Mark Richt working on program perception

ATHENS, Ga. – Mark Richt has heard all the criticism that he has lost control at Georgia.

The coach, in his 14th year at the helm of the Bulldogs, just isn't biting on it.

Yes, there have been arrests and criminal charges and dismissals from the team. Richt isn't thrilled with them, either.

But since a dismal 2010 season that saw a fractured locker room due to some cancerous personalities, Richt has taken on a stronger stance with discipline, hence the numerous dismissals in recent years that have raised eyebrows. High-profile dismissals of running back Isaiah Crowell and defensive backs Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews for off-field actions have been troubling, but Richt defends his program and his actions.

He has had to defend it a little more on the recruiting trail, but he said he has had positive conversations with prospects and their parents about how he runs his program.

“What some people get -- and most parents get -- is that I don’t want anybody on this team that’s going to be a distraction, who’s going to be a bad teammate, so to speak, a bad influence,” Richt said. “I want those parents to have peace that if I’ve got a bad element within the ranks that I don’t want him to be here influence your son. Sometimes guys make mistakes that cause them to lose their opportunity to be at Georgia. … Parents want their kids around a good group of guys, and I think we have that at Georgia.”

A rash of dismissals and transfers this year showed us that yes, Georgia --like every single program in the country -- had some bad apples inside its program, and that Richt isn’t risking integrity. He dismissed two starters in a secondary that entered the season with a lot of questions and a lot of unproven players. He also watched another starter walk away after what sounded like, umm, creative differences.

“What are we teaching these guys if we let guys go through their whole lives getting away with everything, and then when they get out in society they’re a mess? I want them to learn in the safety of this program, if possible,” Richt said.

Hey, Richt isn’t perfect, but he really has taken discipline seriously. Maybe he hasn’t always been consistent when it comes to games missed, but has any coach? Why is it that incidents surrounding Richt or his team are magnified?

Well, for one, Georgia has one of the SEC’s strictest drug policies, something Richt has vehemently supported during his tenure. And that has resulted in more suspensions for Georgia because a first offense by a player equals an automatic suspension.

“Because we have these policies some guys make mistakes,” Richt said. “Because we take playing time early, it becomes public. Our dirty laundry becomes public.”

Richt says he has tried to turn all of these situations into learning experiences for players. Whether they truly are or aren’t, Richt still pushes to teach his guys and even leaves lines of communication open for players who have left.

That’s one reason Georgia started the Paul Oliver Network, created in honor of the former Bulldog who took his own life in September 2013. It’s part reunion, part network to help former players transition from football to the real world. Richt has even welcomed back a couple of players who had been dismissed from the program.

“They just got hugged and loved and one of them got a job, actually,” Richt said, grinning from ear to ear.

While Richt has shared in the embarrassment and disappointment of having to dismiss players over the years, he’s no different than most coaches. He has had his fair share of issues and successes in Athens, but he says he wants what’s best for players and his program. Even if that means cutting them loose.

“Do I want them to have success, though? Yeah, I do,” he said. “I love the story of redemption for a guy who makes mistakes. I make mistakes, we all do.”