Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Richt: Uproar Humbles Team; Georgia Eyes Title Defense

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Richt: Uproar Humbles Team; Georgia Eyes Title Defense

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael DiRocco, Times-Union sports writer

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Controversy sells newspapers, boosts television ratings and generates discussion. It also may help win a Southeastern Conference championship.

That's according to Georgia coach Mark Richt, who said yesterday that the Bulldogs' off-field problems regarding the sale of several players' SEC Championship rings have actually galvanized and focused the team as it prepares to defend its first league title in 20 years.

"In hindsight, this whole thing may become a blessing for this 2003 season," Richt said during the annual SEC Media Days. "Our workouts in the summer and attitude and the focus, I believe, was better because the controversy we had to go through."

That certainly doesn't mean that Richt liked the fact that nine players violated NCAA rules and sold their SEC title rings on the Internet and the resulting suspensions that followed. He was as upset and embarrassed as every other school official and fan.

But the third-year coach did see a positive -- all the lauding stopped, and the players finally started focusing on the 2003 season instead of reminiscing about the 30-3 win over Arkansas in Atlanta last December.

"We were getting an awful lot of pats on the back, and we were getting an awful lot of people saying how great we were," Richt said. "I'm not sure we weren't falling into the complacent attitude. We were fighting against it, but it was very difficult to get back to work in a sense because everybody didn't want to forget last year. They didn't want to move forward. They wanted to keep relishing in the championship.

"After those things happened, it kind of gave us a reality check and stopped all the patting on the back. It allowed us to get together as a team and refocus on what was important."

What is important is trying to find five new starters on the offensive line, a new running back and three new linebackers. …

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