The pews at Roswell Street Baptist church had a bit more red and black in them than usual Saturday morning, when 700 people showed up to watch University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt talk about how his faith helped him through tough times. Coming off a 6-7 season in 2010, the Bulldogs got off to an 0-2 start after season opening losses against Boise State and South Carolina the following year, before rallying to reach the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome. After the rough start, Richt said he was ranked high up on websites like coacheshotseat.com, which ranks college football coaches in jeopardy of losing their jobs.
“I really don’t need to look at the Hot Seat because all I need to do is go to church and some church members come up to me and say, ‘I’m praying for you, brother,’” Richt recalled.
Richt said that keeping a positive atmosphere and having a unified team in which players and coaches avoided blaming each other for mistakes helped the team rebound. But on a personal level, he credited Bible verses — Jeremiah 17:7-8 — particularly the part about, “Blessed is the man whose trust is in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord.”
Richt choked up while reading the passage.
“In that season in particular, I really just focused on that one verse, two verses, really,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I felt inadequate. …All throughout that time, I kept saying, ‘I trust you, God.’ Something came up, ‘I trust you, God.’” Richt said his trust wasn’t meant to beg God to turn the season around. “I was saying, ‘I trust you, God, no matter what,’” he said. “If we get fired, we’ve got to move, we’ve got to do this. Whatever it is, God, I trust you.” Many people deal with similar situations in their daily lives, Richt said.
“You lose your job, all your retirement gets blown away in the stock market, I think we’re all on the hot seat sometimes,” he said.
Wearing an untucked button- up shirt and jeans, Richt talked about how he came to his faith, initially resisting becoming Christian while at the University of Miami, where he was a backup quarterback to future Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. A few years later, when he was a graduate assistant coach at Florida State, Richt was moved by the death of offensive lineman Pablo Lopez, who was shot during an argument outside a campus dance. It was a speech to the team the next day by then-Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden that changed Richt.
“He was talking to the players, but I knew I was in a bad place,” said Richt, who went and discussed his faith with Bowden a short time later. Richt’s speech highlighted the second day of the Fresh Grounded Faith event at Roswell Street Baptist Church. The Christian events are aimed at women, with a coffee shop theme, and travel the country with various speakers and musicians. Richt was joined onstage during the event by his wife, Katharyn, and his son, David, who performed with his band before and after the coach spoke.
The conferences are organized by Springfield, Mo., based Bible speaker Jennifer Rothschild, a longtime friend of the Richts who first invited them to speak at an event in Dacula last year. Along with Rothschild and the Richts, the audience also heard from Dove Awardwinning singer-songwriter Kathy Troccoli.
Normally an Alabama fan, Jill Musgrove of Mableton said she admires coach Richt. “I think he stands out,” she said. “When you see him on TV, he’s not cussing the players out. He’s a wonderful, wonderful person.”
While she isn’t a football fan, Lori Lambert of Powder Springs said she enjoyed the way the coach relates football to scripture.
“I think he’s very transparent and he was very real in his testimonial,” she said. “What really strikes me about him is he has a very calm presence.”