CORAL GABLES — Mark Richt and his wife, Katharyn, enjoy their empty-nester lifestyle. They walk around their Coconut Grove neighborhood, which has plenty of good dining, and sometimes ride bikes along Biscayne Bay.
When they lived in Athens, Ga. and Tallahassee, in Richt’s previous coaching stops, they were raising four children. Richt became good at navigating the crossroads of work and life.
“As I was driving to work, there’d be a certain intersection,” he said. “I’d start thinking about work. Then on the way home, when I hit that intersection, I’d start thinking about home. I try not to take the work home. That was helpful to me.”
That was some of the advice Richt gave Saturday at an event called All-Pro Dad, which brought an estimated 600 fathers, sons and daughters to Miami’s practice field. Richt and Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen gave speeches about the importance of fatherhood and mingled with attendees, who ran through the Hurricanes’ inflatable football helmet and played around for a few hours under sunny skies.
Christensen, entering his second year in Miami, worked under then-Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy when he partnered with a Tampa lawyer, Mark Merrill, to create All-Pro Dad in 1997. Christensen joked that the events they held at Bucs practices drew “the biggest crowds we ever had for training camp.” Richt brought All-Pro Dad to Georgia’s campus about 10 years ago.
The events are not explicitly faith-based — and UM, a private school, is nonsectarian — but Family First, All-Pro Dad’s parent non-profit run by Merrill, is described by The Encyclopedia of Politics as a “conservative Christian organization” which “generally focuses on the positive ways in which parents can strengthen their family relationships with one another and their children.”
That is Richt’s focus in life, which is more important than his job. Richt, 57, has been a major college football coach and public figure for so long that so much has been written about him, his family, his faith, and of course, his career in football. A common criticism is that because of his priorities, his drive to win games stops at a certain point.
“I don’t listen to any of that,” he said. “I know I love winning. I love competing. I’ll do everything it takes to win. But not at the expense of my faith or my family life.”
Each of Richt’s nine assistant coaches are married with children (including quarterbacks coach Jon Richt, his 26-year-old son). He gave his coaches the week after signing day completely off. He wants them out of the office by dinnertime each day.
Like many of his program-running philosophies, Richt borrowed that from his days as an assistant under Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, a devout Christian who demanded his coaches spend time with their families.
“We didn’t start staff meetings until 8:30, so I got up every morning with my kids, had breakfast, a family devotional,” Richt said. “We would take a Christmas card and pray for that family together. Jump in the car and take them to school, do spelling words on the way, and then drop them off and go to the office. In-season, morning time, I knew I was going to see my wife and my children. In the offseason, that’s where I was. Katharyn knew I had certain responsibilities, but when I was free, I wasn’t golfing, I wasn’t this and that. I was coming home.”
“Well, everybody’s got to do what they think is right,” he said. “But you know … I personally believe all these things that we pursue on this Earth are nothing compared with our relationship to God and our relationship to our families. In the end, your son’s not going to say, ‘Hey Dad, I’m glad you won that national championship.’ He’s going to say, ‘Thanks for being there for me.'”
That brought him to a story he read as a Christian devotional about fathers and sons. The story, seen online in a few different versions, is based on the writings of one of the 19th-century members of the Adams family.
The message is indeed moving.
“It talked about a really busy man, a very prominent man,” Richt said. “It talked about reading his diary, and on a certain day he went fishing with his son, and it said, ‘wasted day,’ because he wasn’t productive at his job.
“Then they read the kid’s diary that day, and it said, ‘Went fishing with my Dad. Best day of my life.'”
Richt’s voice caught on that last sentence. His eyes were wet.
“So,” he said quietly, averting his gaze for a moment.
“That’s good stuff.”