University of Miami

UM coach Mark Richt’s goal: Return Canes to greatness

Mark Richt is introduced as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes on Friday, December 4, 2015.
Mark Richt is introduced as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes on Friday, December 4, 2015. wmichot@miamiherald.com

The first indication that this University of Miami football coach was different was when he took the initial six minutes of a sit-down interview Thursday with four daily beat writers to ask them about themselves — Were they married? Did they have children? Where were they raised and educated? What path did they take to get here?

New Hurricanes football coach Mark Richt listened, asked more questions, then answered them for 30 minutes before tacking on another five when time ran out to compensate for his own mini-reporting session.

Richt, 55, a former UM quarterback who was introduced at Miami on Dec. 4 after spending 15 years at Georgia as one of college football’s most successful coaches, is known for being particularly caring — albeit no-nonsense. He said he has been recognized and welcomed here by more community members than he had imagined would know him, and that he wants to embrace Miami for its diversity, not compare it to Athens, Georgia, where everyone is “pretty much” a Georgia Bulldog.

“Part of my job is to let people know that we care about them and we want them to be a part of our family,” Richt said from his office, fairly bare except for some remnants left by former coach Al Golden, and a trophy his Bulldogs asked him to keep in his office.

A contraption for his baby granddaughter — part playpen and part changing station — lay in the middle of his office, waiting for the arrival Friday of his 1-year-old granddaughter Jadyn — “J-a-d-y-n” Richt carefully spelled.

Richt’s son, Jon, 25, works as an offensive assistant with the Buffalo Bills and is believed to be one of the assistants Richt will bring to UM. When asked if Jon might want to come to Miami, Richt smiled and said, ‘I don’t know. We’ll see. He’s really sharp. And he’s good. I’m biased, but he’s a good kid.”

Does Richt have his mind made up about some of the assistants he wants to bring?

“We’ll let you know,” Richt said with his relaxed, thoughtful delivery. “We’re on a need to know basis.”

Richt confirmed that he is not going to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, where UM will play Washington State on Dec. 26. Instead, he will spend Christmas with his family, possibly in Buffalo. He conceded that “out of respect,” he didn’t want to get in the way.

“I don’t even know what I would do there,” Richt said. “I’m not going to try to get there and do any game management. They’ve been managing games for five games… I think they’re on a good track.”

Richt said he’s impressed with how the UM assistants have handled the past few weeks, interim coach Larry Scott “in particular.”

He said he’s met individually with about half the team, “about 20 a day for the last three days” and believes the players have come together admirably.

As for his 2016 Hurricanes, he was frank.

“I don’t know enough still,” Richt said. “I’m still learning. I’m trying to learn names and watching some practice and trying to figure out who’s leaving, who’s staying and who’s a senior and who’s not. There might be a guy making a play and I’m like, ‘Oh, man! That’s awesome!’ And they’re, ‘Nah, he’s leaving.’’”

So, Richt explained, “it’s hard to say. I mean, I personally think that we’ve got a long way to go. Not in a negative way. The only thing I’m going to predict is we’re going to work really hard and try to earn the right to win games. That’s the only thing I can promise right now.”

Richt, the father of four children but now an “empty nester,” graduated from Boca Raton High School and played at UM from 1978-82. He made it clear that he misses his wife, Katharyn, still attending nursing school in Athens and not expected to join him for good until “late May.’’ He said in the meantime they’ll be looking for a place to live.

“I’ve had every suggestion you could imagine,’’ he said, “from living in the Ritz to getting a condo to having a house with a pool – and everything in between.’’

A devout Christian whose life’s philosophy is guided by his faith, Richt said the transition from Georgia to Miami has “been exciting,” reiterating that his “most important mission is to try to stay in God’s will and live a life of obedience… Nothing lasts forever other than eternal life to me. It’s a new chapter.”

He said he believes that all young men, whether Bulldogs or Hurricanes, “are more alike than different.” He told the Hurricanes that his approach will “benefit them academically, athletically, socially [and] if they choose to grow spiritually that’s up to them. Nothing will be mandatory in that regard.

“I want them to help them become great at what they want to be great at… Every guy I’ve talked to is excited about that.”

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