We are looking forward to our opening games. Start out with Boise State, a big deal for us. The winningest college football team in America over the last 10 seasons, a team that as you watch their film, you realize that they are a special football team in the way they approach it. I've probably never seen anybody play any harder than they play as a team down after down, film after film. They are a very confident team.
We have our opener in the Southeastern Conference against South Carolina. Of course, everybody is kind of picking them to win the east. So what a tremendous challenge for us. But it has energized the program in a big way. I think that everybody understands what it's going to take prepare-wise. I think everybody has been willing to pay the prize.
I say 'everyone.' There have been a few guys that have gotten off the bus, so to speak, from a year ago, or last few months, last few days. Some guys have chosen to move on and a couple guys got a little bit of help. The guys that are still here are really excited about the future and are willing to pay the price to play the kind of football that everybody in our Georgia Bulldog Nation expects.
That's where we're at and I'll just open it up to you guys to ask anything you want.
Q. You have obviously a great young quarterback in Aaron Murray. We're in an interesting situation because at Tennessee you have Tyler Bray, coming up in the same class. Do you think as a former quarterback and quarterback coach we could be on the cusp of a Manning/Wuerffel type great young quarterback rivalry this year?
COACH RICHT: I hope they are. I hope they're both that good. I hope ours is better. But I do have a lot of respect for Tyler Bray. He really has a lot of ability. Looks like he's got a lot of moxy, a lot of belief in himself, outstanding receivers to throw to. I can't imagine them not having a big year offensively over there at Tennessee.
Aaron, he's really a coach's dream in how he approaches the game. He understands preparation. He understands team. His motivation is for Georgia to win. His motivation is to see his teammates have success. His motivation is not to promote self. When you have a guy like that, it just makes your life a whole lot easier.
A year ago, he just did such a great job, and Mike Bobo along with Aaron, the way he trained him to create some habits that is going to help him protect the ball, help him make some good decisions, be a great ball-handler, all those things you want a quarterback to do. He did a super job of it.
He's had a season to live through it. I think all those great habits are going to serve him well the rest of his career.
You probably do have two young quarterbacks that will make a lot of headlines in the next few years.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about what it means to the program to be able to play in the Chick-Fil-A kickoff game in your home state?
COACH RICHT: Absolutely. Well, I'll say this: when we we're making the decision, should we play this Chick-Fil-A game, should we play against Boise State, a lot of things went through my mind personally.
Where we were at that time was a decline in our record, a decline in how people perceived our program, a place that I didn't really like, I wasn't very comfortable in, wasn't used to. I said, ‘What better way to send a surge of energy into this program than to schedule a game like that?'
So now to play Boise State, as I mentioned earlier, opening game, in the Georgia Dome, with hopefully a bunch of wild and crazy rabid Georgia Bulldog fans giving us energy, it's going to be great for us.
But there's risk in playing a team that can whip your tail because they might whip your tail. But in order for us to get back where we want to be, which is highly ranked and highly thought of, we need to play this game.
Q. You're a guy who's developed quite a reputation as someone who's involved in charitable giving. What is your reaction when you hear comments like the ones that Bronco Mendenhall made where he effectively said that SEC coaching salaries were the root of all evil in college football, the increasing salaries for head coaches in the SEC were sort of the root cause of all the corruption in college football?
COACH RICHT: Well, I think the love of money and the misuse of money is the root of all evil. I believe that's what God said in his word. But I think money can really be neutral. It's just in the hands of whoever has it, it can be used for good, it can be used for not so good. I've never heard of any of the Southeastern Conference coaches and doing bad and abusive things with it. I think maybe what he's saying -- I don't know what he's saying, so I'm not going to make any comment. I'm going to save myself from getting in trouble.
Q. Coach, talk about your defense for the 2011 season. We all know it's year number two for Todd Grantham. Switching to a 3-4 defense is a transition year like last year. How comfortable are you looking at the defense this season?
