By Maghen Moore:
Dear Head Coach Mark Richt,
Wow, what a run. For the past fifteen seasons you have sacrificed all you have for a football program. However, in the midst of chaos and baring the heat, you never sacrificed who you are for anything. For that, there are no words.
But, for the fifteen seasons you have had here at the University of Georgia, there are numbers that cannot be denied.
In your first season, back in 2001, you recorded eight wins and a mere four losses. In that same season, you defeated the University of Tennessee giving them their only regular season loss. At the end of that season, Georgia finished in the AP Poll at number 22. You also led UGA to a bowl game and would continue to do so.
The next year, you started to clearly amaze. You led Georgia to thirteen wins and only one loss. In 2002, only your second year at UGA, that team not only won the SEC East Division Championship, but also claimed the SEC Championship game. It took you one season to turn around a program. Not many can say that, but you can. You didn’t stop there. The Bulldogs played in the Sugar Bowl that year. Georgia defeated Florida State 26-13, and the University of Georgia finished at number 3 in the AP Poll. You led a team to greatness, but you didn’t stop there.
Behind your lead, the Bulldogs never missed a bowl game. For 14 consecutive seasons under your watch, the University of Georgia was eligible for a bowl game. This season, Georgia is eligible again. In the past 14 bowl games you have coached, you won 9.
I was thankful to attend one of those bowl games. In 2013, I watched the University of Georgia defeat Nebraska in The Capital One Bowl. I was a senior in high school and, honestly, was considering a different school. As I sat in the stands, I watched you fight adversity, gather a team, rally an offense and a defense, and beat Nebraska. Aaron Murray set a record that day, passing for 427 yards, which is a Bulldogs’ bowl record. The University of Georgia also won 12 games for only the third time in school history. You produced two of those three 12 game-winning seasons. See, before that day, I knew I wanted to be involved in sports, broadcasting, and writing, but seeing what you did that day made me realize everything I wanted was at the University of Georgia. So, from me to you, thank you for being who you are, as a man and a coach, because I now share the traditions you have represented for 15 years.
Personally, you are well beyond talented. You were named to the American Football Coaches Association Board of Trustees in 2010, and you received the Stallings award in 2013. You were named SEC Coach of the Year in 2002 and 2005. You are one of seven coaches in history to win two SEC Championships in your first five years. You are also one of seven coaches to record four consecutive 10-win seasons. You are one of only five men in NCAA Division 1A history to record 132 or more wins in his first 14 seasons as a head coach behind only Bob Stoops and Tom Osborne. Under you, more than 80 UGA players have been drafted into the NFL.
Many people know the statistics I’ve already written to you. What most people forget is the character you display on and off the field.
Under your guidance, more than 280 Georgia football players received their degree. You know that football is a mere part of a player’s life, and you don’t forget to ask, “What do you like to do?” Malcolm Mitchell wrote a children’s book, and Chris Conley filmed and starred in a Star Wars film. You made sure these boys became men, and for that, I know a large group of men are thankful for you today.
I interviewed one of your former players just a few months ago. Orson Charles, former tight end, said that the coaching staff was all family-oriented. He said you are a “great Godly, fatherly man” that he “could look up to and relate to,” when playing at UGA. He also said that you “care more about building [you] up as a man,” and know that football is only a part of life, not the entire thing.
Some other former players have expressed their gratitude to you, too. Former Tight End Arthur Lynch wrote on Facebook, “it was coach who put his arm around me and told me to trust in him and trust in Georgia … he became the father figure I desperately needed.”
I can’t even begin to understand how much you’ve impacted your players, but they express it and from that, I can tell you’ve done much more than just coach a team.
Beyond your team, you consistently proved your character: loving, kind-hearted, giving, and ultimately incredible.
At the end of September, a man’s life was changed. Devon Gales suffered a horrific neck injury that left him paralyzed. A horrible accident that left a lot speechless. As a coach, you spoke about it, but as a person, you touched Gales, too. When Gales came in Between the Hedges for the first time since his accident, you made him feel at home. You gave him a hug that no one else can even fathom the meaning of or the feeling that gave to a young athlete. You welcomed him with open arms into a family he said, “[he] never knew about.” Thank you for being a warm-hearted, loving person to a community.
As for the students, I know you are more than just a head coach. You hyped up a student section by announcing red outs, black outs, Dawg Walks and game times. You never forgot about the ones who show up to support. Thank you for always being a great man, someone to look up to, and being someone to rely on when things got rough. You taught me as a student that school comes first; rely on your values, and to believe in myself. I have the greatest memories in Sanford Stadium, and I owe them to you. Thank you.
As for the Bulldog Nation, you’ve touched them all. We are all sad to know that next year comes change. You’ve been more than great as a head coach, a consistent and incredible person, and now we all wish the best for you and your family.
Thank you, Coach Richt, for two SEC Championships, 145 total wins, and now 15 bowl game appearances.
That’s not all. Thank you for producing men. Thank you for creating an atmosphere to make incredible memories. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made to a team, a coaching staff, a university, and a nation. Thank you for being who you are as a person. Thank you for never compromising your character for win.
Thank you, Coach Richt, for everything.
Featured photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images