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Miami coach Richt continuing winning ways with QBs

Miami coach Mark Richt with Brad Kaaya, the latest quarterback to have success under Richt’s guidance.
Miami coach Mark Richt with Brad Kaaya, the latest quarterback to have success under Richt’s guidance.
Published Oct. 8, 2016

Although tonight will be the first time Florida State's Jimbo Fisher has faced Miami's Mark Richt as a head coach, Fisher knows what to expect.

"He's always going to have a good quarterback," Fisher said.

That might be an understatement. From his days coaching the position as an assistant at FSU to his 15 years at Georgia and four games with No. 10 Miami, Richt's programs have become quarterback factories.

Two of his proteges (Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke) won the Heisman Trophy and a third (Casey Weldon) was a runnerup. Eight have been drafted, including No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford and Brad Johnson, who helped the Bucs win their only Super Bowl. The top two passers in SEC history (Plant High product Aaron Murray and David Greene), played for Richt, as did four of the ACC's top 14 leaders in career passing efficiency.

"To me, he was one of the best," said Joe Cox, Richt's starter at Georgia in 2009.

He still is.

Richt's latest product, junior Brad Kaaya, is drawing buzz as a potential first-round pick heading into tonight's game against No. 23 FSU. In his first year under Richt, Kaaya's completion percentage is 66.3 percent, almost 5 percent better than this time last year. He's averaging 2 more yards per attempt, and his efficiency ranks 12th nationally.

"I see Brad being confident and decisive in his decision-making," said Johnson, who was at Georgia Tech last week to watch Richt's Hurricanes earn a 35-21 win. "That's the big deal."

And it's perhaps the biggest common theme among Richt's quarterbacks. He puts them in a position to trust themselves and the system.

Some of the confidence comes from Richt's past. Before he went into coaching, he was part of UM's glory days at quarterback, when he practiced alongside Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde and Bernie Kosar. He knows firsthand what it takes to have success.

"Having a guy like that who speaks the same language, we see eye to eye," Kaaya said.

And some of the confidence comes from the way Richt speaks that language.

While Fisher grooms his elite passers with fire, Richt is laid back. His quarterbacks respond accordingly, even in hostile situations.

"The player has to feel that the coach is cool and calm so he can be cool and calm," said Cox, now an assistant at Colorado State. "And he always was."

Richt also has a way of simplifying things to make the quarterback's job as easy as possible. Johnson said one of the first things Richt did when he joined FSU's staff in 1990 was overhaul the terminology to make it easier to understand.

"He's like, 'You know what? Forget all this stuff,' " Johnson said. " 'I've got a chance to redo it and go back to basics. Let's be good at what we can be good at and not trick ourselves.' "

Richt continued that philosophy after he took over the Bulldogs in 2001.

He installed a no-huddle package called shallow cross stampede — a system that Greene said looked much more complicated than it really was. The package had a name that was easy for Greene to say and a few slight tweaks that were easy to grasp.

"We kept it simple," said Greene, who left UGA in 2004 with a then-Division I-A record 42 wins as a starter. "When you play for him, he freed you up enough to just go play."

The simplicity wasn't much different in practice.

When Cox would miss an open man, Richt wouldn't scream. His response would usually be a message so basic, Cox still chuckles about it: Hey, just give it to him.

"It's not really rocket science," Richt said. "I'm more of a guy that wants to do less better than do a bunch and not do it very well."

Richt's quarterbacks typically focus on a few ironclad fundamentals rather than a completely structured form. The reads, cadence, ball-handling and footwork are non-negotiable, but everything else is flexible.

Stafford could launch the ball downfield with his golden arm, but Cox wasn't asked to do so. Ward had the freedom to run at FSU, while Weinke rarely did. Each passer's delivery was a little different, and Richt is rarely tempted to tinker with them. Richt said he "wouldn't even dream" about touching Kaaya's throwing motion.

Kaaya was curious about Richt's track record, so he began studying one of his new coach's old quarterbacks after Richt took over the 'Canes. He focused on Murray.

"If you watch every game, every play, every pass, every run, he was doing the same footwork every time," Kaaya said. "He's kind of like almost a machine."

But he was just another product of Richt's quarterback factory, which is among the best in college football history.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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