COACH RICHT: Asking about our defense in year 2 under Todd Grantham, I'm excited about it. I think we all know that when you learn something new, it takes a while to get good at it, takes a while to understand it.
Usually when it comes to football, the first thing you got to understand is learn what to do. Our guys spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do, what is my assignment, maybe not enough time on how do I do my job well, how do I become a master of my trade, how do I perfect my technique. We're spending a lot more time perfecting technique than figuring out what to do, so that's really healthy for us. We've also had a chance to have an entire recruiting cycle to recruit towards the type of guys we need.
One of the young men we recruited from last year's class is Johnathan Jenkins, a big giant nose guard who we think can do a great job of helping us make the 3-4 go. If you don't have a nose guard that demands double-teams and triple-teams once in a while, you're not going to free up your linebackers to do the things you want them to do. Just by virtue of the fact that Johnathan Jenkins was signed in February, I think it put a fire under Kwame Geathers, another giant nose guard we have in our program, he ended up being the MVP of the defense for our spring practices.
Now we've got more confidence that we've got the type of guys up front to make it go. Do I think it's a good matchup against a Boise State? I think the 3-4 really can match up well against any type of offense. It is very versatile. Todd understands it well. He spent the last 11 years in the league. He's been a coordinator in the NFL. He certainly is the man for the job. I have all the faith we're going to play so much better.
We played pretty darn good. Where we didn't play good last year is third-and-long. I can't tell you how many times we got people to that moment of truth where you want them, and teams were getting those third downs converted, and we ended up staying on the field another down or another series.
If we can get off the field when we get them in the third-and-long, we're going to be a whole lot better team.
Q. You lost to UCF in the Liberty Bowl last year. How devastating was that for your program?
COACH RICHT: Well, it wasn't devastating. It hurt real bad. I didn't enjoy it. But devastation means you've like blown up the program and it's beyond repair, so I don't think it was devastating. But it was awful. I can say that. I will say this. Coach O'Leary out-coached me. Their team played harder than we played and they deserved to win. We learned from that. We learned that we better compete harder and we learned we better finish better. That was the story of our season. We'll see how well we learned it.
Q. Coach, how concerned are you about depth this year, particularly at runningback and offensive line? How much pressure do you feel is on you personally to get this program to the 9 or 10 years where you're accustomed to being?
COACH RICHT: That's a lot of questions (laughter).
Asking about depth up front. I think it's fine if we don't get anybody hurt. We actually had a pretty good lineup. Cordy Glenn, I think, is one of the finest offensive linemen in the country at left tackle.
Kenarious Gates at left guard who played as a freshman and has got great ability.
Ben Jones, I think he's going to win the Remington, I think that much about Ben at center.
Then at right guard we got Chris Burnette, who we've had high hopes for who has been banged up a little bit in his career. He was able to go through spring healthy, looks great.
Justin Anderson, another senior who played a lot of football for us, at the right tackle.
That starting lineup gives me a lot of confidence that we can get a lot of things done up front. If we get too many injuries up front, we can struggle with some guys that have to play with the inexperience.
At running back, we're really only one guy shy of what we thought we were going to be going in. We lost Washaun Ealey and Caleb King recently. We took Richard Samuel and took him back to the linebacker position. He spent his first two years at running back. He knows how to play the game. He's a more mature man than he was a couple years ago. Back then he was 6'2", 225, and ran sub 4.5. Now he's 6'2", and 240, and runs a sub 4.5.
I'll say this about him. His style of running isnotaguywhoisgoingtospendalotoftime trying to dodge people. He's going to try to mow them down, run them over, bring a lot of physicality to the position.
I think we have plenty of depth at that position right now. The question is how productive will we be, you know. But a year ago I didn't leave the season thinking, ‘Man, we were ultraproductive at the tailback position.' I left the season saying we fell short at the running back position. My feeling is when this season is over, I'm going to feel better about how the running backs did this year than a year ago.
