Former coach Mark Richt opens up on challenges since Parkinson’s diagnosis

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In the weeks since former Georgia and Miami football coach Mark Richt announced he had Parkinson’s disease, hundreds of former players, coaches, friends and colleagues have reached out to him with messages of love and support.

That has not stopped in Charlotte, where Richt is working for ACC Network as part of coverage of ACC Kickoff. On Wednesday, Miami receiver Mike Harley — whom Richt recruited — gave his former coach a big hug and told him he was praying for him.

Richt says he wants to continue working as an analyst for ACC Network, in addition to the various speaking engagements he has all over the country. He has a new book, “Make the Call,” coming out next month as well that he wants to promote.

But Richt also acknowledged for the first time in a small group interview the various symptoms that sent him to the doctor several months ago looking for answers: fatigue, problems with balance and motor skills issues that have started to take a toll on him.

“I can do almost anything, I just move slower,” Richt said. “The thing about Parkinson’s that I’m learning is when you get symptoms of slower movement, you get tremors sometimes. I’ve had a very slight tremor in the left hand. Your muscles get rigid if you don’t move and keep stretching.

“For me, to walk, I have to really focus on walking. I could be in a chair. And if I say in my brain, get up and go, I usually get up and go. What you are doing is training your brain to handle this new responsibility.”

Richt revealed his father has Parkinson’s as well. He and his wife, Katharyn, recently moved back to Athens, Georgia, to be closer to his family, including his parents, children and grandchildren.

After his diagnosis, which Richt received in May but publicly disclosed on July 1, he has had time to reflect on his final years coaching at Georgia and then at Miami. After Richt was fired at Georgia, he spent his final three seasons with the Hurricanes, his alma mater, before retiring following the 2018 season.

Richt said he believes he had symptoms in the final years of his coaching career, but at the time, attributed it to the stresses of being a head coach. Richt was a head coach for 18 seasons, going 171-64.

“Even going back as far as Georgia, just my energy seemed depleted. You know, working 15 years at Georgia could do that, too, so you didn’t really know what it was,” Richt said with a chuckle. “But even in Miami, I decided I was going to call plays again. I should have taken a year off, and within 48 hours, I get the job and I’m going to be the playcaller and all that stuff. But I can recall just not being able to spit it out as quick. And I was thinking, well, maybe it’s slightly new terminology, and looking back, it probably wasn’t.”

The Parkinson’s diagnosis came nearly two years after Richt suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Despite his health setbacks, Richt continues to keep an optimistic outlook, based on his faith. He credits former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden for his spiritual awakening, and mentioned him in his comments. Bowden’s family announced Wednesday that he was diagnosed with a terminal medical condition.

“We’re here on Earth, it’s temporal. Heaven, it’s forever, Heaven is everlasting,” Richt said. “And the truth of the matter is, we’re all going to live somewhere forever, rather than live for eternity. It’s just a matter of where we’re going to go. So that’s why I’m so thankful to coach.”

It’s also why he tries to keep a positive outlook despite the challenges that lie ahead.

“The worst thing you can do is go in the tank,” Richt said. “You got to keep a positive attitude. You got to keep moving.”

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