The stream of visitors to Georgia Tech’s spring practice has carried a number of unsurprising guests to coach Geoff Collins’ practices this spring. The families of Yellow Jackets’ players attended Saturday and Sunday, as did Tech recruits. Tech students were invited Sunday. On Tuesday morning, it was institute professors.
Sharing the sidelines of the Brock Football Practice Facility with them was, at first blush, a most improbable guest – former UGA (and Miami) coach Mark Richt, whose legacy in Athens includes his unyielding control of the Tech-Georgia series during his 15-year tenure as Bulldogs coach.
What made his appearance even more jarring was the sight of him in a navy pullover with the interlocking “GT” logo. Perhaps the only image more startling would be for former Tech coach Paul Johnson to rock red and black between the hedges of Sanford Stadium.
Richt’s purpose in visiting the practice – as a welcomed guest – of a team that was once a sworn enemy provides some context and perhaps might coax fans of both teams off ledges. Richt has been an analyst for the ACC Network since the channel’s launch in August and is at the start of a tour of the league’s members to visit with coaches and get to know and promote their teams.
“Wearing Georgia Tech gear is a little bit different for me, obviously, but that’s part of the plan, to wear everybody’s gear while you’re at their place,” RIcht told the AJC. “You want to honor and respect that. But I’m getting treated really well by everybody and appreciate it.”
Richt and his son, Jon, arrived before 6 a.m. Tuesday, sitting in on staff and team meetings before watching practice. As the Jackets went through their fifth practice of the spring, Richt and Jon watched unobtrusively from the sidelines. He pulled out his phone to record a video of coach Geoff Collins running a turnover drill. He had Jon take a photo of him with the “Chaos Cruzer,” a gold one-speed bicycle that is awarded to the defensive player who shows the most effort and creates the most chaos in the previous practice.
“I love (Tech’s practice),” Richt said. “Coach Collins is a high-energy guy. They practice the way they do everything – with a lot of enthusiasm. He knows how to motivate.”
He got a full dose of Collins’ methods.
“I just got to know him through admiring his work this last year and listening to him speak, speak positivity into the program,” Richt said. “Guys are responding, I think.”
Richt wasn’t the only former Georgia football staffer on the premises, and not even the only one wearing Tech colors. Toward the end of practice, he chatted with recruiting staffer Thomas Guerry, who worked on Richt’s staff in football operations and then recruiting between 2010-13.
Richt also was able to watch one of his former players. Wide receiver Marquez Ezzard was at Miami for the 2018 season, recruited out of Stockbridge High, before transferring to Tech. It was the last of Richt’s three seasons with the Hurricanes.
“I love Quez,” Richt said. “Great kid. He’ll be a great fit. He’s hitting this place at the perfect time. And it’s close to home for him, too.”
Tech players and coaches were well aware of their guest.
“He’s far enough removed now (from UGA) that he’s all right with me now,” defensive line coach and Tech legend Marco Coleman said with a laugh.
As photos of Richt at Tech circulated on social media, commenting on Twitter, the banter was typically thoughtful and genteel.
“That’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen,” a UGA fan replied to Richt’s photo of himself in the lobby of the Tech football offices wearing his pullover with the caption, “Don’t tell anyone!” Another Bulldogs fan responded, “MY EYES ARE BURNING.”
To a photo tweeted of Richt on the sideline at practice, still in his Tech gear, a Jackets fan wrote, “Someone flag this for offensive content.”
At least one element of Richt’s visit was entirely predictable. After practice ended, he and his son were guests of Collins, as well as strength-and-conditioning coach Lewis Caralla, character-development coach Derrick Moore and football operations director Scott Wallace, for lunch at a restaurant on 5th Street in Midtown, walking distance from the practice field.
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