami will be like that, too.