University of Miami football coach Mark Richt strode into the Westin Hotel looking trim, fit and at peace.
As expected, he drew a sizeable following among the members of the Atlantic Coast Conference media seeking a good story. After 15 years of SEC media days with Georgia, Richt had arrived at his first ACC Football Kickoff.
“Private jet, then had a limo pick us up, rolled in,” Richt initially told a few Miami beat writers. “We came in first class. Very nice.”
First class is how Richt hopes to deliver his product to Hurricanes fans in dire need of a feel-good season.
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“It has been great,” the 56-year-old coach said of the South Florida fans embracing him. “Everyone is hungry for success. There are always some fans who are like, ‘National championship or bust.’ There are a lot of them that just want to see us get after people and play Miami football. A couple of games in recent memory have been tough to swallow.”
Richt, one of only four men in NCAA FBS history to record 135 or more wins in his first 14 seasons, has coached in four national championship games as an assistant at Florida State, but never at Georgia.
At this point, UM fans, after a disappointing 8-5 in 2015 that ended with a 20-14 loss to Washington State in a snowy Sun Bowl, wouldn’t mind at the very least an ACC title. The Canes have never even won their Coastal Division outright.
Richt, a former UM quarterback, said he didn’t know the reason for UM’s long drought.
“I wasn’t paying that close attention. I do love Miami, but when you’re head coach in the SEC, you’re busy. I haven’t even lived through a year in the league. I don’t know what I’m up against yet. I don’t know what we’re up against yet. But [more than] 10 years in the league and not even winning the Coastal is a little surprising. Hopefully, we can change that.
“If you win that one, guess what? You get to come back here [at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte], win the league and win a national championship. Those are the goals.
“I think we’ll be able to recruit well enough to be able to battle everybody,” he said. “We’ve got potential. We’ve got a chance. I’m not even going to say we’ll know in the first couple of games. Maybe by the second league game [Oct. 8 against Florida State] we’ll have a better feel.’’
As for the Sept. 3 season opener possibly moving to Orlando because of ongoing construction at UM’s home stadium.
Richt smiled and said, “We’ll make the best of it. There will be a first game in [that stadium]. I’m not worried.’’
When reminded that perhaps UM needs a stadium on campus, Richt said, “I don’t know if you’ve seen our new stadium yet…That’s the type of stadium all of our players aspire to play in one day…You don’t get a Super Bowl unless you have one of the finest stadiums in America.”
He was asked if he felt less pressure now than the last few years at Georgia, where he was dismissed before the bowl game last season. His Bulldogs finished 9-3 under him in 2015, 10-3 overall.
“There’s pressure and there’s stress,’’ said Richt, who has taken good care of himself the past three months, losing 40 pounds after an intensive juice diet. “I’ve tried not to stress out about much of anything. I have a solid faith that the lord is going to take care of me. All I can really control is.. how hard we work, how we prepare, how we treat our players, how we go about our business in recruiting.
“I focus more on the process of doing things in the right way.’’
▪ Regarding defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and linebacker Jermaine Grace’s status — both are being internally investigated for potential NCAA rules violations connected to a rental car agency — Richt said, “They’re on the team practicing. If something comes up, we’ll tell you.”