Q. It seems like it's the year of the running back in the SEC. I don't know that we're going back to the '80s, but can you talk about that? Secondly, if there's one thing that makes the SEC the best conference, what do you think it is?
COACH RICHT: We'll talk about the running back positions. They weren't really in systems that you lined up in the "I" and you started hammering the ball. They were in systems that were very diverse, had a lot of spread to them. People are spread out trying to cover guys. All of a sudden it creates space for these runners. I think they'll continue to use those guys in that way. I think people understand that that does provide more problems for defenses when you are versatile in that way.
If I had to say one word when it comes to the Southeastern Conference, I really would say what separates us from everybody is 'passion,' the passion of the coaches, players and fans especially. There's nothing like it. When you line up to play, you're going to play a supremely talented team, a supremely well-coached team and a team that is supremely supported by their fan base.
It is huge, big-game atmosphere every time we hook it up in our league. Every game is just so meaningful.
Q. It's no secret that the East Division was a little bit down last year for one of the few times. Why did that happen? Do you see it as kind of an aberration?
COACH RICHT: Well, it happened because we didn't win. When we crossed over, the West whooped us up pretty good. Some of those games were close. When you win those close games, it creates confidence for your team and for your program and even your side of the league. I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen in the regular season. But I do know at the end of the season there will be an Eastern Division champion and there will be a Western Division champion. One team in the east is going to play one team in the west on some given Saturday.
May the best team win.
I think the east has just as good a chance to win the conference due to the way we structure our conference and how the conference championship game is. It really does come down to one game. We'll just see where it goes.
If you had to say which side of the conference is stronger at this moment, I would agree with most everybody to say it's the West.
Q. A couple years ago the black jersey change was a motivation tool. In the last couple years it seems like it faded away. What is your stance on the jersey changes and what they mean?
COACH RICHT: Well, I think the jersey change is a great idea if you win, and I think it's a bad idea if you lose. I think you're smart when you win and you're dumb when you lose.
You know what, our players are excited about it. We had a team meeting last night. Nike was very gracious to allow our team to see the uniforms prior to everybody else seeing it. I'll kind of paint the scene a little bit. We have our meeting. It starts at 6:00. I'm looking at the clock, it strikes 6:00, time to start the meeting. I notice a couple guys are meeting.
I ask our director of football ops, Who is missing? He said, Boykin and Murray.
I take my pad, I slam it on the ground, I say a few choice things about the lack of leadership on the things, Brad, see if you can go find these guys. He walks out of the room. Within a couple moments in come Boykin and Murray decked out in the Pro Combat Nike jersey, the whole uniform, head to toe. The players, first of all, coach is mad, real quiet, nobody said a word. Those guys came in the room fully decked out. Everybody didn't say anything for a while, then they kind of went berserk for a while. It was fun. A lot of energy in that room, a lot of excitement.
They're going to enjoy wearing those jerseys, that uniform. Is that thing going to help us win the game? I can promise you it won't win the game for us because I think Boise State is going to be wearing some of theirs, too. But it's fun.
I'll say this. College football is a grind. It is a grind for the coaches. It's a grind for the players. We love it. We're not complaining. But anytime you can have some fun with your guys, I think it's good to do that. To wear those uniforms is going to be something they're really going to enjoy. And if we win, it was a great idea (smiling).
Q. You mentioned you were one player shy of where you wanted to be at tailback. Orson Charles is arguably one of the best athletes on the team. Do you foresee any design that might put him in the backfield carrying the football? What about Big Jenkins? Is he going to be a wham back during the year?
COACH RICHT: You said that I said we're one player short at the tailback position. All I'm saying is we had Washaun and Caleb in the fold and we lost two of them, but we added one in Richards. We're one short on scholarship. We do have some walk-on backs that will help us throughout camp.
The question was, Would we possibly take Orson Charles and put him in the backfield? I don't see that at all. But the question also was with Johnathan Jenkins, could he end up playing some kind of a wham back in a short yardage goal line situation? That's possible. He's a big boy. He's athletic. Got good hands, too. Who knows, might do that.
