CHARLOTTE, N.C. — We’ll have more from Mark Richt (and the Hurricanes’ player representatives, Ahmmon Richards and Jaquan Johnson) over the next few days, but here’s the transcript of the press conference Richt conducted in the main ballroom Wednesday afternoon at the annual ACC Kickoff.
Q: Coach, a year ago we were standing here and the turnover chain had yet to be born. Over the last 365 days what’s been your reaction to that phenomenon?
Richt: “What’s been my reaction? It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s really the greatest thing since the 10-bite sandwich, actually. People ask me about that — first of all, I didn’t know about the turnover chain until the first game. Coach Diaz is like, hey, Coach, by the way, we’ve got this chain, in case we get a turnover we’re going to put it on their neck. I said, All right, that’s cool. I said, ‘It’s kind of big and gaudy.’ I said, ‘Well, we’re in Miami, that’s all right, it’s no problem.’ So I really didn’t know much about it. I had never seen it. I had never touched it.
“Even during the game, I’m on the sideline looking at the game, and behind me is when all the party is going on, I didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t until the night of the first game that I looked on social media and saw Malek Young with the big grin and that big chain on his neck. I don’t even think I touched it until the season was over. That thing is about six pounds. I mean, it is a thick, Cuban link chain with that big U. It is gaudy and it’s beautiful. But like I’ve said all year long, or since the season ended, if we got three turnovers last year, it would have been mocked. It would have been laughed at. But when you get 31 turnovers or whatever it was, maybe there’s something to it. It did create an awful lot of excitement for our team. It created an awful lot of excitement for our fans, not just at the games but around the country. It was a special thing.”
Q: Ron Dugans, what are you going to say about his evolution? I know he’s been with the receivers the last few years, and to move forward from that to what he is for you now in the offense with a more expanded role, just what you can say about his work?
Richt: “Well, I’m a huge Ron Dugans fan. I call him Ronnie as a term of endearment because I’ve known him a long time. I love him. I actually was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Florida State when he was a receiver there. He actually — everybody remembers Peter Warrick and the touchdowns he caught in the National Championship game, but Ronnie actually caught a touchdown in that game, as well. So I’ve known Ron a long time. I know what kind of player he was, tough, hard-nosed, had to earn everything he got. I know what kind of person he is. He’s a God-fearing man that loves his family and loves the players. And then I’ve seen a body of work before I hired him as a professional collegiate coach and really loved what I saw.
“Now that I’m working with him, I wouldn’t choose any wide receiver coach in America over him. He’s a guy that not only understands what it takes as a receiver to run the routes a certain way, but he will get it out of them. He will not — he’s not interested in being their friend, he’s interested in being their mentor. He’s interested in being a role model and a guy who’s going to help them grow into a man, off the field, too. All the things I’m looking for, all the ingredients I want in a coach, he has those attributes, and I think he’s well on his way to becoming a coordinator one day and a head coach if he chooses to.”
Q: Your impact on the running game here at Miami in year one was evident. Year two, Mark Walton got hurt early and things were different. Travis Homer came on as the year evolved. 160 yards a game, is that about where you want it, or do you expect more this year?
Richt: “You know, to me, balance is not necessarily having 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing necessarily. Balance is if a team overloads your running game, are you good enough to throw it and get them out of that. Or if they double team your receivers, are you good enough to run it to force them out of those double coverage situations. You just have to be able to do what you have to do in any given game. If somebody is just bent on putting no safety deep and everybody in the run game and just lock up and play man-to-man on your three eligible receivers, you’d better be able to throw it down the field because you’re going to be outnumbered in the running game. So we just have to be able to be good at both the run and the pass, and obviously the better you run it — I love having a good running game because I like the play action pass that comes off it, and the RPO is what comes off what you would consider play action pass nowadays. I don’t want to tag a number on it so much.
