UGA head football coach Mark Richt

UGA head football coach Mark Richt speaks Tuesday at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet at GNTC in Calhoun. (Erik Green / NPCo)

Georgia football coach Mark Richt was a young graduate assistant at Florida State when he made a life changing decision.

He sat in the back of a football meeting room listening to former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden talk to the team about the murder of a player.

“Coach Bowden asked, ‘If you died tonight, do you know where you would spent eternity,’’’ Richt shared Tuesday night at the Fourth Annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Banquet at Georgia Northwestern Technical College in Calhoun. “And I knew. And it wasn’t a place I wanted to be.”

So Richt met with Bowden privately and became a Christian. Decades later, he is as well known for his faith as he is for football.

Richt spoke candidly to the near capacity crowd about his trials and accomplishments both on and off the field and how his faith in God saw him through it all. More than titles or wins or notoriety, Richt said his prime accomplishment in life has been becoming a Christian.

“Receiving Christ is awesome; it’s a blessing and it is everything,” he said. “You can have all the things in the world you want, all the championships in the world or trophies, money or whatever you think is important …  but at the end it’s all going to be gone. What’s left is what happens to your spirit.”

Richt said his faith and perspective have helped him remain positive despite moments in his career in which he has been on the “hot seat” at Georgia. He even joked about trying not to appear in the top 10 on a “hot seat” website.

He recalled memories of games that got away or drubbings that got out of control and how his focus has been on keeping a positive atmosphere around the team.

“One thing at Georgia I have been most proud of is I don’t think we have ever had a team that just laid down and died,” he said. “I think they respond.”

Richt said over the years he has learned to handle the scrutiny from fans and media and persevere because he continues to trust in God.

“The media asks ‘How do you handle the (scrutiny) on a personal level,”’ Richt said. “Quite frankly, it can get pretty nasty towards a head coach. Coach Bowden always said we had to be loyal to one another and if you cannot take criticism get out of coaching. Just understand, the criticism is pointed at the coach and not so much you personally. Sometimes that is hard to decipher. But I told the media Jeremiah 17:7 … (which says ‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him’).”

This past season was Richt’s 13th as head coach of the Bulldogs and he has managed to weather the storm, despite some pretty vocal criticism.

He recalled a 6-7 team in 2010 and how the fallout from that season left his future in doubt.

He talked about the 2011 team and how it rebounded from a crushing defeat against Boise State in the opener and a loss to South Carolina the next week by winning 10 games in a row to earn a spot in the SEC championship game.

Those examples further illustrated his point about how he has remained positive and kept his hope in things eternal.

“We have to be careful to put our faith in the one and only true God and his son Jesus Christ,” he said.