I know this, he's wearing a single digit number, No. 6, so he thinks he's a skill player. That '6' will look about this big (laughter).
Q. Not too many coaches make it to 11 years in the conference. How do you address off-season rumors or internalize it about your future?
COACH RICHT: I don't. I don't. I know this. I know if you walk in the Butts-Mehre Building, there's not one sense of doom or gloom. There's only excitement, only guys that are so thankful that we've got a new season and a clean slate and the ability to play some great opponents to start the year. The expectations are just as high as they've ever been going into any season. Our goal is to win the Eastern Division. That's just the way we think every single season. We believe we've got just as good a chance as anybody to do that.
Then, of course, if you win that, you play for the whole thing in Atlanta. Our goal is to play in the dome place, play in the Georgia Dome twice.
I don't worry about all that. I don't worry about the future. I worry about enjoying the ride, you know. We're in good shape.
Q. Coach, how much do you and your staff use the recruiting services, the legitimate ones, and how much did you use it when you were an assistant at Florida State? COACH RICHT: I think over the years, it used to be when you got film, you got it through, you know, calling the coach, writing the coach, sending blank tapes, he would send some back, all that kind of thing. We still do those things. We want the recruiting to be in the hands of the high school coach and the player and the player's family. That's where we want the recruiting to be in the college game. That's our highest priority and motivation.
But over the years, services have found a way to get film on players and have posted it on the websites, all that kind of thing. Some services you have to pay for that. Nowadays you can crank up YouTube and get a whole bunch of highlight tapes for players. I think we use them some, but we're really using them less and less because we certainly don't go to a recruiting service to tell us who a good player is.
The thing you use them the most for is to have the ability to get more videotape or something like that. We aren't too caught up in who says a guy has two stars or five stars, all that. We make our own evaluations and decisions.
Q. Coming off a seven-loss season, why do you think expectations are so high?
COACH RICHT: Why? Because of a few thing. Number one, we know we've got an outstanding bunch of football players and some outstanding coaches. We know we have a great fan base. We know that six of our losses were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter. If we just finished better, we'll have a better season. We're not getting blown out of the water, we just didn't win. We know that.
We had a tremendous recruiting class. There's tremendous momentum that was gained by the young men who decided to become a Bulldog. I can't talk about names or whatever, but we're getting guys that are committing to us not only for the 2012 class, but 2013 and even 2014. So people have faith in our program and our leadership.
There's a lot of reasons to be very optimistic about what's going on.
Q. I know you've been part of the NCAA educational materials on sickle cell trait. Can you talk about how your son having that has influenced you and how much awareness you think there is among other coaches about the dangers of what can happen with that?
COACH RICHT: Our number two son has a sickle cell trait, David. Just knowing that, do things on the soccer field, it can get real hot, they can do a lot of running. Compared to our first son, he struggled a lot more. It was probably due to the sickle cell trait, and, of course, whether David had that or not.
We have Ron Courson, director of sports medicine, who is the finest athletic trainer in America. He's up to speed and understands all those things. We have guys that have that trait. We have some off-season things. We know to watch those guys, monitor those guys, hydrate those guys just a little bit more than you do the rest of the gang. There's some things those guys just don't do.
The hardest part about that is when a kid wants to do it so bad, and he doesn't want to be taken out of the drill, he doesn't want to be set apart where his teammates can bust his chops for doing what everybody else does.
The reality is, we got to put the pride aside and we got to use good common sense with these guys because it is a real thing and it can be deadly.
COACH RICHT: Well, we don't really expect a freshman to come and carry our program. We expect him to come in and compete. We expect him to learn what to do. If they have the talent base, they're mature enough to be prepared to play, we'll play them.
When it comes to junior college guys like Jenkins, we expect a junior college guy to come in and play. We don't expect him to redshirt. We don't expect him to be hanging around a while. We know he's two years older, more mature, playing at a high level of football in the junior college ranks.
