University of Miami

Coach Mark Richt finds his ‘second wind’ in return to Miami Hurricanes

Miami head coach Mark Richt gestures during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Miami Gardens.
Miami head coach Mark Richt gestures during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Miami Gardens. AP

If the world starts closing in on Mark Richt like a pressure cooker about to blow, the University of Miami football coach won’t need to look at social media, read his emails or turn on the radio to be forewarned.

He will just go to church.

“At church, you get a feeling if something good is happening or something bad is happening,’’ Richt said. “I mean, if I go to church and everybody is praying for me — ‘I’m praying for you, man,’ — then I’m like, ‘OK, it must be bad out there.’

“If they look at you and say, ‘I’m fasting for you,’ then you know it’s really, really bad.’ ”

Be assured that nobody’s been fasting these days for Richt — at least not since he left the University of Georgia, where despite 15 seasons as one of the most successful college football coaches in history with a 145-51 record, his tenure came to an end.

For Richt, 57, the door that subsequently flung open in Coral Gables in December 2015 has led to happiness — perhaps even more than he had imagined. Richt, who grew up in Boca Raton and was a backup Hurricanes quarterback for then-future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Jim Kelly, returned to South Florida because he knew this would be his only shot to lead his alma mater.

What happened in the first year of his return was impressive on and off the field:

▪ Miami (9-4) won its last five games of the season for the first time since its last national title campaign in 2001 and its first bowl game in 10 years.

▪ UM’s 2018 recruiting class is rated among the top two in the nation.

▪ Season-ticket sales hit an all-time high of 42,000.

▪ Hurricane Club membership exceeded 10,000 for the first time and is now at 11,500, reaching an all-time high of $14 million through its annual fund.

▪ Fund-raising for a $34 million indoor practice facility, for which Richt and his wife Katharyn pledged $1 million, and 61 other former players combined for $700,000, was so strong that the program broke ground in May and needs only $2 million more to complete the project.

▪ A community outreach program that touched hundreds of youngsters and their mentors and coaches got the Hurricanes ranked No. 2 nationally, per the NCAA, for community service.

Richt, already named to the watch list for the Bobby Dodd Trophy that honors the Coach of the Year at season’s end, wants to add an Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division title, and he hopes, in turn, an ACC title, to the program’s accomplishments.

“I’ve said this and I mean it: This is the kind of place that if we do things right and don’t self destruct, we’re probably going to be pretty good before it’s over,’’ he said.

But with a new starting quarterback replacing departed school record-holder Brad Kaaya, Richt’s goals become substantially more of a challenge in 2017. Redshirt junior Malik Rosier, who has played in just 10 games and started one, was selected as the starter 11 days before Saturday’s home opener against Bethune-Cookman.

“The quarterback factor is big,’’ said college football analyst and broadcaster Gino Torretta, UM’s 1992 Heisman-winning quarterback who believes the Canes will at least match their 9-4 record from 2016. “The quarterback touches the ball every snap. Had Kaaya stayed, they probably would have been favored in all their games.”

Torretta knows the strength of this year’s team “lies in the defense” and “the question marks are on the offense.”

“Mark Walton is a star running back, but they’re kind of thin after him,’’ Torretta said. “There are talented players at receiver, but they’re young. A lot depends on how quickly that young talent comes together.’’

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit nonetheless projected UM will win the Coastal and face Florida State for the ACC title.

“I personally thought Mark Richt after Georgia probably would step down and go find some other things that are appealing to him beyond coaching,’’ Herbstreit said last week on a conference call. “...I just felt like maybe he was running out of a little bit of gas. Man, not only is it great for Miami, him going down there, it seems to have, in my opinion, given Mark Richt a second wind. He looks as young and energetic as I’ve seen him.’’

One thing is clear: Richt will be around as long as he’s wanted.

“Miami fits me well,’’ the coach said in his calming, slow-paced style. “Katharyn and I choose to love a place before we get there. This is our home. The culture, the vibe of Miami, where I’m living in Coconut Grove, it all fits my personality.’’

Katharyn Richt, who helps distribute water to the players during games, said her husband’s return to Miami has given him “a boost.’’

This is a man who sleeps soundly just about every night, he said, except for post-game nights, when he wakes up sometimes as early as 4 a.m. to watch game tape.

“He’s got a new energy in everything,’’ Katharyn said. “He came back because he knew he could win at Miami, but he didn’t realize how much it would mean to be here as an alum. And that is what has reenergized him, all the alumni coming together and supporting him. It’s been great.’’

Former UM star and Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, whose son Michael II is a sophomore tight end, said Richt “has brought back a sense of what the U has already been about. Being from here, having this in his blood and then passing it on, that’s huge.

“Coach is the right guy — trust me.’’

Former UM/NFL star linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was on the advisory committee that provided athletic director Blake James with input during the coaching search, said one of Richt’s strongest traits is that he’s “genuine.’’

“In this day and age you need that,’’ Vilma said. “He knows how to sell the program without lying. He doesn’t have to exaggerate. People trust him.’’

And he trusts them. When asked what he perceives are his strengths, Richt said, “Good people around me and trusting God more than my own wisdom. I think we have an awesome coaching staff in that they’re very competent men and the right kind of people who work together. We have a great rapport with each other and with our players, a lot of positive energy.’’

His coaches also seem thrilled to be here, though if they keep excelling, plenty of suitors will call.

“I’ll tell you this: He’s very happy,’’ said Miami tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Todd Hartley, who has coached with Richt for years. “He’s in his element. He’s focused. There’s fire. There’s drive. There’s passion.”

Jon Richt has the unique perspective of seeing Richt from two perspectives: as the quarterbacks coach and as his father’s son.

“Coming here has lifted his spirit,’’ Jon said. “I figured he’d enjoy being back in the game and more hands on. It seems like he’s being himself around the guys a little more than before.”

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who grew up in Miami, believes this program could be bound for great things.

“Mark Richt has set the vision. And it’s a very clear one. If you recruit the way we’re recruiting and this great staff of guys that are all for each other follow along this path and continue to do things right, at the University of Miami you have a chance to win everything.’’

Mark Richt

Age: 57.

Résumé: UM head coach: 2016-present; Georgia head coach: 2001-2015; FSU offensive coordinator/QBs: 1994-2000 (only QBs 1990-1993) and grad/volunteer assistant: 1985-1988; East Carolina offensive coordinator: 1989.

Highlights: One of only four men in NCAA Division I-A history to record 135 or more wins in his first 14 seasons. SEC titles in 2002 and 2005.

What keeps him up at night: Going over games in his mind the night he plays. He often gets out of bed in the middle of the night “to watch the tape and see exactly what happened.’’ In the morning, instead of drinking coffee, he mixes water with an energy nutritional powder called “Spark.’’