Who is the man who is coaching No. 8 Georgia these days? One month ago, Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt was generally considered a stick-in-the-mud, a stoic leader whose greatest asset was a calm hand on the wheel.
Now he’s apologizing to the SEC commissioner, bucking tradition and by the way, winning football games.
“Day in, day out, he is so much more enthused, joking around, kidding,” senior wide receiver Sean Bailey said.
The Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2 SEC), who play No. 22 Kentucky on Saturday, have won four straight games since a disheartening loss to Tennessee and have not recently looked as impressive as they did Saturday in beating Auburn 45-20.
“That was a lot of fun,” Richt said. “It might be first or second on the fun meter to me.”
The Florida game, in which Richt drew the conference’s ire for endorsing an excessive celebration, gets the other position in the RFR – Richt Fun Rankings. Who knew Richt even had a fun meter?
“I think he is relaxed a little bit more and having more fun himself,” senior running back Thomas Brown said. “When Coach Richt has fun and is not uptight, I think it makes the players more relaxed. He’s relaxed a little more and let us have more fun, and it’s kind of transferred over to our play.”
Richt even is throwing a little subterfuge into his routine. He opened last week’s press conference by saying he wanted to pass along a request from the team’s seniors for the fans to wear black to the Auburn game. The seniors asked him Monday, he said.
“It was totally his idea,” Brown said.
Speaking of Brown, he’s usually one of the leaders in what has become a sideline tradition for this year’s team – dancing to a song called “Crank Dat.” It is sung by Soulja Boy, whom 95 percent of the people in Sanford Stadium wouldn’t recognize if he were sitting next to them, but the Bulldog fans know instantly when it comes on the loud speakers that mayhem soon will break out on Georgia’s bench. The old Richt might not have put up with such sideline shenanigans, Brown said.
The change for the coach occurred on Oct. 7, the day after the Bulldogs were lifeless throughout a 35-14 loss to Tennessee, Richt said. Where is their emotion, he wondered? That question soon turned to: Where is mine?
“I was as big a part of it as anybody,” he said, “maybe the biggest problem.”
That game changed Richt, he said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of my life, but it definitely it did change me,” he said.
Giving up play-calling duties, which Richt did officially in the offseason, also has made him a different coach, he said. Through the first half of this season, he had trouble adjusting to exactly how different, he said.
“You’re trying to figure out what to do with yourself and your emotions for that matter,” he said. “I’m a little freer to get more outwardly emotional about the game. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s just getting used to a new role.”
It’s definitely good, Bailey said.
“He usually is mellow, calm or whatever, but for whatever reason he felt the need to do (become more emotional), and I think it’s helped our team,” Bailey said. “I’m trying to pump up the crowd (during the Auburn game), and he’s right next to me. That kind of thing is something that trickles down to the other coaches, the managers and everything.
We feed off that and use that emotion out on the field.”
Richt’s colleagues have noticed a change and fully endorse it.
“He’s a great leader,” Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “It’s his team. He just pushes the right buttons, and we just follow along. We believe in him not only the staff does but the players and we feed off that."