“I will say this: Last season is the first season I coached offense in 30 something years that I didn’t have a true fullback really ready to go and play. We were going to try to invent one through a young offensive guard, Corey Gaynor, and we were taking a linebacker for a minute seeing if he could do it, and it didn’t work out. I think it hurt us in short yardage and goal line, and that’s not going to help again. That’s why Realus George is on the team and we moved Trayone Gray to fullback and let him start training like a fullback, and we’re going to have a little bit more power than we had in years past.
Q: You were a part of a big infusion of new coaches and new blood kind of in the ACC fraternity of coaches a couple years ago, and obviously performance has risen a lot on the field throughout that time and a little bit before. How much have you seen since you’ve been back in the ACC the level of talent and competition raised?
Richt: Yeah, there’s no question in my mind. I was at Florida State, as we said, for years, for 15 years, and I think Florida State might have been in the league seven or eight years while I was there, the first seven or eight years, and the league — even two years ago when I got here compared to then was night and day. There’s no question. Florida State at that time, we just — we out-classed a lot of people in just the athletic ability and all that type of thing.
“And then now I come back, there’s a lot of teams that are very talented. There’s a lot of teams that got good coaches, and I think people are beginning to say, in order to be great in football, we’ve got to pour resources into all the things that it takes to develop a player, whether it’s facilities or strength and conditioning or how you feed them or all those types of things, and you’ve also got to hire certain coaches and give them the ability to have a salary pool that will allow you to get a good staff that will stick with you without getting out-bidded every time you turn around. And I see that happening throughout the league, and I think we’re seeing a lot of really good teams that can beat anybody across America on any given day.
Q: It didn’t take long for you to become the longest tenured coach in the state. Is the state of Florida up for grabs in terms of being the preeminent program? And with you being more established and Willie and Dan Mullen in the state, does that bode well? And can you assess how Willie Taggart has been on the recruiting trail against you?
Richt: “Yeah, I think that the programs are bigger than the coaches. I think coaches obviously make a big deal — I think leadership is a big deal, but I think when you have an established program like Florida, Florida State, even Miami, at any given time, those teams could be the best in the state and the best in the country, and then now you see what has happened at Central Florida and what’s continuing to happen there, and South Florida, and even Florida international, Florida Atlantic. These teams are just continuing to grow and get better, mostly because you’ve got the talent base in the state, and there are limitations to how many people everybody can take out of there. Kids are starting to say I’d rather stay home than go play at this other school and stay in my home state. All those teams are going to continue to rise and get better, and I think any given year, any one of those top four or five teams right now could be the best team in the state.”
Q: You talked about ACC teams being more willing to put in the resources, being more willing to commit, of course, the amount of revenue that it takes to run a big time football program these days. Commissioner Swofford said the ACC Network is right on track, ready to go next year. How important is that to closing the gap with some of these other conferences?
Richt: “It’s very big. And you can have a network and not necessarily generate the same revenue as other networks. Not only do we need the network, but we need to get the people to want to watch it and do what it takes to get the viewership and all that up to get the revenue up. The revenue is going to go up, but how much? And it’s certainly going to go up enough to continue the trend of the advances that people are making, and I think some of the AD’s — I’m not in their business, but I would think, knowing that the network is coming and there’s more revenue coming, they’re having more confidence to step out and do the things that it takes to be great.”
Q: Just the changes in recruiting with social media and everything that you’ve seen, how you handle it as a coach now as opposed to in the past?
Richt: “Well, you just communicate with the guys the way they communicate. If it used to be Facebook, you use Facebook, you use Twitter, Snapchat. Whatever it is within the rules, that’s how you communicate with these kids, and that’s what they’re used to. Recruiting hasn’t changed much. It’s about relationships and it’s about trust, and it’s about proving to the kid — where does he fit into your program and how can he become the best he can possibly be in life. And the last thing I’m going to say is I’m putting in a plug and I’m letting our season ticket holders know we’ve got like 500 season tickets left. We’re about to sell out our season tickets for the first time at Hard Rock Stadium. And I know a lot of schools sell out for like the last 90 years, but for us it’s a big deal. And if you don’t get your tickets now, you’re going to be in trouble. I had to put that plug in.”
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