University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt, left, signs an autograph for Paul Handmacher, middle, while he chats with UGA men’s basketball coach Mark Fox on Monday at UGA Day at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
ATHENS — Georgia coach Mark Richt literally stood up for the Bulldogs' drug and alcohol policy Monday night.
Richt was seated on stage alongside emcee Chuck Dowdle when a fan attending UGA Days at the Gwinnett Center asked him about Georgia being at a disadvantage because of its drug and alcohol policies, which call for mandatory suspensions on first offenses.
"I'm going to stand up to answer this one," Richt said. And then he did.
"The No. 1 thing that all players want is what? They all want playing time," Richt said. "Well, if I take that away, then that might teach it a little bit better than not. You know what I'm saying? People say, 'Coach, you don't have control of the team.'
“I say, no, we gain control and keep the control through suspending because that's how we discipline and punish.”
"No. 2, we want to educate them so that they know why what they do is wrong and help them in that regard. Then we're going to love them, just like you would your own kids. That's how we go about it. I'm not going to apologize for it."
Richt said he'd prefer if the rest of the SEC, if not the whole of the NCAA, had uniform policies. But he's skeptical about how and when that might happen.
"I would love it if everybody had the same level playing ground. That would be great," he said. "But I don't think we should go towards them to get a level playing field. I'd rather have them come to us."
Richt addressed about 500 alumni and fans in the main ballroom at the convention center of the Duluth complex. He was joined by men's basketball coach Mark Fox, new baseball coach Scott Stricklin and UGA President Jere Morehead.
Richt, UGA's football coach for the last 13 years, was last at the mic, opening and closing his 20-minute session to standing ovations. His comments on drug testing were not the only ones that drew interest on social media sites. So did his remarks about South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
Richt was asked who he thought would be tougher to game-plan for: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel or the Gamecocks' All-America defensive end. Richt said Manziel would be tougher to plan for, but added that he believes Clowney to be "the very best football player in the world."
"I think he might be the very best player to exist today, at any level," Richt said.
Regarding preseason camp, which begins this week, Richt declined to address the two most pertinent personnel issues facing the team.
In a session with reporters before the program, Richt was evasive about the status of place-kicker Marshall Morgan for the first couple of games of the season. Morgan, a sophomore, was arrested and charged with boating under the influence in early July on Lake Sinclair.
"We'll just have to let you know," he said. "I can't say anything on that right now."
Asked if he was trying to maintain strategic advantage for the August 31 opener against Clemson, Richt said with a grin, "Yeah, I'd like to."
The other unresolved situation involves the academic eligibility of senior offensive lineman Austin Long. Richt has not divulged the nature of the issue Long is facing, other than to say it's "academically related."
"Same answer right now. We'll let you know if there's something to report on him," Richt said.
Richt said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and line coach Will Friend have been "banging around ideas" about how to incorporate Kolton Houston into the offensive line rotation. But he guessed that Houston, who regained his NCAA eligibility last week, is most likely to contribute at guard.
"I think he'll play. I really do," Richt said. "I think he's in good enough condition and every time he has competed in the spring, I think he finished as the No. 1 guy. So will he start? I don't know. But I really believe he'll play this year. Maybe a good bit."