Richt carves out new image after giving up play-calling Print
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Sunday, 11 November 2007 14:39
NCAAF Headline News

 ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Who was that coach waving his arms to fire up the fans? Who was that coach slamming down his headset after a call went against his team? Who was that coach decked out in black along with his players?
Amazingly, it was Mark Richt.
The Georgia coach is going through some sort of mid-life metamorphosis, revealing all the emotions that he used to conceal behind a stoic demeanor and monotone style. It's sure working for the Bulldogs, who climbed two more spots to No. 8 in the latest Associated Press rankings Sunday.
``It starts from the top and trickles down,'' receiver Sean Bailey said after the latest win, an emotional 45-20 triumph over Auburn. ``Coach Richt has started doing some things he normally doesn't do.''
Actually, this all started back in the summer, when Richt was still coming to terms with his decision to give up the play calling to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
For the first time, the head coach made it a point to meet privately with each player - something he never had time to do before. Richt was able to spell out his expectations and listen to their concerns and suggestions.
One of the things he heard from the seniors was their desire to wear black jerseys instead of the school's traditional home red. He agreed to order up the shirts and circled Saturday's game against Auburn as the time to break them out.
No one else knew about the plan except the coach and his most experienced players.
``I've always liked the traditional look,'' Richt said. ``I used to tell them, 'Men, when we're on national TV, I want people to recognize us.' But black is part of our colors, too. And you know, it wasn't a bad look.''
He went through an elaborate ruse to ensure most people didn't know about the black jerseys until the last possible moment. The Bulldogs warmed up in red, and the underclassmen still didn't know what was up when they returned to the locker room for their usual pregame ritual of praying quietly with the lights turned out.
When they came back on, the equipment staff started passing out the black jerseys. The place went nuts.
The reaction was even louder a few minutes later. Richt sent out the four captains in red jerseys, then the rest of the team charged through the main tunnel wearing black. Sanford Stadium was as loud as it's ever been, more than 92,000 rocking out to the AC/DC anthem, ``Back in Black.''
Richt wore black as well, right down to his shoelaces.
``My Johnny Cash look,'' he quipped. ``I almost chickened out. ... I knew I would catch a lot of grief if we lost.''
That's where the new Richt stepped in.
``The seniors wanted it, so I decided to go have some fun,''' he said. ``How harmful can it be?''
Not harmful at all. The fired-up Bulldogs (8-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) raced to a 17-3 lead by early in the second quarter. Auburn fought back, scoring 17 consecutive points for its first lead, but that's where the jerseys came into play again.
The Georgia players knew their coach went out on a limb for them. They didn't want to let him down. The Bulldogs scored four touchdowns over the final 20 minutes to win easily.
``Any time you start something new, you want to do it right,'' said safety Kelin Johnson, who had a pair of interceptions.
While the players started noticing a change in Richt over the summer, the coach points to a disheartening 35-14 loss to Tennessee early last month as his real turning point. He didn't see any signs of emotion or fight in his players as they fell behind early. He actually sensed them giving up.
``I had to do something to get the blood flowing,'' Richt said. ``After Tennessee waxed us, I told myself that I never wanted to live through a game like that again.''
When the Bulldogs slogged through another game the following week, surviving Vanderbilt on a last-second field goal, Richt came up with a novel idea for the big game against Florida. He ordered his players to get a penalty for excessive celebration after their first touchdown, not knowing the entire team would charge into the end zone.
The Gators were clearly put off by the unusual tactic, and Richt wound up writing a letter of apology to the SEC president. But his methods worked - the Bulldogs cruised to a 42-30 victory over the defending national champions, just their third win in the series in the past 18 years.
They haven't let up, scoring 40 points in three consecutive games for the first time since 1942.
``I never would have dreamed that,'' Richt said. ``That Tennessee game seems like three months ago, actually. It's just amazing what's happened.''
Right down to the coach. Against Auburn, he spent much of the first half jawing with the officials, actually charging onto the field after an unsportmanlike conduct penalty. When Georgia needed a big stop on defense, the head Bulldog would wave his arms above his head to incite the crowd.
``I was always guarded with my emotions. I wanted to be calm so I could think clearly,'' said Richt, remembering his days as a play caller. ``Now, I don't have to make nearly as many decisions as I used to. Because of that, I'm a little freer to get outwardly emotional about the game. I don't know if that's good or bad.''
To a man, his players say it's good.
And they can't wait to see what he's cooking up for this week.
 

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