Mark Richt goes in-depth on Brad Kaaya, NFL draft decision-making

Brad Kaaya (Getty Images)

Brad Kaaya (Getty Images)

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ORLANDO — Mark Richt didn’t let Brad Kaaya speak to reporters this week, in the days leading up to Miami’s bowl game. That is an unusual decision for a head coach to make regarding his starting quarterback. Especially when said quarterback is a junior who, by Richt’s assessment, is essentially the face of the university.

The reason?

“Because he really has wanted to focus on the game, and I think everybody wants to ask him about other things,” Richt said. “He doesn’t really want to talk about it right now. That’s the main reason.”

Aside from the Hurricanes’ date with West Virginia in Wednesday’s Russell Athletic Bowl (5:30 p.m., ESPN), Kaaya would likely have faced questions about his future. He has said he hasn’t thought about whether he will turn pro after the season. Many at UM expect him to.

Richt didn’t want to expose Kaaya (who spoke about his decision with reporters in Coral Gables last week) to a fresh round of questioning in a different media market. Tight end David Njoku was not made available, either.

In the absence of the player himself, Richt (after wishing reporters in attendance a Merry Christmas and/or Happy Hanukkah) spoke Sunday about Kaaya’s decision, the process in general, and what his quarterback has meant to the Hurricanes.

A few questions with Richt:

You’re no stranger to having players with decisions to make about their future during bowl games. I think when you were here with Georgia in ’08, Matthew Stafford had a similar decision to make as Brad. Philosophically, how do you advise these guys? 

“My goal is always to give them as much NFL information as possible, either through the committee that does the evaluating, or I’ve made a lot of contacts over the years in the NFL. There’s a lot of guys I’ve coached who are scouts. There’s a lot of guys that I’ve maybe coached with who are part of the scouting or GMs and all that kind of thing. You meet head coaches over the years, they come and try out your players. After a while you get to know a lot of those guys. You can ask them to give you a good feel for what they think of these guys.

“That’s the information I want them to have. I don’t want them to make a decision based on emotion, based on what somebody in the media said they were going to be selected as, an agent who says, ‘If you come with me, I can do this for you,’ or even coming from me, saying, ‘Here’s some of the benefits of staying.’ My goal is to educate them the best I can and allow them to think it through, pray it through and do what’s in their best interest.”

If they come back with a grade that’s third-round or lower, would you advise them, “Third round, I’m not sure, you might benefit by coming back?”

“There’s slots. There’s historical data that says if you’re slotted mid-third [round] compared to mid-second, here’s the difference. If you’re slotted mid-second to mid-first, here’s the difference. Mid-second to mid-first could be a difference of $10 million in guaranteed money – that’s significant. If you’re right around in that general area, second-, third-round pick, and you have a chance to improve and move up into the first round the next season, that might be worthy of consideration.

“But there’s other things, like getting your degree before you leave, trying to a win a championship, maybe just mature more as a guy, as a man.

“There’s been a couple of guys over the years where I say, ‘You, in my opinion, are ready enough to make a team and play in the NFL. But I’m not sure you’re mature enough to handle the money and the fame and all that. I think you need to grow up.’ I’ll tell them that if I think that.

“When I spoke to [Matt] Stafford, I said, ‘Matt, there’s not one thing you can do to improve your draft status. You’re going to be the first pick in the draft, probably.’ ‘A.J. Green, most people say you’re going to be the first receiver taken in the draft.’ ‘Knowshon Moreno, Todd Gurley, everybody tells me you’re going to be the first pick in the draft at your position. If you stay it’s because you might want to win the Heisman or might want to try to win a national championship or get your degree before you leave. There’s no business decision here where you could improve your status.’

“We’ll talk real frank about all that stuff.”

What is unique about Brad Kaaya? 

“For me, just coaching quarterbacks, he has the best peripheral vision I’ve been around and an ability to recall what happened. I can ask him what he saw and to me, it’s amazing what he’ll see and why he did what he did.

“There’s been times where I thought I saw this and I thought he really was going the wrong spot – that’s why I ask guys, ‘What did you see and why you did what you did?’ rather than, ‘You should have done this or should have done that.’ Because he has rules. He has reads and progressions and reasons why he goes on this side of the field or that side of the field. He’ll see some things that I didn’t notice, maybe, as it was happening. Then you’ll turn on the tape and say, ‘OK, I see why you did that.’

“He’s not always right, but he can tell you what he saw and what he sees is more than just this little tunnel vision. It’s very broad. His vision, I think, is really special.”

What has Brad meant to the program? 

“To this point, Brad has been nothing but the starting quarterback since the day he walked on campus. There’s a big responsibility. He has been a tremendous leader and face of this program. His picture is all over everything that you can put a guy’s picture on or his image on, and it’s mainly because of how well he plays on the field but how he represents the university. He’s a good kid.”

 

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