If Mark Richt decides not to return to coaching, some Georgia Republicans are eager to guide him toward a more rough-and-tumble sport.
The outgoing University of Georgia football coach is being recruited to run for Georgia governor in 2018, according to two people with direct knowledge of the efforts.
Both also hasten to add it’s a long-shot. Richt, who was fired on Sunday after 15 years as Georgia’s head coach, has already been contacted by several schools now that he’s a free agent. And his friends say he has expressed little interest in politics.
But Republicans seeking to shape the field to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal in 2018 say it’s worth a shot. Several GOP office-holders, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, are exploring a run, but the race for the state’s top job remains wide open.
And Richt remains a popular – and eminently well-known – figure in Georgia who is used to speaking to crowds, navigating the media, dealing with personal attacks and crafting a message. Those close to him says his politics lean toward the right, though he's largely avoided making political statements.
He wouldn’t be the first head coach to try to make the leap. Tom Osborne, once Nebraska’s head football coach, won three terms in Congress before launching a failed bid for governor.
And Vince Dooley flirted with a bid for governor after he retired in 1988 as the Georgia football coach, deploring Georgia’s crime and education problems at his farewell press conference. He opted instead to remain in Athens as the school’s athletics director.
“I’ve been in athletics all my life and I feel comfortable in athletics,” Dooley said at the time. “My commitment is I’m going to stay.”
Richt's friends don't expect him to venture into the world of politics any time soon. Tim Echols, a member of the state Public Service Commission who goes to church with the coach, said it’s more likely that Richt goes into full-time missionary work than start a political campaign.
“Coach Richt doesn’t seem to really enjoy politics, and I would be absolutely stunned if he ran for any political office,” said Echols, who is urging fans to wear black Saturday to honor Richt.
“He loves coaching young men, building their lives and having an impact on them on and off the field. He doesn’t seem to have any interest in politics.”