This edition of Sports Spectrum “Conversations” features the head football coach from Georgia, Mark Richt. Coach Richt has been in charge of the Georgia football program since 2001 and has a 117-39 record, 5 SEC Eastern division titles and 2 SEC Championships. Coach Richt joins us to talk about his faith in Christ, leading young men, missionary work, “Old Man Football,” and one of his big hobbies, bowling. He also has a pretty impressive ability to quote scripture word for word. I didn’t have a ton of time with the coach so this time so the Q&A section is most of the interview, but to hear it straight from the coach’s mouth, listen to the full audio podcast below.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: You’ve been coaching for most of your adult life (many years at Florida State, a season ECU, Georgia since 2001) When did you first know you wanted to be a football coach?
Coach Richt: Well, when I couldn’t play anymore. You know, usually in football you get hurt or somebody says you’re not good enough to play anymore, so that happened to me just like most anybody else. It just happened sooner with me. But I still loved the game and I loved the strategy of it and the competition. I didn’t know if I could get that same kind of vibe or that same kind of adrenaline as a coach but it didn’t take long to realize that it could happen. And then you know years into it, I’ve learned that the relationships with these young players that you’re involved with are as important and even more important at times than the wins and losses.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Along those lines, when did you first know you wanted to become a Christian?
Coach Richt: Well, the situation happened back in college with a college roommate who became a believer and (he) actually turned out to be my summer school roommate. I had different roommates in the fall. And I saw a huge difference in this guy. I saw him go from kind of a wild guy with not much peace in his life, to a guy that had really had calmed down, had this peace about him that was very attractive to me.
And so as he was telling me what had happened and how he had become a born-again believer in Jesus Christ and started to show me some things in the Bible and some of the reasons for why he did what he did and that became attractive to me to the point of where I thought maybe that was my time. But then it got close to the school year coming and I had my other roommates that would probably not understand what I did or why I did it and I started to worry more about what they thought than what God thought. I was worried about wanting to still want what I wanted and I was also thinking “Gosh if I became, if I said I was a Christian and still sinned I’d become a hypocrite and all that.” And I didn’t understand grace. So, you know, some years down the road, some seeds were planted, I didn’t become a Christian then, but some seeds got planted in my life.
And then by age 26 at Florida State after the death of an offensive lineman at Florida State, Coach (Bobby) Bowden was speaking to the team. I was there as a graduate assistant coach and he was talking about Pablo Lopez who had passed away and he said, “Men, you guys are 18-22 years old, you think you’re gonna live forever and just like Pablo used to sit in that chair there, now he’s gone. Men if that was you last night, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” And I was like “Wow!” I’m in the back of the room thinking “I know where I’m going and it’s not a good spot.” And all of those memories back from my college roommate that one summer came back to me and I knew that it was my time. So the next day I went to see Coach Bowden and prayed to receive Christ in his office.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: How has your faith shaped you into being a head football coach and leader of men?
Coach Richt: Well, I think everybody has a belief system. Everybody believes in something and so whatever you believe in whatever you have faith in shapes you period. What kind of a husband you are, what kind of father, what kind of a coach, what kind of a… whatever it is you do. I think it shapes how you live your life. I really, I can’t say I can separate my vocational life from my spiritual life. I don’t think that’s possible for me.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: So, how do you balance the demanding life of a football coach in the SEC with family life at home?
Coach Richt: Colossians 3:23 says: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily unto the Lord, rather than men.” So I think that’s what you do. I mean, whatever you do, you do your work heartily and you do the best you can and unto the Lord, rather than just doing it for your boss or for man. And I think that this kind of carries over not only at work but home as well, but I’ve got a wonderful life who loves me and loves the Lord and my kids know that every minute I have free, I want to be with them. And even though I’m very busy and they understand that, they also know when I do have free time and what I wanna do with it. And I think that speaks volumes to your family as to what you are doing with the time that you do have.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: You and your wife took a mission trip to Honduras last year, tell us a little bit about that.
Coach Richt: Well we’ve been there a couple of times. I think it was my third trip and I know my wife Katharyn, she loves mission trips period. We went there this last time with World Vision. We wanted to see how they operate because we knew we wanted to get involved. I had read a book called The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Sterns who is the president and CEO of World Vision America. And it just touched me and we wanted to do something. We wanted to get involved. So we spent some time with them and they showed us how they take these communities from scratch and build them up to the point that they can take over on their own – the poorest of the poor. In that country World Vision is helping in the name of Christ. It was pretty awesome.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Is that something you are thinking about doing after football?
Coach Richt: You know, I don’t know, we’ll see. I think we’re on a mission field in America. I mean every business office in America, every university in America is a mission field in my mind, so you know I think we’re doing, hopefully being obedient to what God wants us to do right now.
Coach Richt: Well, we want to win the Eastern division, because if you win the east, you get to play for the SEC Championship, and if you win that, you got a chance to play for the National Championship so that’s our goal, but when you break it down in its simplest form it’s to win every game. And that’s something that our seniors wanted to talk about more than even winning the East. They say, “Hey coach, let’s just try to win them all and see what happens.” So that’s our focus, one at a time, and hopefully we’ll take care of business this week (Georgia plays Florida Atlantic).
SPORTS SPECTRUM: And I guess you guys will be doing it with “Old Man Football” right?
Coach Richt: Well you know, a little bit of “Old Man Football” ain’t so bad.
Coach Richt’s Favorites
Favorite Bible Verse?
Colossians 3:23 that I mentioned a little bit ago is one that’s kinda meant to me a lot of the years, there’s no doubt about that. Jeremiah 17 verses 7 and 8 are pretty powerful for me as well:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.”
Well you know, Moses was a pretty interesting guy. I could relate in some way when Moses was asked by God to free his people from Egypt and Moses was like, “Well, who am I to do this?” And God said, “I will certainly be with you.” I was able to relate to that a little bit when I first took this head (coaching) job at Georgia or even when I first became the offensive coordinator at East Carolina. I mean there’s jobs that are just bigger than you are able to handle. “God, why me? I’m just not really capable.” And He’s like, you know, “I will be with you.” That gives you comfort.
Who was Favorite QB growing up?
Joe Namath. Without a doubt.
Do you have a favorite in the NFL now?
Well I’d have to say Matt Stafford. He’s our guy, he’s a Georgia boy. Absolutely.
Any hobbies outside of football?
Bowling. That’s my game. Used to be racquetball but I can’t move around much anymore. Bowling is the last competitive thing that I could do physically and have the shot at still being pretty good.