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Monday, August 3, 2009

Richt Talks Recruiting, Redshirting and Redemption

I had a chance to do some preseason chatting with Mark Richt last week. I have more to come from our conversation, which hit on a lot of different subjects, but I figured I'd post a few portions of the interview verbatim, too.

So, here are some thoughts from Richt on Georgia's successful offseason on the recruiting trail, the lessons he learned from last season (something he's getting tired of talking about apparently) and what he thinks is in store for this year.

David Hale: You talked a bit as SEC Media Days about the rush of commitments that you got during the past two months while so many of your assistants were on vacation or out of town. How hard is it to keep tabs on all of that when you're not meeting regularly to make sure everyone is in the loop?

Mark Richt: It was tough. It's not like the whole staff was on vacation the whole time, but somewhere along the way, two or three were out, and we were never all in the building at the same time from our June camp to our next camp. It's difficult to get up with everybody and do a good job of staying in contact.

DH: When a class starts to fill up, does it become nearly impossible to really control the numbers? I know you've talked about never wanting to pull a scholarship from someone already committed or on the team, but how do you manage that when commitments start coming so quickly?

MR: What happens is you have X amount of spots at every position really. Your overall number certainly comes into play, but if you target X amount at this position, X amount at this position, you might be at the end of the road in a hurry at a particular position. So you're kind of dealing with it all the way through, and it's never easy to say when enough is enough because you don't know what's going to happen with your attrition. You're making decisions on stopping the recruiting number when you are literally 13 months away from having to declare who your 85 are. It's very difficult to do when you're six or seven months away from the signing date.

DH: Do you have an idea of what your number is this year, how many more you plan to sign?

MR: I never like to give it away because if I say one thing today, it could change a month from now, it could change at the midyear, and then someone will say that, 'You said this here, and then you did that.' I try to avoid it because I don't want to get nailed down on something that I can't nail down. I wish I could. I wish I could know exactly how many juniors would go pro. I wish I knew how many young men who might decide to transfer, I wish I knew what that number might be. Hopefully it's zero, but I wish I knew how many guys would get hurt and have a medical DQ. I wish I knew who may or may not qualify. There's so many factors going on and spinning around that you can't know what the right answer is. You have to just work your way through it.

DH: Looking at the commitments you do have, it looks like you went very defense heavy this year. Was that part of the plan from the beginning? Did you see more glaring needs there?

MR: Not necessarily. I didn't look at our data to say we offered more defensive players than offensive players. I can't say we did that. We probably did. It just so happens that that's where the run came. Sometimes the run happens because a kid at a certain position, one or two decides they want to come, and another young man who might be playing that same position might say if I don't make my decision than I may not have a space. It's a supply and demand thing sometimes.

DH: I want to ask you a couple questions about last season, and then we can put 2008 behind us.

MR: Please, that would be great.

DH: I assume at the end of every season, you're re-evaluating the things you do, your methods for coaching and putting a team together.

MR: Always.

DH: So I'm curious what the lessons are you took from last year? What did you learn from the season?

MR: If you don't practice a certain way, you're not going to get the mental edge and the physical edge that you need to be a championship football team. We made some decisions to change the way we go about our business due to the bodies laying on the ground. In order to create this energy and this edge and this confidence, it needs to be happening throughout camp. It needs to be happening throughout the season. Because we modified what we do, I think that might have been one of the biggest things I learned was that even if we've got some injury issues, we'd still probably be better served to keep going, to keep banging away, because if you don't, you will lose what you need to really play at your optimal level.

Now, with the injury factor the way it was, I'm not so sure we didn't do one of our better jobs coaching. It's hard for me to even say. On one hand, you wanted to meet an expectations that really couldn't be exceeded. You're preseason No. 1, you want to meet that expectation, you want to win the East, you want to have a chance to play for the SEC, and we fell short of that.

So we'll never sit there and say that was a great year. It's not a great year. If you don't win the East, it's not a great year. If you don't play for and hopefully win the SEC, it's not a great year. It could be a good year though. I think most teams across the country would be excited about a 10-win season and a top-10 finish. That's what happened, but it wasn't what we were hoping for. If we were in Year 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or whatever, and we get 10 wins and finish in the top 10, everybody's celebrating. It didn't happen that way this past year.

DH: Looking ahead to this coming season...

MR: We want to win the East and the SEC.

DH: I figured you might. I wanted to ask you a little about some things you might do differently this year though. You mentioned earlier this week that you planned to play all your true freshmen at a fairly broadly defined term of "skill positions." What changed that has you convinced redshirting isn't worthwhile for so many players?

MR: I'll tell you one of the main reasons behind that is the fact that our academic people are doing such a nice job of taking young men who don't redshirt and getting them graduated in three-and-a-half years. We really weren't getting that done some years ago. I don't know if anybody was getting that done years ago. It just wasn't happening.

So what happened was, if they play four years, senior year that's a semester really. They're here three years and a semester when their eligibility is up if they don't redshirt. Well, not many guys graduate in three-and-a-half years. Hardly any students do. Part of my reason behind redshirting kids was I wanted these kids to graduate. As you look at the big picture academically, you're seeing the guys that didn't redshirt, as soon as that three years is over, they go to Arizona, they go to Atlanta, wherever they go to train. They get ready for the combine, and you can't blame them for that. So they put their academics on hold, so they don't graduate. Then they come back after the six-year limit where they define what your graduation rate is – and we've done a phenomenal job of graduating guys past that date, guys have come back from trying all that and realizing how important their degree is – but we're like, 'We've got to get them graduated on the front end.'

Ted White (director of Georgia's student-athlete academic center) came in and had a really sound plan to do that, and you'll see more and more of our players who don't redshirt graduate after three-and-a-half, and because of that, it gives me more peace on the front end to say, even if this kid plays as a freshman, he can graduate in three-and-a-half, because we've got a plan in place. It's not easy, but it can be done and it has been done. So that in itself has been more of the reason why we do that.

DH: Another change for this season is what I've found to be the team's unofficial motto for 2009 -- the star of the team is the team. I've had numerous players repeat it to me, and even the cover of your media guide this year, there are no individuals, just a team photo. So I'm curious, what does that motto mean to you?

MR: Sometimes it isn't obvious, but it's obvious to us that football is a team sport. There aren't many sports like it. Even the diversity of the teammates that have to come together to make it work, you can't just have two stars and consider it a slam dunk that you have what it takes to be a champion.

We didn't try to don Matthew (Stafford) and Knowshon (Moreno) as stars. They played well, and they separated themselves in people's minds as elite players. I don't think they tried to separate themselves as being a prima donna or anything like that, but the perception of Georgia, everyone wanted to talk about Stafford and Moreno. So the more that gets thrown out there, the tougher it is to focus on the reality of the team. The most important thing that can happen to us is to put the team first and realize it's going to take everybody to get where we're going to go.


Bernie said...

Good stuff. I especially like the answer pertaining to the philosophy on redshirting now. To hear a head coach talk so freely about academics is refreshing.

Although I still suspect Knowshon's stats during the 06-07 campaign vs the rest of his career weighs fairly heavily as well. ; )

Hobnail_Boot said...

I can't take CMR at full face-value when he talks about Stafford and Moreno being labeled as stars because he was very public about campaigning for Knowhon to get more attention for his play against Central Michigan.

I say that as one of the biggest pro-Richt guys out there.