After years as his mentor, then-Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had trouble coming up with much when asked what Mark Richt’s weaknesses might be when Georgia hired the longtime Seminoles assistant as its head coach following the 2000 season.
Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden answers reporters' questions on Friday at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. Bowden was at Georgia to speak at a coaching clinic.
“The closest thing I could say is he might be too nice,” Bowden said on Friday at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall before addressing a coaching clinic.
That disposition has been as much a source of appeal as criticism, but in Richt’s case, it’s the nice guy who is left coaching last.
It’s easy to forget that Richt’s casual grin and youthful appearance disguise that, when it comes to coaching, he is now an elder statesman. He has managed to persevere while others have seen entire careers begin and end. He is entering his 12th season as a head coach — all at Georgia — and is now ancient in his field, where only six current FBS-level coaches have been in the same place longer and three coaches were hired for their current positions the same year. No current head coach in the Southeastern Conference has been in that position longer.
It’s an exception to the rule now, Bowden said, to see someone last so long, particularly in the same place.
“Coaches are making so much money — the head coach, if they’re successful — that they can retire quicker,” Bowden said. “Or they get another, more successful job. Yet with the money they’re making, if they don’t win, they’re gone. So I don’t think we’re going to see the longevity like we used to see.”
Bowden fostered a culture at Florida State that encouraged coaches to stay. They felt comfortable there, said Richt, who worked under Bowden in two stints for a combined 14 seasons. All the while, Bowden took the heat and lived to see season after season on the field that bears his name.
“I enjoyed it, but I probably didn’t totally appreciate it until I was able to look back on it,” Richt said of the stability at Florida State. “But I definitely don’t take it for granted.”
The Florida State assistants found out just how tough it is when they ventured off to take on programs of their own. Of Bowden’s protégé’s, only one has coached more games as a head coach (Terry Bowden, now at Akron), and none has a better winning percentage than Richt’s (.741). The others found it to be a cruel world with a short attention span.
“There’s an underlying impatience among administrators caused by pressure from the boosters and the alumni that you better be lucky to hang on,” Bowden said. “I was at Florida State 34 years. I tried to get another year, but I didn’t win enough doggone ballgames.”
All along, Richt has said he intended to start and end his head-coaching career at Georgia. If for no other reason, it might have been because he knew nothing else when he was hired at Georgia.
“During the time I was at FSU with Coach Bowden, I enjoyed the stability of the staff and the stability of the head coach, my family liked Tallahassee, and I liked it because I got to see young men come in and see then all the way through to graduation,” Richt said. “I guess it was just the way I came into the business and experienced it first. Not many guys get to experience that in coaching, quite frankly. It made me believe that, if I ever got the opportunity to be a head coach, I was going to try to emulate that the best I could.”
In that sense, Richt said he felt he had been successful. He said he has developed hundreds of those relationships that last from the first recruiting visit and beyond the handshake and hug on graduation day. The perfect example came on Wednesday, when Richt received a text message from former Georgia quarterback DJ Shockley about the birth of his child.
“You just tend to build more relationships when you have that type of atmosphere,” Richt said. “People feel like family.”
Bowden’s example and lessons in surviving the ebb and flow of the profession were particularly poignant on Friday as Richt and Georgia face some steep criticism from fans and scrutiny from all around on the trouble several current and former players have found themselves in, from domestic violence and drunk driving arrests to recent allegations of failed drug tests.
While speaking on the topic Friday, Bowden mentioned a plaque he kept on his desk that helped him through the more trying times. “This too shall pass,” it read.
Like his former boss, Richt has weathered storms and will probably make it through this one with some help from Bowden’s teachings.
“I think I learned to focus on the process of doing the things you feel are in the best interest of the program and not trying to be influenced by a lot of the things that are outside of the program,” Richt said. “It’s just not very productive to do that. The goal is to do what you think is in the best interest of the team and players and do that the very best you can and with class.
“No one’s perfect by any means, but you just have to try to do it the right way.”