We're expecting Jenkins to come in and play right now and maybe become a starter for us if he can beat out Kwame Geathers there. But there is question we will need help from our freshman class to become a championship team, I don't have any doubt about that.
I don't know if you guys get a chance to talk to our other players, asking Murray, Boykin, Ben Jones about those young guys, they've seen them more than we have. They're running those summer workouts. But I think they've got some high expectations from some of the guys that are coming in, and a few that you mentioned.
COACH RICHT: That's right. I'm sure he's going to tell everybody in Florida he's through and through, all that. I'm sure there's some red and black in his veins. Will is a great person, great coach, great competitor. He understands the game. He understands how to recruit. He gets it. That's why he's where he's at.
I don't think there's any doubt that he's going to have a high level of success at Florida. Probably going to be a little weird for him, my guess is, when we play.
I remember I played at Miami, but I began coaching at Florida State. That first time we hooked it up, and I was just a graduate assistant, but I was wearing the garnet and gold. I was only a year or two out of being in that orange and green, being with that. So I knew players on that team, I knew the coaches on that Miami team. It was weird, for sure, in pregame warmup.
I will say, once you play the game, once you kick it off, it changes everything. You know who you're playing for, you know who you're rooting for.
Actually had a similar situation when I left Florida State, came to Georgia, played Florida State in year two against Coach Bowden, Mickey Andrews, all those guys. I spent a little bit of time in that game thinking about, you know, if I lost to Coach Bowden, it wouldn't be all that bad. I love him. He's my mentor.
The first time they had something big happen, I saw Mickey Andrews over there snake spitting and cussing. Felt like spring game again. We had to go win it. It won't take him long to know where his allegiance is.
Q. In retrospect, how much did the situation with A.J. have to do with last season? Looking ahead, how do you replace his capabilities on your offense?
COACH RICHT: I don't know how much A.J. not playing the first four games made a difference. I mean, we were 1-3 after that. I mean, I think we probably would have had a little better record if he was there the whole time.
The other thing that was frustrating, not only was he not there, week by week we weren't sure if he was going to play the first game, the second game, whatever it was. You're trying to halfway prepare with him thinking he might get the word he could play. It did change the dynamic of the game plan quite a bit.
Absolutely not making an excuse. Those teams we played, they whooped us. We played Colorado. He came back and Colorado whooped us. It wasn't like as soon as A.J. showed up, we were going to win every game. That's not the case.
But to replace him, and Kris Durham by the way, a third- or fourth-round pick, whatever Chris was, a lot of offensive balls being thrown to A.J. and Chris, now they're gone. You have a bunch of guys that have opportunities to make plays.
When you have Matthew Stafford, when you have Knowshon Moreno, you have A.J.Green, I think there's a tendency for the teammates to look at those guys and to say, A.J. is going to win the game for us, Stafford is going to win the game for us.
Now those guys are gone, these 'superstars' are gone. Now everybody is thinking, I have to pull my weight, my opportunity is coming. I've got to do my part. I think that's going to be real healthy for us.
Q. With some of the depth issues you talked about, what is going to be your approach regarding the amount of tackling? How will that differ from previous years?
COACH RICHT: We have days scheduled where we'll be in full pads and we'll hook it up, tackle to the ground. We're going to block below the waist. It's basically called a competition day. There will be days we're in shorts, days we're in shells, days we're in pads. The days we're in pads, we'll get after it.
I'm hoping I don't lose my nerve, I don't get in a position to lose my nerve because of injuries. I pray that everybody stays healthy. But one of our issues a year ago was the fact that we didn't compete hard enough and we didn't finish well enough. In order to get good at those types of things, I think you have to practice that way.
So that is the plan going in.
Q. Mark, most coaches talk about taking one game at a time. You said you were looking forward to your opening 'games,' plural. How good do you think South Carolina is?
