A re-energized Richt wows Miami, so far

If not an entirely a new man, Mark Richt arrived at his first ACC Football Kickoff on Thursday appearing to all the world like a low-mileage, well-maintained, driven-only-on-selected-Saturdays model.

He has cut weight, which has given him at 56 a little bounce. Pulling a hamstring recently while playing racquetball absolutely delighted him. “I actually moved fast enough to pull a muscle — that was nice,” he said, smiling.

Richt has the tan. Now all that is required for a walk-on part in the next Miami Vice movie is a linen jacket and a pair of white loafers (no socks).

Getting dumped by a longtime significant other is a painful but popular motivator for a makeover. And in Richt’s case, it has so far suited him. Since being jettisoned by Georgia after 15 years as the head Dog, and seven months after landing at alma mater Miami, Richt is giving off all the signals of a born-again head football coach.

His brother-in-law spoke on it last week during a south Florida visit. “Happiest I’ve seen him in 20 years,” former FSU and NFL quarterback Brad Johnson told the Palm Beach Post.

“He’s excited about where he lives. He’s excited about the changes they want to make (at Miami). He’s excited about his team. He’s rejuvenated.”

His new quarterback, junior Brad Kaaya, he of the back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons and the good-enough ratio (42 touchdowns/17 interceptions), has seen it, too, in their short time together.

“He has kind of a young spirit,” Kaaya said.

Do not be confused. This is the same Mark Richt who was seen as too temperate, too dispassionate by some in the Georgia community.

A change of scenery as well as a change in his coaching responsibilities has been just the shot of professional botox that can benefit a fellow of a certain age.

True, there is no escaping the migraines of running a big-time college football program. Even now Richt awaits the outcome of a university investigation into whether four players violated NCAA rules through their relationship with a Miami luxury-car agency (included is the Hurricanes’ best defensive lineman). Richt had to recently suspend another player after a DUI charge.

Nor is there anything but a temporary calm before they start keeping score. Sooner or later the campfire singalong that accompanied Richt’s hiring will end and the games will begin. And Richt, who averaged nearly 10 wins a year at Georgia, is going to be asked to do that, and then some, at a program with five national championships in the bank. The Canes haven’t had a double-digit win season since 2003.

Richt’s arrival has for now quelled the unrest. Season-ticket sales are said to be on a rapid rise. There is talk that Richt — with a $1 million pledge of his own — will get a new indoor practice facility at Miami much quicker than he did at Athens. All the old Canes stars, who had not kept their grumbling to themselves as the luster of Miami football faded, have embraced the new guy, one of their own.

So many of the old stars showed up at a recent Miami camp, said Richt, that “I was trying to get some selfies myself.”

He fueled his own fire by the decision to return to coaching the quarterbacks — with assistance from his son Jon — and return to calling the offensive plays. (Left unsaid are any regrets that he turned over those duties to Mike Bobo a decade ago at Georgia).

At Miami, he has been like a man falling in love all over again. He certainly has re-sharpened his focus on why he got into this career back in the late 1980s, as first a FSU grad assistant for three long years.

“On a personal level — if I’m going to really enjoy it and have an energy level that I think it takes to be great — calling plays and game-planning and scheming has really energized me,” Richt said.

As he spent spring practice practically in the pocket with the quarterback, Richt, urging on the offense, has found himself just more involved, more a part of the smelting process of team building. “I think it’s important for the staff to see me compete. I think it’s important for the players to see me compete,” he said.

With the coaching change, Kaaya feels like he picked up another roommate. “Every meeting he wants to cover something with you. He always wants to watch film with us. He wants to correct something that I’m doing or one of the other quarterbacks is doing. You can see how hands-on he wants to be in our day-to-day schedule,” he said.

Among the items Richt packed and brought south with him was the certain knowledge that Aaron Murray was a very good role model. As such, Richt has drilled his current quarterback with highlights of his former one at Georgia, emphasizing Murray’s meticulous attention to detail.

It is difficult to pry much else from Richt about his long Georgia experience, so locked in is he on his new life back in Miami.

His identity now is that of the guy living in the townhome in Coconut Grove, not far from campus. He is the one married to the Florida State grad who now will work the sidelines of that bitter rival in orange and green as a high-profile “water girl.”

Their new life together sounds quite paradisiacal. “We walk out of our townhome into shops, restaurants, a movie theater. We just walk when we go out on a date together,” Richt said.

And when not cavorting among the palms, this new Richt, brimming with rediscovered energy, is making it a habit to pop in on youth football teams around Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties in order to plant seeds that may not sprout for years to come. That is a program he plans to carry even into the season. “I want those guys to love Miami,” Richt said.

And then, as if any more proof of his robustness were required, as if to emphasize just how fast his engine is running and how much distance he can put between himself and his previous life at Georgia, Richt asks, “Why would I be seeing 8-year-olds if I didn’t plan on sticking around for a while?”