Afflicted with Parkinson’s, former coach has ‘a lot of good living to do’
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mark Richt moved from set to set on the second floor of an uptown hotel in the Queen City this week. The job called for it as an ACC Network analyst and the conference holding its annual Football Kickoff.
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get into the chair, just as long as you can communicate and I’m still able to do that,” he said Thursday, minutes after stepping down from a live interview with Florida State coach Mike Norvell.
Richt, whose ties to South Florida started as the star quarterback at Boca Raton
High School in the late ’70s and ended by capping his coaching career at the University of Miami from 201618, announced this month he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
But Richt, 61, is not about to let this opponent win. Not now. He is at peace but he’s not ready to slow down.
“Knowing where I’m going at the end helps a lot,” said Richt, a devout Christian. “I know that this life is a very short time compared to eternity and I’ve lived an awesome life to this point. I’ve got a lot of good living to do.”
Richt was not surprised when the diagnosis came in May (he made it public early this month). “He told me what I already knew,” he said about the doctor’s news. His research on the disease started about a year earlier, and not just because his father, who is 84, is living with Parkinson’s.
Richt had hip surgery a little more than a year ago
and started feeling “different” during rehab. At first, he brushed it off to the trauma to his body, thinking “there’s a new normal.” But then realized it was more than that.
“When you think it might be something, you start reading up on it,” he said. “I was the poster boy for the symptoms that you get. I was pretty sure it was in fact Parkinson’s.”
When a local neurologist wanted to send Richt to a specialist, “I think he knew, I think we both knew,” Richt said.
Richt then started thinking
back to his final years as a coach. He spent 15 seasons as the head coach at Georgia after working at FSU as a grad assistant, quarterback coach and offensive coordinator under Bobby Bowden. In 2016, Richt returned to his alma mater, Miami, as the head coach. He retired following the 2018 season.
What he remembers most is the fatigue, even as far back at Georgia. But that, he figured, was just from having spent so much time in one place working a high-profile, stressful job.
“You just figure you coach anywhere for 13, 14, 15 years you get worn out,” he said. “I think part of that was probably experiencing some of those early symptoms.”
But what he started to feel while at Miami could not be ignored.
“I experienced a fatigue that I never experienced,” he said. “I considered it extreme fatigue and I’m like, ‘this is different than anything I’ve ever felt.’ As a coach you get tired and you just get up and you keep going. You don’t think much
about it. I got to the point where I didn’t think I could do it anymore. I’m sure that was the Parkinson’s.
“Even calling plays at Miami, it took me a little longer to spit the things out and I was frustrated about that.”
Richt and his wife, Katharyn, have moved back to Athens. During his first 15 years in the city, he had to come up with a different game plan each week depending on the opponent.
Now, he’s ready for one more challenge and plans
on making it a long one.
“The thing with Parkinson’s is you got to keep a good attitude,” he said. “You got to keep moving, you got to keep exercising, you got to eat right. You got to do things to help your body protect the dopamine you have left in your body, because there’s been some damage to that.
“The better you take care of yourself, the more you move, the more you stretch, the more you keep that positive attitude, the better off you’re going to be.”