When the absolute best move you’ve made all season is to get on an airplane, that may be an indication that the schedule has not exactly played out to its fullest potential.
But Mark Richt’s cross-country trip to brunch with an 18-year-old last weekend was a stroke of uncut genius. His surprise visit to Washington state’s Jacob Eason was masterful in execution and message. I’d almost credit the Bulldogs coach with having a little Machiavelli in him, if he wasn’t such a square-cut fellow.
Richt said that popping in on his prize quarterback recruit after the Auburn victory was a matter of “just enjoying each other’s company.” As if a 2,400-mile flight was the equivalent of meeting a friend for a coffee and bagel on Athens’ Broad Street.
The unusual mid-season journey told you a whole lot more than that, at least subliminally. These are a few of the louder statements it made:
“I still want this job.” The effort and the ingenuity invested in going all Lewis and Clark in November was significant. This was not the act of a man who – as some of Richt’s detractors claim – would just as soon be digging wells and saving souls in Honduras.
“I’m still capable of surprising you.” After 15 years, you think you have seen it all from Richt. Then he does something like this, which is truly unusual with a season still in progress.
“I’m feeling pretty good about the Georgia Southern game.” OK, maybe he doesn’t make this trip if, say, LSU was next up. With back-to-back games against option teams, Richt had to get on that plane with some comfort that he could handle the one from the Sun Belt Conference.
“See, I’m still secure enough in my job to leave town on a Saturday night.” Apologies to all the harshest of the coach’s critics, but the flight was round-trip, not one-way.
“The pressure on this incoming freshman quarterback is going to be enough to steam a lobster.” Good heavens, this kid must be the second coming of Peyton Manning (the younger, good one) to warrant such a visit. Richt just added two more 45-pound plates to the bar this kid is going to be expected to lift.
“Nobody’s saying that if I get fired the Bulldogs will lose their bellcow quarterback recruit, but. . .” The photo posted by both guys looked more like father-son than coach-recruit. The ties that bind obviously are strong with Richt and Eason. Not the kind of pose that suggested either would be very happy should Georgia fire its coach. No threat there, really. More a reminder.