It was a Thursday in 2007. UGA was scheduled to play Oklahoma State on Saturday and it was the headline game of the first week of the College Football season. ESPN was already there and so was I. My Pastor and Friend Jentezen Franklin had been invited to do an (optional) devotion for the team after practice that day by some of the staff and chaplains. We went early and had all access to the practice. It was a thrill to see the talent and hear the game plan from a close up view. I was extremely impressed with Coach Richt and staff in how they prepared the young men for the game, the season and ultimately life. There was no excessive criticism, but plenty of correction and encouragement. The team appeared very ready to play and eager to get the year started.
It was a HOT end of August day, the players were exhausted and hydrating as they left the field and entered the locker room area. Coach Richt stood at the door and spoke, high fived, fist bumped (some sort of touch) on each player as they entered. Coach was brief and positive in his practice summary and then he invited the team to a devotion going on later in the film room. The response to his invite was minimal. He followed up by inviting them again and informed the team that Jentezen Franklin was speaking describing him as a worldwide known preacher who could be anywhere in the world at that moment. “You are not at all required to attend this meeting, but If you care about your future, I strongly suggest you come hear what this guy has to say.” A couple dozen expressed an interest this time. Coach Richt then gave a third invitation, “Guys, anyone who comes to this devotion will get your own Large pizza!” After about 30 minutes and an opportunity for the players to get a shower and a couple sports drinks, 87 members of the team came to that devotion!!!
Jentezen did a masterful job speaking to the young men about their future and their faith. At the end of this (optional) devotion 21 players made a profession of faith. Many rededicated their lives while others accepted Christ for the first time. We prayed with the players, heard their confessions and listened as they confided in us some things they were struggling with as 18-20 year old men. These players were shown not only the love of Christ that day, but the sincere concern for their future and eternal well being by their Head Coach Mark Richt.
Today, UGA fired Mark Richt. Words cannot express the frustration and disappointment I feel. It seems that the A.D. and powers that be have forgotten Bulldog football in the years prior to Coach Richt. .500 Seasons, no bowl games and losses to then Div. IAA schools were the norm under Jim Donnan and Ray Goff. Coach Richt changed all of that and averages just under 10 wins per season. He will have a chance for yet another 10 win season with the forthcoming bowl berth in a few weeks.
Coach Richt’s success on the field speaks for itself and cannot be disputed, but there is not and in this day and time, will most likely never be a Coach who has the off the field impact that Mark Richt has had on his players. Today is a sad day for Coaching, College Football and countless young men who will not have the opportunity to play for Coach Richt. Coach Richt is a champion and he will be just fine. By the way the Dawgs won that game in 2007 over Oklahoma State 35-14 on the way to an 11 win season which included wins over Alabama and in the Sugar Bowl.