Coach Mark Richt Talks Water Safety, Faith and Football

Standing before nearly 500 people, Miami Hurricanes football coach Mark Richt told the audience about the time his son almost drowned.

It was during a birthday party, and his wife was bringing the kids inside from the pool to have cake. She noticed that their second son, David, wasn’t with the group. She checked a few places, then saw that he was in the pool, underwater. An aquatics instructor, she pulled him out of the water.

Luckily, David was fine, but it was a reminder that it can happen to anyone in an instant.

Richt was the keynote speaker at the YMCA of South Palm Beach County’s 16th annual Inspiration Breakfast, its biggest fundraiser of the year. It benefits the group’s drowning prevention initiatives and financial assistance program and was hosted Wednesday morning at Office Depot’s global headquarters in Boca Raton.

In the past, keynote speakers have included former Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor, Miami Heat legend Alonzo Mourning, Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller, former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden, and more.

Richt has been the head coach of the Canes since 2015 and helped the team to the ACC championship for the first time and its first invitation to the Orange Bowl in 13 years. With all his success, he reminded the crowd that his experiences taught him that football is not what defines him.

In high school he moved to Boca Raton and attended Boca Raton Community High School, where he was the quarterback of the football team. He then went to the University of Miami, where he also played, and had dreams of going pro. However, life didn’t work out that way for him. He didn’t make the NFL draft, but was about to sign as a free agent for the Denver Broncos when John Elway was drafted as a star quarterback, cutting Richt from the team.

He went back home to Boca Raton and got a job in life insurance, but was fired. Then his agent dropped him as a client. When he tried out for the Miami Dolphins, he was cut from the team. He then started working as a bartender, which he wasn’t very good at and was relegated to just cleaning after closing. When things just about as bad as it could get, he decided to change his plan and go into coaching instead. He landed a job as the graduate assistant under Bobby Bowden at Florida State University in 1985, which lead him to more opportunities at East Carolina University, another stint at FSU, then the University of Georgia before finding returning to South Florida to be the head coach at UM.

However, it was not a football moment that changed his life. In 1986, during his second year at Florida State, Pablo Lopez, the Seminoles starting offensive tackle, was shot and killed during an argument in a parking lot. When the team got together after, someone asked them, “If that were you, where would you spend eternity?”

The question was pointed at the team, not the coaches, Richt said, but it shook him and made him think about the direction his life was going in, as well as how he viewed his worth. His entire identity was rooted in football. But he wanted to be more than that, and he said the next day was the day he found Christ.

“We are not what we do,” Richt told the crowd during the breakfast. “If my identity is in being a football coach, when that goes away, my identity dies. Don’t become what you do.”

(Mark Richt pictured above, photo by Christiana Lilly)