SAVANNAH | Georgia football coach Mark Richt was at the Charles H. Morris Center on Thursday for his annual appearance at UGA Day in Savannah, and brought suddenly successful basketball coach Mark Fox with him.
More than 200 UGA alumni and supporters attended the event, taking pictures with Richt and Fox and listening to university provost Pamela S. Whitten as well as alumni association president Tim Keadle before the coaches took the stage.
Richt‚Äôs topics ranged from endorsing the SEC TV Network to sharing culinary experiences from recruiting visits, while Fox discussed conference scheduling and the role that the program‚Äôs graduation rate plays in recruiting. The UGA Alumni Association and athletic department teamed to plan stops in 12 cities for Richt and Fox, and the format focused heavily on the importance of fundraising for the athletic department and the university‚Äôs improved academic standards and standing.
‚ÄúOur fans are awesome and they come to see us, so it‚Äôs great we can come to see them,‚Äù said Richt, whose team finished an injury-plagued season with an 8-5 record and a loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. ‚ÄúOur fans are why the games are fun. I don‚Äôt think it would be anything like it is if the fans weren‚Äôt as great as they are.‚Äù
Although the tone was light, Richt couldn‚Äôt entirely dodge the discipline violations that have consistently forced dismissals and suspensions during Richt‚Äôs 14 years at the helm. Most recently, starting defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons was thrown off the team and Tray Matthews, Jonathon Taylor, Uriah LeMay and James DeLoach are all facing suspensions from an incident in March.
‚ÄúOur main job is to educate players about what is going to be acceptable and what is not going to be acceptable,‚Äù said Richt in response to a question from the audience. ‚ÄúI‚Äôll say this though ‚Äî if everything you did when you were between the ages of 18 and 22 was published like it is with our players, would you be proud? They do stupid stuff, and we have to deal with it, because the biggest thing is for them to represent the university and their family name well.
‚ÄúMost of them do pretty good, but if they just don‚Äôt get it, we have to send them down the road,‚Äù Richt added.
Fox is entering his sixth year at Georgia and is coming off his second 20-win season at Georgia, a feat that has happened only 12 times in the program‚Äôs 82-year history.
With the nucleus of a team that finished second in the SEC and won a game in the National Invitation Tournament returning, Fox and his staff have turned their attention to recruiting, signing Michigan‚Äôs Gatorade Player of the Year, Yante Maten, and Nigerian big man, Fred Iduwe.
Reminded that the Savannah Civic Center hosted a regular season game between Georgia and Georgia Southern in the late 1990s, Fox said he would be interested in trying to devise a way for Georgia to play a game in south Georgia in the future. He also said he and the program aggressively recruited Effingham star and Mr. Georgia Basketball Jakeenan Gant, who eventually signed with Missouri.
‚ÄúWe used to have to sell a vision, but now we can sell things we have actually done,‚Äù said Fox, who has sent Travis Leslie, Trey Thompkins and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the NBA during his five years with the Bulldogs. ‚ÄúLast year, we started five kids from Georgia, and we are always working on (in state recruiting). Sometimes we are successful, and sometime the players choose another school but we‚Äôre always working on it.‚Äù
Richt said in-state recruiting is a top priority for the football team, because there are more players on SEC football rosters from Georgia than any other state. Every coach on the Georgia staff covers a specific region, but Richt prefers a consensus building approach to recruiting which heavily weighs the perspective of position coaches before a player is extended a scholarship offer.
‚ÄúI want players that our coaches want, because that‚Äôs a relationship that‚Äôs very important,‚Äù said Richt, who said he typically sees more family loyalty to the university from rural areas in the state compared to the Atlanta area where players may have migrated from other parts of the country. ‚ÄúMost of the guys in Georgia (on other teams), we went after but just didn‚Äôt get them. We can only sign something like 20 (players) a year or something like that, and there are something like 150 players coming out of the state every year so we can‚Äôt get all of them.‚Äù