Local News

April 24, 2014

UGA coaches thank the fans

Excitement builds for upcoming football season

Ask many University of Georgia fans about the football team’s prospects for the upcoming season and they’re thinking big.

Thursday night, local UGA fans got the chance to visit with the team’s head coach, Mark Richt, as well as men’s basketball coach Mark Fox at the trade center as part of a “UGA Day” tour hosted by the school’s alumni and athletic associations.

“This is a good fanbase builder,” said Ronald Cooper of Dalton. “A lot of the fans who don’t get to come to games can come here and meet the coaches.” The event included photograph and autograph opportunities plus a question-and-answer session.

Dalton residents Mike McAllister, Jim Meadows and Doug Peeples have high hopes for the football team, including aspirations for an improved defense with new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The trio raved about the unit’s performance at Georgia’s spring game, the G-Day game, and agreed the Bulldogs can be “a good team.”

The three are “excited about the new defense,” Meadows, a 1976 Georgia graduate, said.

“We love hearing what these guys have to say about the upcoming season,” Meadows added. “The coaches represent what’s good about coaching.”

And both coaches love sharing an evening with the fans.

“They bless us,” said Richt, soon to begin his 14th season as Georgia’s head coach. “They come to the G-Day game, the basketball games, the gymnastics events. They always come to us and this is a chance to come to them and visit them and say ‘Thanks.’”

Richt is 126-45 with the Bulldogs. After an injury-filled 2013 season, with Georgia finishing 8-5, record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray will enter next month’s NFL Draft. The defense under former coordinator Todd Grantham ranked 78th in the nation, allowing 29 points per game.

“Last year was discouraging,” said Doug Peeples, a Dalton resident. “We were discouraged about the defense.”

On offense, Georgia is expected to turn at quarterback to Hutson Mason, a fifth-year senior who started the final two games in 2013 after Murray suffered a season-ending injury. Reports have Mason as the front-runner for the starting job for Georgia’s season opener, Aug. 30, at Sanford Stadium in Athens against Clemson.

“I think you always like more field experience but Hutson got to play a couple games,” Richt said. “I think that helped him. If his first start ever was going to be against Clemson in the opening game, it takes a little bit getting used to. I think playing and starting in those games helped him.”

Fox also discussed the future of his program, which finished 20-14 overall in 2013-2014 and reached the second round of the NIT. The Bulldogs won eight of their final 10 regular season games and reached the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals, losing to national runner-up Kentucky.

“For us, to win 20 games ... and accomplish some progress was important,” Fox said. “Now it’s about building on that, being a little more consistent next year. We do return a lot of guys who know how to win. We need a better start to the year than last year, because the start is what kept us from getting off the (NCAA tournament) bubble.

“I think if we would’ve beaten Kentucky in the semifinals, we would’ve been in. I think we were a game short, maybe two, but we were right there.”

Fox also said he enjoys the chance to meet and interact with the fans.

“My favorite part is Coach Richt and I have a lot of fun together,” Fox said. “He and I get a lot of time to spend talking about everything. That’s a lot of fun for me. What he and I enjoy the most — you know, we have these games and don’t get to interact with the fans at all — and we love having the chance to spend an hour greeting everyone.”

Those attending the event could tell both coaches put a lot of effort into giving the fans an enjoyable experience.

“I think it’s just the energy you feel from the coaches when you get to ask a question,” said Bobby Morrison, a Cleveland, Tenn., resident but a Dalton native. “I enjoy the personalization from the meet-and-greet and they also take the time to take a picture with you, autograph something and have a short conversation with you. It’s personal.

“It’s not one of those things where you’re shuttling people through and ‘goodbye.’ Coach Richt and Coach Fox are not that way. They are good, personable people.”

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