Mark Richt knows about quarterbacks.READ MORE: Cold Front Marching Into South Florida With Strong Storms
He played the position from high school – being a star at Boca Raton High School – through college, where he served as a backup to future NFL Hall of Famer Jim Kelly with the Hurricanes in the early 80’s.
And since he’s become a coach, working with quarterbacks has been his calling card.
During his time at the school in Tallahassee, he coached a pair of Heisman Trophy and national championship winning signal callers in Charlie Ward (1993) and Chris Weinke (1999) as well as having a top five scoring offense on five different occasions – including being ranked No. 1 nationally in total offense (549.0 yards per game), No. 1 in passing offense (384.0 yards per game) and No. 3 in scoring offense (42.4 points per game).
At Georgia, he coached Matthew Stafford before the Detroit Lions made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft along with coaching the SEC’s career passing yards leader Aaron Murray from 2010 to 2013.
So it made for much elation for Miami fans when Richt confirmed that he planned on being very hands-on with UM’s offense – specifically the quarterback position.
UM’s incumbent backup quarterback Malik Rosier, who made a big impression on fans with his first career start in the win over Duke this past season, said Richt’s presence is definitely being felt.
“I feel like coach Mark Richt is on top of the hierarchy of our offense and the quarterback position,” Rosier said. “He’s always in the quarterback room. He’s very specific and all about structure.”
“We go through all the reps from practice and he really hones in on our feet. He’s big on precision. He wants everything to be perfect. He doesn’t care if you get the ball out right, he doesn’t care how you do anything else – he wants your feet to be perfect because your feet make you perfect and everything else will take care of itself,” Rosier said.
Father And Son
When Richt declared that he’d have a big role in Miami’s offense – installation, coaching quarterbacks and game day play calling – many wondered who he’d bring in under the official title of “quarterback’s coach”.
Richt tabbed his son Jon Richt for the job, reuniting the two on a college coaching staff for the second time.
Jon, a former quarterback at Clemson and Mars Hill College, served as a graduate assistant at Georgia under his dad in 2014 and spent one season with the Buffalo Bills as an offensive assistant in 2015 before coming to UM in January.
The younger Richt said he couldn’t wait to coach with his old man again.
“I love it. We’re in paradise,” Jon Richt said, making sure his dad didn’t see him conducting an interview with his hat on backward. “We can’t thank Miami for the opportunity enough. Especially me, being able to come work with my dad – it’s really an honor and a blessing. It’s awesome working with my dad.”
So how are the father and son divvying up the coaching duties?
“Essentially, Coach Richt is the quarterback coach – he’s the coordinator,” Jon Richt of his father. “He’s going to install this offense the way he wants them to do it, the way he wants them to run it. Really, I’m kind of an enforcer right now. Whatever he says is what I’m saying, so that they are hearing one voice. Whatever he says, I’m making sure the guys are carrying it out the right way.”
“If you give a quarterback too many voices and too many choices, then the young guys have trouble computing all that. So we want to give them one voice,” the younger Richt added.
One voice, but one name too. It must be kind of confusing when players just call out “Coach Richt”.
“I think most people stick with calling him Jon. It’s ‘C-M-R on my underwear and its C-J-R on his,” Mark Richt joked.
“He’s a very smart guy and a very good recruiter,” Mark Richt went on to say of his son. “I’m running the room; I’m coaching the QB’s and all that sort of thing. But having him here is a big advantage. He knows what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, so he can work the guys when I’m doing something else.”READ MORE: Investigation Underway Following 'Running Gunfight' Between Two Cars And Shots Fired At Officer In North Miami Beach
Underwear tags aside, fans want to see a spike in UM’s offensive output.
Miami averaged 277 yards passing per game this past season, but only totaled 14 passing touchdowns in 13 games. In his 15 seasons with the Bulldogs, Richt’s teams had 11 seasons where it threw for 20 or more passing touchdowns – including eclipsing 30 aerial scores in three consecutive seasons (2011-2013).
How do the Richt’s do it?
“They’re really specific,” Rosier began. “When it comes to how we do things. From footwork to our rhythm drops, to our play-action, everything has to be precise. And that’s one thing that’s different for me and Brad. I mean, [former offensive coordinator James] Coley was a great guy. But they are really focused on our feet.”
“They say ‘your feet make you right’, and sometimes in practice we’ll feel like we held on to the ball too long and they’ll say ‘that’s because your feet weren’t right’. They’re helping us getting our feet right, which is helping us take our game to another level,” Rosier said.
“I feel the way they’ve been handling the coaching bounces off each other perfectly,” he added.
Crowded Quarterback Room
There are plenty of quarterbacks for the Richt’s to tutor.
UM currently lists six quarterbacks on its spring roster. Junior Brad Kaaya, redshirt sophomores Michael Welch, Vincent Testaverde and Rosier, redshirt freshman Evan Shirreffs and freshman early enrollee Jack Allison.
Miami also has two quarterback prospects currently verbally committed for the 2017 class – 6-foot-3 dual-threat passer N’Kosi Perry from Ocala Vanguard and Tampa Jefferson’s 6-foot-2 pro-style quarterback Cade Weldon.
So the quarterback’s room is probably going to need some more chairs.
“I think the least amount of guys that I’d want to have is five quarterbacks on scholarship,” Mark Richt said. “That would be my goal, but sometimes it’s four, sometimes it’s six. But I’ve had classes where we brought in two quarterbacks in the same class and they’ve both gone on to the NFL.”
The two youngest signal callers on the roster, Allison and Shirreffs, have earned some praise from their coaches.
“He’s very conscientious,” Mark Richt said of Shirreffs. “When we came back from spring break, he probably had the best footwork of all the quarterbacks. He’s also a good student – he takes good notes and I could see him try to do the things I ask them to do…Evan is creating a lot of good habits.”
“Jack is doing well. We’re throwing him in there and getting him a lot of reps. This is the first time he’s been under center. We’re asking them to be in a pro-style offense, so we’re having them under center a little bit…there’s a lot to learn with that, but he’s doing a good job,” Jon Richt said.
Having that many arms in the mix typically makes for a competitive environment and pushes each player to always be sharp as they vie for playing time.
“That’s the nature of the position… there’s going to be a lot of athletes and guys that can throw – especially at the University of Miami. We’re going to have great quarterbacks no matter what. They’re all going to come in here and compete,” Jon Richt said.
Still, it would be hard to deny that Kaaya was going to be the man on top of the hill – coupling his experience as a starter with his natural gifts in the pocket.
In two seasons, Kaaya has totaled 6,200 passing yards and thrown 41 touchdowns to just 16 interceptions while completing 60 percent of his passes.
Now, essentially working in his third offense in as many years, Kaaya has shown the Richt’s why he’s been the No. 1 guy the past two seasons.
“Brad, of course, is getting the reps with the ones…because Brad has separated himself already,” Jon Richt said. “And that’s one thing that people have to understand: it’s not just Brad walking in and being the starter. Brad has come to work every day and separated himself.”MORE NEWS: Miami Proud: For South Florida's Wheelchair Basketball Team, 'Miami Heat Wheels,' It's All About Therapy & Brotherhood
“He’s a hard worker. He’s taken coaching and not fought us on anything. He could’ve come in and had an attitude of ‘I’ve done my part, I’m here, I’ve arrived,’ but he didn’t. He came in here like he’s a true freshman and has worked his tail off.”