NASCAR & Auto Racing

Belk Bowl: Georgia coach Mark Richt ‘home’ for the holidays

Georgia’s Mark Richt hasn’t spent many Christmas holidays at home over his coaching career.

In fact, Richt has to think long and hard about when the last time he hadn’t spent the week preparing for or coaching in a college football bowl.

Yet this is the time of year Richt and his players live for, as the 13th-ranked Bulldogs prepare to face No. 20 Louisville in Tuesday night’s Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium.

“My oldest son, John, is 24, and he’s been to a bowl game every year of his life,” Richt said.

“Gosh, I’ve been coaching college ball almost 30 years, and 29 out of those 30 I’ve went to a bowl. It’s just kind of expected.”

Georgia’s players, coaches and support staff arrived in Charlotte on Wednesday and will begin practicing Thursday leading up to next week’s 13th-annual game.

Over the next four days, the teams will enjoy a shopping trip to Belk’s flagship store at SouthPark mall, will turn laps in a NASCAR stock car at Charlotte Motor Speedway and watch Saturday’s Charlotte Hornets-Orlando Magic game at Time Warner Cable Arena.

“It’s definitely a great time of the year for all the guys,” senior defensive tackle Mike Thornton said. “It gets better every year. Different bowls have different perks, and the Belk Bowl has some great perks for us.”

While Richt – who has coached the Bulldogs in 14 consecutive bowls, including the Belk Bowl – and his upperclassmen are used to all of the hoopla, it will be a totally new experience for Georgia’s freshmen.

Add in that the game preparations are taking place over the Christmas holiday, and it’s another adjustment for the underclassmen, according to Richt.

“It’s probably the first time in their lives they’re not home for Christmas for a lot of these freshmen,” Richt said. “But they’ve got to be prepared, and they’ve got to take care of business. That’s what we’re here to do.”

Georgia will head into the next four days having undergone a shakeup on its coaching staff.

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo has left to take over as Colorado State’s head coach, and offensive line coach Will Friend will be following him after next week’s bowl game.

Richt said John Lilly, the Bulldogs’ tight ends coach, would handle the offensive coordinator duties and play-calling for the Belk Bowl.

“We’re battling some distractions on and off the field,” senior quarterback Hutson Mason said. “We’re going to do our best to prepare. Even though coach Bobo is gone, it’s the same offense, just a different guy is going to be calling the plays.

“We probably won’t have that ‘deer in the headlights’ look, though. This isn’t our first go around with a little bit of adversity, a little distraction, this year. We’ve been able to avoid those distractions and play at a high level.”