ATHENS— Mark Richt, in his first full season since handing off play-calling duties, is still coping with the new issues of free time — and free emotions — on the Georgia sideline.
"I can be more free to be a little bit more emotional and I’ll be honest, the first few games I wasn’t sure what to do with the new role," Richt said Tuesday. "So I’m learning. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I’m still trying to figure it out."
Emotions — Richt’s and his players’ — were the lead topics on Tuesday as the coach discussed last week’s 42-30 win over Florida and Saturday’s game against Troy.
Richt, who turned over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo late last season, revealed he has struggled at times to find a new comfort zone on the sideline.
"All the years up until this year I have been calling plays," he said. "When I’m calling plays, I’ve said many times I need peace in my mind. I need to be calm so I can think straight because I’m making a decision every 25 to 30 seconds.
"Now, I’m not calling plays anymore. I’ve got more time to go off the chain every once in a while. I think the officials are wondering what’s going on with me. I didn’t used to get in their ear all the time."
Thanks to the win over Florida, No. 10 Georgia (6-2 overall, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) leads the SEC’s Eastern Division.
But after the big win, Richt felt it necessary to send a public written apology to SEC commissioner Mike Slive. Richt apologized for giving his players the go-ahead for an unusual on-field celebration in the win over Florida.
Richt emphasized Tuesday he never authorized his team to leave the sideline following the Bulldogs’ first touchdown, but he says he can understand how players thought that was the case — and why Slive was concerned about the potential for the celebration to turn to confrontation.
"If one Florida player decided he didn’t like it and he wanted to elbow somebody or whatever and it turned into a brawl, that would have been a bad or a sad situation," Richt said.
"I apologized for putting people in that situation even though I didn’t direct the whole team to come from the sideline. ... It could have turned into a melee the way it happened."
Richt says he wanted the celebration to include only the 11 players on the field. He said he was motivated by his team’s listless starts in a 35-14 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 6 and a 45-17 win over Mississippi on Sept. 29.
When facing Florida, which had won 15 of the last 17 games against Georgia, Richt said he couldn’t tolerate another flat first quarter.
"Let’s face it, Tennessee came in and jumped on us and took the momentum and we never punched back," Richt said. "It was disheartening.
"When we played Ole Miss, we didn’t have a whole lot more juice in that game. Ole Miss was about to go up 14-0, too, before they fumbled right in front of our goal line. We go 90-something yards and score and it seemed like it was ‘OK, now we go’ but we can’t wait for something good to happen to get excited. We’ve got to get ready."
Georgia players were not apologizing Tuesday for their much-discussed celebration.
"To be honest, I don’t know what we did wrong," said defensive tackle Corvey Irvin.
"It ain’t like we were out there trying to fight anybody or start a brawl. We’re out there trying to congratulate our teammates. It’s all about emotions."
Quarterback Matthew Stafford said the emotional lift carried the team through the game.
"I know we weren’t trying to show Florida any disrespect," Stafford said. "We were just trying to get ourselves going.
"It’s a high-emotion game. It’s a rivalry game. It was something where we just felt like we had been playing dull the last couple of weeks and not really getting after and we decided to do something."
Stafford said he likes the new, more animated Richt.
"He gets to watch the game a little bit more and get excited and get mad," Stafford said. "He gets to do all the things a head coach gets to do, and I like it.
"I think him showing emotion rubs off on everybody else. We’re so used to him being so even-keeled. We need that sometime. In such high-pressure situations, you want your head coach to be as even-keeled as he is, and we all know he is, but when it’s time to get jacked up, I think he does a good job, too."
Richt said it’s difficult for even the most experienced team to match Georgia’s emotional peak against Florida.
"How many times in the past seven years or last 20 years have you seen Georgia play with that much passion?" Richt asked.
"That might be the number one game we’ve had since I’ve been here as far as that type of passion and energy. Can you do that every week? I don’t know."
Irvin predicted the players would avoid a letdown against Troy.
"Once you get that motor and that high gear going," said Irvin, "I believe it can stick with you like a disease. You just keep going."