HOOVER, Ala. — The mild-mannered, pokerfaced Mark Richt of the past won’t be back patrolling Georgia’s sidelines this season.
The Bulldogs coach said Thursday at Southeastern Conference media days that he will stick with the more fiery and emotional sideline demeanor unveiled late last season, when he waved his arms to fire up the crowd, flung his headset to the ground and dressed all in black with his players against Auburn.
"Now, how am I going to be this year?" Richt said. "I’ll probably be very much like I was from midseason on."
Now, if only his team follows suit after undergoing a transformation that coincided with Richt’s own change, riding a late-season surge to a No. 2 final ranking.
One thing Richt said he wouldn’t repeat: That bench-clearing end zone celebration after an early touchdown against rival Florida that got his team fired up and, of course, drew an excessive celebration penalty. Richt had ordered his players to get flagged if they scored early.
"In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done it," said Richt, who apologized to the SEC and Gators coach Urban Meyer. "I won’t do anything like that again. It could have easily turned into a big, stupid brawl and everything else."
Defensive tackle Jeff Owens said Richt’s public personality change touched off a chain reaction on the team.
"He changed it completely from my freshman year to now," Owens said. "He’s more energetic, he’s jumping around, yelling at fans telling them to get up. It’s quite a different atmosphere being around Georgia now."
Houston Nutt insists it didn’t feel weird to be introduced at SEC media days as Mississippi’s head coach after a decade of pulling the same duty for Arkansas.
"It feels like I’ve been here a long time," Nutt said of his new home. "It’s the way I feel right now, I think because of the transition, it’s been so smooth. I realize we haven’t played a game yet. I understand that. But this was a good move, I think, for our coaches’ families. You feel that way. You feel the players feel that way."
Nutt, who resigned from Arkansas, didn’t exactly take over a program that most expect to contend for SEC titles immediately. The Rebels were winless in the league under Ed Orgeron last season, after all.
Nutt, who resigned at Arkansas, said a big key will be changing players’ mindsets toward losing. The Rebels haven’t been to a bowl game since 2003.
"There’s something about being re-energized with new names, new problems, new street numbers, the whole bit," he said.
Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry thinks it’s a good fit.
"Everyone loves him in town," Jerry said. "The optimism is extremely high. I feel like everyone has a much more positive attitude."
Alabama coach Nick Saban is still waging a battle with expectations and hype.
For a change, he is facing more questions about the nation’s top-rated recruiting class and how some of those highly touted players can handle it. Last year, it was about the talk that Saban would instantly turn around a struggling Crimson Tide program.
"You guys use that word ‘expectations’ a lot," Saban told reporters at Southeastern Conference media days Thursday. "I try to minimize it a lot, because I think it’s dangerous. We’re trying to focus on what we can do to make our team the best it can be."
Then again, the incoming freshmen will have a say in how good that is, considering the team’s pressing needs at wide receiver and linebacker.
"These young players and how they respond to the challenges in the SEC is certainly going to go a long way to determine how much success this team can have and how much this team will actually improve," said Saban, who was 7-6 in his debut season.
The returning players, meanwhile, say it has been a different story this offseason after a year of getting used to the ultra-intense Saban.
The biggest difference, said center Antoine Caldwell: "Being able to just take a deep breath. At this point last year everybody was like a deer in headlights. We really didn’t know what to expect after hearing so much about him. This year everybody’s just a lot more comfortable, not just the players but the coaches and the trainers and equipment managers. Everybody. Everybody knows what they expect out of us."
When running back Arian Foster talks about his reasons for coming back to Tennessee for his senior season, the first thing that comes up isn’t the school rushing mark.
"One of the main reasons was because I felt this team was special and has a lot to it," said Foster, who was projected as a likely second-round NFL draft pick.
Count his coach Phillip Fulmer among those who "didn’t think we had a chance at keeping him at Tennessee" following the Outback Bowl.
Foster needs 685 yards to break Travis Henry’s school rushing record of 3,078 yards. He’d rather talk about trying to help Tennessee win its first SEC and national title since 1998.
"(The record) would mean a lot for myself and everybody who has supported me through my career, but I don’t like to really boast about accolades," Foster said. "It’s cliche to say I’m a team guy, but I really am a team guy.
"I don’t to let anything I have personally going on detract from anything we have going on as a team."
"I don’t think there’s any doubt it’s intensified the rivalry. But what intensified the rivalry was that we won. Okay? That’s the reality."
Richt on whether the Bulldogs’ end zone celebration after their first touchdown against Florida last season fueled an already big rivalry.