COACH RICHT: I think they're a great football team. I think they have tasted what it's like to be a champion. They've tasted what it's like to play in the dome for the Southeastern Conference championship. They have a lot of guys returning in the middle of all that. They have a head coach who understands how to win, who understands how to win championships. I think the players are beginning to understand it, too.
That's part of the problem, is when teams believe. That's one of the biggest issues with Boise State. All they do is win. They don't know anything else. They don't know how to lose, so to speak. When you play teams that really get in the habit of winning and are talented and well-coached, it's very, very problematic.
But that's where we want to be, too.
Q. I don't know if you heard yesterday, but Coach Spurrier was talking about how he rarely likes to run a full-contact practice. The Ivy League did just limit down to two full-contact practices a week.
COACH RICHT: He's saying two full-contact practices during camp?
Q. During the year.
COACH RICHT: Well, that's a lot of contact. If you have two practices a week that are full contact, and you play a game, that's three days a week where you've got full contact. That's pretty heavy in my mind.
So I think they're probably doing just about what everybody else is doing in that regard. I don't know for certain. If what you're describing is true, three days of full contact is a lot during the week.
Q. Mark, you mentioned that you've already got some guys down the road that you can't specifically talk about for the '13 and '14 class. In this accelerated world of recruiting now, how much pressure is there on coaches to, A, evaluate, and B, offer, because guys can get their feelings hurt.
COACH RICHT: Especially in-state. That's our problem. That's our biggest problem in Georgia, is trying to make those evaluations properly, making those offers. I'll say this, when we offer a kid at Georgia, we mean it. If we offer a kid, and he wants to accept that offer, we're not going to tell him, ‘We offered you, but we don't want you to commit right now.' If we offer a guy, he commits, he's in.
Now, if we're going to sign two receivers and we offer five, which I think you have to offer at least five to get two, if two commit, then a third guy wants to commit, you might say, We have filled up at that position. I think everybody understands that.
But what happens sometimes, out-of-state schools, they'll go blazing through the state offering a lot of guys, not everybody, but the high school coach is like, So-and-so offered him, why didn't you offer him? So it does put pressure on us sometimes to offer a guy a little bit sooner than you'd like to.
I think everybody across the board is doing that. We have to project a little bit more than we have in the past. We have to hope we made the right projection. If you get your class nailed down a year, year and a half in advance, all of a sudden some of those guys didn't keep progressing like you thought, some other guys come out of the blue, you might think you wished you had waited. Some guys might say, Dump that guy, take that guy. At Georgia, if a guy commits to us, we're not dumping him.
Q. Coach Richt, do you trust the offensive line this year (question asked by Ben Jones)?
COACH RICHT: Let me say this. You weren't in here when I was bragging about the offensive line. They're worried about the depth of our offensive line. I'm not worried about the depth if nobody gets hurt.
I think Ben Jones, I said it a minute ago, I'll say it again, he is the best center in America. I think he's going to win the Remington. I think he's a great competitor. I'll never forget when we were recruiting this guy. He got in our camp. We're doing a little pass-rush drill. He's just whooping everybody.
Finally I stepped in and I said, Look, I want every defensive lineman to line up. One by one, I want you to go against Ben, play after play after play. After about I don't know how many, 10 or 12, he was finally exhausted and somebody beat him. But he is a fierce competitor. He's mean as a snake on the field. But he knows what he's doing. He's a great leader. He's a great football player. I'm glad we got him.
When you got him at the center of your offensive line, you know you're going to have a good line. I have a lot of faith in you guys, and you personally.
Good question, by the way, Ben (laughter).
Q. Mark, you mentioned it was your 11th year. Talk about the difficulty of being at a school in the SEC for over a decade.
COACH RICHT: It's not difficult if you win (laughter). It's not difficult if you win 9, 10, 11 a year, win the Eastern Division every other year, win the SEC every three or four years. It's not a problem at all.
It's when you get 6-7, that's when it's a problem. But greater days are coming. The best is yet to come.
Transcript courtesy of ASAP Sports.