COLUMBIA — He could stay where he is, and move into athletic administration. He could coach somewhere else. Or he could kick back and enjoy life.
Mark Richt’s next move could be the biggest domino yet to fall in a coaching-search frenzy that includes South Carolina, which is looking for a successor to Steve Spurrier. As of Tuesday afternoon, USC was among 13 Football Bowl Championship jobs still open, and Richt’s landing spot could have repercussions on the Gamecocks — even if the outgoing Georgia coach doesn’t end up in Columbia.
After being fired Sunday with a 145-51 record — including 9-3 this season — Richt immediately became the most proven commodity in a flooded market which affords him the option of being choosy. Appearing on the “Bulldog Hotline” radio program Monday night, he said he’d already been contacted by “about five” schools, that just over 24 hours since news of his firing had been made public.
“It’s kind of crazy. But I’m not sure again what I’m going to do. It’s nice to have opportunities and options. In the past 15 years, if I’ve had a headhunter call me and ask, are you interested in this job ... it’s always been a real simple answer for me in just saying no,” said Richt, who plans to coach the Bulldogs through their bowl game.
“Now that I’m going to lose the opportunity to be the coach at Georgia, when people call now, it’s at least respectful to listen to what they have to say, and just try to decide what’s in the best interest of the family, and try to be obedient to what God has in store for me. So that’s kind of where I’m at.”
The Georgia opening has complicated the Gamecocks’ search for a head coach, given that the Bulldogs are reportedly pursuing Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a former Georgia defensive back who is also a USC target. Thus far there have been no indications that South Carolina has reached out to Richt, 55, who went 9-6 against the Gamecocks while at Georgia.
But other schools have. Richt was to speak Tuesday with Miami, where he played quarterback in the 1980s, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, while another report linked him to Maryland, where former Bulldogs athletic director Damon Evans is now chief financial officer. Missouri also reached out to Richt, according to a Rivals report.
Where does that leave the Gamecocks? One insider with a knowledge of the process calls Richt the “wildcard” in a number of schools’ searches, given his winning track record, and the fact that he’s still mulling whether to coach next season. If he does, he could wind up in a job that nudges another candidate — perhaps Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, who has been linked to the South Carolina opening by ESPN, but is viewed as a more serious contender at Miami — toward USC.
All that, of course, would be contingent on Richt maintaining a desire to coach beyond this season. On that question, the messages have been mixed. “I’m going to listen to anybody that has interest in me, coaching or not. Just really, in any area or any arena that’s a possibility,” he said in the press conference announcing his departure.
At the same time, Richt will have the opportunity to remain at Georgia, in a capacity which has not yet been defined. He spoke of how much he enjoys coaching quarterbacks and calling plays, two areas diluted by the voluminous responsibilities of being a head coach. And then there’s the allure of taking a break from a business which has consumed him since he first broke into it as a graduate assistant.
“I’ve been coaching 33 years straight, and that’s a long grind,” Richt told reporters in Athens. “It can wear a man out, especially sitting in the coach’s chair. We’re very excited about our future. We may stay in Athens. We may stay in Athens for good. I don’t know what will happen.”