Richt discusses topics big, small in Gainesville

University of Georgia President Jere Morehead and his driver arrived at the UGA Day celebration in this Northeast Georgia city 45 minutes before the event was scheduled to start Tuesday night, and already people were waiting to see him. Oddly enough, there might have been more folks clamoring to see the driver.

Morehead made the one-hour ride from Athens to the Gainesville Civic Center riding shotgun in the Ford F150 pickup of Georgia football coach Mark Richt. It’s one of the things Richt said he likes most about this annual speaking tour, once reserved only for sports talk

“The UGA Day theme has been really good for us,” said Richt, speaking to reporters briefly before posing for pictures and signing autographs for fans. “I get to spend time with our president, I get to spend time with Dr. Laura Jolly (a UGA vice president) or whoever may be with us within academia. We partner up for these types of events, and that’s nice.”

Morehead and Richt had much to talk about on the way. Richt and the other SEC football coaches met earlier Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. It was a meeting that was scheduled to take place in February, but had to be reset because of the ice storms that blanketed the South.

Nevertheless, Tuesday’s meeting proved to be well-timed. There is much change swirling around college athletics at the moment, particularly in the area of major college football. There is discussion about unionization and power-conference subdivisions, not to mention increasing the SEC football schedule from eight to nine conference games.

As for the fundamental changes being discussed in college athletics, Richt said, “nothing’s going to happen real fast on it.” He was more coy about the possible expansion to a nine-game SEC schedule and what that might entail.

“That conversation was about a lot of different options,” Richt said. “They told us, ‘Think about them, and we’ll talk about them (at the annual SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., in late May).’ There was not a vote or a discussion, really. They said, ‘here’s some possibilities and look them over between now and then and try to figure out what you like.’ But it doesn’t mean we’re going to get to vote and decide.”

Pressed on the “options,” Richt said, “I’m not going to make a comment right now because I don’t know if I’m supposed to. So I’m just going to be quiet.”

As for the UGA Day event, nearly 300 people paid about $25 for a chance to eat a steak dinner and hear from Morehead, Richt and gymnastics coach Danna Durante. Basketball coach Mark Fox usually makes an appearance, but had a conflict Tuesday.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second of 12 UGA Days to be held this year, mainly in Georgia but sometimes out of state. Last week there was a meeting in Greenville, S.C., and the tour will make stops in Orlando, Fla., (April 30) and Houston (May 13) before wrapping up at Gwinnett Arena as usual (July 15).

Richt’s question-and-answer session with fans typically is the highlight of every meeting, and Tuesday was no different. The Bulldogs’ 14-year coach was hit right out of the box with a hard-hitter from the president of the Gainesville Bulldog Club. Ron Fritchley wanted to know if some flaw in Georgia’s strength-and-conditioning program was the cause of all the knee injuries the team suffered last season.

“I don’t think so,” Richt told him. “We look at that all the time. … But who can predict Malcolm Mitchell chest-bumping his teammate and coming down and tearing his ACL. It doesn’t have anything to do with how we train. We don’t believe that.”

Richt did say the Bulldogs are restructuring their offseason strength-and-conditioning program to focus on trimming down Georgia’s linebackers and linemen.

“It’s not that we’re a bunch of fat guys,” Richt said. “But in some ways we’re strong and thick in the legs and rear and all that kind of thing. Not that we don’t want to be strong, but we’re willing to give up a little bit of size for quickness. … So most everybody is in a trim-down phase.”

Richt was asked if the Bulldogs plan to launch a Heisman Trophy campaign for star tailback Todd Gurley. They don’t.

“I don’t think you have to have a campaign for Heisman,” Richt said. “I think the numbers speaks for themselves, that winning speaks for itself. Most have him in the top five (going into the season) anyway.”

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