University of Miami

How did Mark Richt get his start with the Hurricanes? He was suddenly the starting QB

University of Miami introduces MARK RICHT, 24th head football coach in school history, Friday December 4, 2015.
University of Miami introduces MARK RICHT, 24th head football coach in school history, Friday December 4, 2015. wmichot@miamiherald.com

In 1982, Mark Richt was named starting quarterback for the University of Miami Hurricanes after Jim Kelly went down with an injury.

Howard Schnellenberger was the coach, and the Canes were just coming into their own after years of mediocrity.

Three years ago, Richt was named the head coach of the Hurricanes.

On Sunday, Richt stepped down, just a few days after an embarrassing bowl loss to Wisconsin.

Here is a look back at RIcht, the backup quarterback, emerging as the starter for UM 36 years ago.

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Mark Richt as UM quarterback, with UM coach Howard Schnellenberger. Palm Beach Post File

THE NEW STARTING QB

Published Sept. 21, 1982:

For the first time in 49 months, the University of Miami held a football practice Monday without quarterback Jim Kelly calling signals or working out on the sidelines.

But there was no teeth-gnashing or head-hanging. It seemed to be Rally ‘Round Richt time as senior quarterback Mark Richt, the Avis of the Hurricanes, stepped in for injured Jim Kelly.

Even some fans joined the act. As Richt headed for the locker room following practice, a long-time Hurricane booster greeted him with a shopping bag full of cookies she had baked for him and some teammates.

“I’m so happy for you, hon,” she said as she gave him a hug. And during a noisier-than-usual practice, players hollered “Oh, yeah” and “Nice throw” as Richt completed passes.

When tight end Andy Baratta dropped a long toss, center Don Bailey hollered, “Way to show your friendship, Andy.”

Kelly was undergoing shoulder surgery a few blocks away at Doctors Hospital the moment Richt became the center — make that quarterback — of attention at practice. He was a bit embarrassed by the hoopla.

“They were almost overdoing it a little,” said Richt. “They were making a point of making me feel good. And I felt great. The offense looked sharp.”

Richt also became the center of media attention. The phone rang at his apartment on campus so often that roomate Mark Cooper began picking it up with “Mark Richt’s answering service.”

The big question now is whether Richt, who has not started a game in five years (including a redshirt season) at UM can fill in for superstar Kelly.

Answers will start coming in Saturday’s 4 p.m. game in the Orange Bowl against Michigan State.

And questions about how a benchwarmer can quickly transform into the leader of the team can be answered readily by Hurricane quarterbacks coach Earl Morrall and Coach Howard Schnellenberger.

It was Morrall who filled in for most of the season when Bob Griese was hurt during the Dolphins’ 17-0 campaign in 1972. And Schnellenberger was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator.

“You have to keep your poise,” Morrall said in recalling the year he started 12 games and was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year. “Of course, I’d been through it before 1972 as backup to Johnny Unitas with the Baltimore Colts. You have to do the things you know you can do.

“There, the team didn’t waver. There was no letdown and they kept moving the ball. We won the first game I started and had the confidence we could beat anybody. That’s the thing this team has to do. We feel Mark will be ready. A lot of times in adversity a team goes out and pulls up the straps and works harder.”

Schnellenberger added, “When you compare Earl as a pro and Mark as a college player, Mark probably has as much experience in the backup role as Earl. The only thing I told Mark was what I told the squad: We have a lot of confidence in him, and we know he can handle it. We know how good our Avis quarterback is.”

Morrall noted that Richt and Kelly differ in styles, but predicted no problems in the transition.

“Mark throws a lot more with the arm, Jim more with the shoulder,” he said. “They throw with about the same speed, though on the short balls Mark may throw harder. “On runs, Mark may take off a little quicker. He’s not afraid to run, as evidenced by the bootleg he had at Virginia Tech Saturday when he ran right into a guy.”

Morrall said quarterbacks would not be asked to stop running.

“We don’t want them to run, but when they have to they just have to,” he said. “And they have to try to get down so they don’t take the full shot. Kelly just got hit from behind and never saw the guy.”

Freshmen Kyle Vanderwende, Vinnie Testaverde and Bernie Kosar will back up Richt. Could they step in if needed?

“Well, it would be touch and go,” said Morrall.

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HAPPY ENDING ON THE FIELD

Published Sept. 27, 1982:

Mark Richt was the last player to leave the University of Miami’s Orange Bowl locker room following the Hurricanes’ 25-22 victory over Michigan State on Saturday night.

