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Monday, February 5, 2001
Updated: February 6, 12:33 PM ET
Richt's move to Georgia changed everything

By Bob Harig
Special to

The season ends, and another begins. When the last second has ticked off the clock, meaning there are no more games to be played, the second season takes on more prominence, even though it has been going on for some time.

It's a fickle process, this second season, which reaches its zenith Wednesday on National Signing Day. Seeing to it that those prep stars arrive at those schools is big business, perhaps the biggest reason why programs prosper or flounder. In a game where there is no waiver wire, no ability to make trades, the choices made by teenage athletes are the lifeblood of a college program.

It's one that has been in the works for several years and it's one that can change dramatically and without warning to everyone involved.

Case in point: Mark Richt and D.J. Shockley.

Formerly an assistant coach at Florida State, Richt became the head coach at Georgia just before the Seminoles were to play Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl for the national championship.

Richt's appointment to his new post set off a chain reaction in recruiting circles that undoubtedly will still be felt coming signing day and beyond.

And it is likely just one of several similar scenarios throughout the country. Coaches leave or are fired, and potential recruits are in flux.

Richt first met D.J. Shockley when the 14-year-old enrolled in an FSU summer camp. Shockley's father, Don, was a high school coach in Georgia. He took an immediate liking to Richt, who nurtured the relationship for the next several years, all throughout the fall, all the way through Christmas -- until he took the Georgia job.

Shockley appeared to be a lock for the Seminoles, but when Richt went to Georgia, the prized quarterback decided to stay in state, following the coach he had met several years earlier.

"Coach Richt has made things easy, and I want to play for him," said Shockley, who is 6-foot-2, 190 pounds and No. 7 on recruiting analyst Tom Lemming's Top 100 recruits. "I know him from personal and recruiting standpoints, and he has been honest with me. He has told me the good and bad, and he sealed it for me when he came to Georgia."

Richt, 40, a former University of Miami quarterback who worked for Bowden for 15 seasons, received a five-year contract. He was FSU's offensive coordinator for the past seven years and tutored quarterbacks for 14 seasons. He had a big role in the development of Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.

What would have happened had Richt not taken the Georgia job and remained at FSU? Would Shockley have gone to Florida State. Very likely. And what about Quincy Carter, the incumbent quarterback at Georgia? With a year of eligibility remaining, he elected to turn pro, despite a lackluster junior season. Carter figured it wouldn't be good for his game to have to learn another offense and with just one year to learn it. Had Richt not made the move, Carter might have stayed.

And the Seminoles? Well, they lost out on Shockley, but it's not as if they are hurting. They got another quarterback commitment that might not have come otherwise -- and in the process might have damaged rival Miami.

"At Florida State, they don't miss coaches at all," said Lemming, the editor of the Prep Football Report. "Bowden has a machine there. They don't miss a beat recruiting. It's the most fertile state talent-wise, and Bowden is the reason they go there. It's big-time offensive football and a great tradition."

Sure enough, the Seminoles last week received a verbal commitment from the nation's top prospect, Joe Mauer, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound quarterback and baseball catcher at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn. -- the same high school attended by FSU Heisman Trophy winner Weinke.

The Seminoles also got a commitment from quarterback Matt Henshaw, a 6-foot-4, 208-pound quarterback from Brentwood, Tenn., and are still in the running for Adrian McPherson, another quarterback from Bradenton (Fla.) Southeast.

This became even more important for FSU due to the dismissal of Jared Jones two weeks ago for violating team rules. With Weinke graduated, the Seminoles have only Chris Rix returning, and he sat out the 2000 season as a redshirt. That prompted FSU coaches to move receiver Anquan Boldin back to his original position of quarterback, at least giving Rix some competition in the spring.

And yet. . .

Mauer might not have picked FSU had Shockley committed there. A drop-back passer, Mauer completed 178 of 288 passes for 3,022 yards, with 41 touchdowns and five interceptions. He was seriously considering Miami. Again, a coaching change may have altered his thoughts.

Head coach Butch Davis, after repeatedly saying he was staying at UM, took the head coaching job with the NFL's Cleveland Browns -- just more than a week before National Signing Day. This had a potentially crippling effect on potential recruits, who now were faced with the prospect of going to a school whose head coach never recruited them.

Even Bowden joked when Davis left: "Once again, I look to the sky and say, 'Thank you, Lord.'"

No question, the Seminoles -- and others -- moved in on prospects who were considering Miami. Several defensive players, including Orein Harris, Roger McIntosh and Jerome Carter, were trying to decide between the two schools. Whether Davis' departure has an effect remains to be seen. The hiring of offensive coordinator Larry Coker as head coach appears to have helped.

But remember this: UM won national titles under Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson, and just finished second under Davis, who brought the program back from severe NCAA sanctions. The Hurricanes withstood those coaching changes. They'll make it past this one.

Other schools might not be so fortunate.

Bob Harig covers college football for the St. Petersburg Times.