He lingered partly because he was mobbed by reporters and partly because he was the butt of some good-natured horseplay by teammates who hid some of his clothes beneath football equipment.

Richt, who was thrust into the spotlight as starting quarterback when Jim Kelly was struck down by an injury, took his role of team captain, leader and spokesman seriously.

“A better script for me would have been for us to win 50 to nothing,” Richt said. “But for us to win the way we did at the end, well, it was as close as I can get to ever feelin’ that something means everything to me.”

For most of four quarters U-M’s offense labored through its own Cruise to Nowhere, a trip not nearly as extravagant as the one some 900-plus Hurricanes’ supporters took on a passenger ship on Saturday night. Except for a 10-play, 76-yard first-quarter touchdown drive, the Hurricanes were inept when they had the football.

Jeff Davis missed a chip-shot field goal in the first quarter, Mark Rush fumbled twice in the second quarter — which led to two Michigan State touchdowns — and Richt threw one interception to ruin another possible Miami score and another in the third quarter.

The Hurricanes were stopped in the fourth quarter by Michigan State after having the ball first-and-goal on the Spartans’ 1- yard line, and later on a fumble at the Michigan State 29- yard line.

But Miami still still won, on a 1-yard-dive by Rush, with 1:04 left in the game. The Hurricanes are now 3-1 going into next Saturday’s game at Louisville (2-1). “I don’t think that we were lucky to win,” UM head coach Howard Schnellenberger said. “I think we put ourself in some bad holes to begin with. It was very important for us to come out of it with a win, especially in the manner that we did it.

“Our offense showed courage and self-confidence putting us in a position to win. We had to let the outcome rest on the players. It was their game to win or lose. They had to knock Michigan State off the ball for us to score. This wasn’t a great coaching coupe for us. It was muscle football.”

Miami’s offensive line spent most of the game being outmuscled by a huge Michigan State defensive line.

Richt, who was making his first start after spending three years as a substitute, spent a good portion of the afternoon flat on his back.

He ended up with 42 yards in losses from sacks or broken plays where he was forced out of the pocket.

Most of the time he was also knocked to the ground after throwing passes. The line provided Richt the protection he needed, though, at the most crucial point of the game.

Richt stood back in the pocket and threw completions of 10 and 14 yards on consecutive passes to Rocky Belk to give UM a first down at Michigan State’s 2-yard line with 2:35 remaining.

Then it took UM four running plays to score from there. Rush went into the game for the final series after having spent most of the second half on the sidelines and the first half in the doghouse.

He lost the two second-quarter fumbles that led to Michigan State touchdowns and suffered a minor knee strain, too. Rush tried to get offensive coordinator Kim Helton to insert him into Miami’s lineup on an earlier fourth quarter series that stalled at Michigan State’s 9-yard line.

Until then, he had spent most of the third and fourth quarters wearing a warm-up wrap instead of his helmet.

“I asked him earlier if he was ready to go into the game and he had the wrap on and he hesitated,” Helton said. “I didn’t think he could go in to win the game. The last series, now he’s standing there and he’s rubbing against me. I asked him, ‘Can you go?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I can go right now.’ So I sent him in. With the last play to win the game, you hand it to your best kid that’s been five out of six from that spot and you say if you’re going to lose, you might as well lose with your best.”

Richt looked rusty but managed to complete 22 of 41 passes under extreme pressure for 200 yards and one touchdown. He drove the Hurricanes’ when it counted the most and showed them that life still exists after Jim Kelly.

A last-minute victory should surely provide U-M with confidence in Richt that might have been faltering before the game. “If we had lost, I don’t think it would have ruined our season,” Richt said. “The way I look at it is that there would have always been next week. I tell you what, in a game that close, all you can do is your best and then hope the breaks go your way. I mean, Michigan State didn’t really deserve to lose the game.”

Richt was asked him if learned anything from the come-from- behind victory. “I didn’t learn it, but it just reinforces in my mind that you can’t give up no matter what. And no one gave up. I never heard anybody say , ‘damn it’, I never heard any cynicism toward whether were’re going to win or lose the game. No one ever gave up.”

The Hurricanes played their sloppiest game of the season against Michigan State, a team that has blown its last two games while getting off to an 0-3 start. Louisville, most probably, won’t be any better, although the Cardinals defeated Oklahoma State, 28-22, on Saturday night. Schnellenberger says he will see to it that Miami doesn’t play as poorly at Louisville as it did on Saturday.

“This was not a thing of beauty,” Schnellenberger said. “We’re not a well-oiled machine as yet with Mark as the quarterback. But applying oil to the engine is not a difficult task.”

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