ATHENS -- Mark Richt could have shrugged off the question. He could have called it old news and coyly moved on.
But it seemed the head coach of the Georgia football team wanted to talk.
Richt again strongly denied last week’s report that he was a candidate at Texas A&M, while also shrugging off this week’s new rumor, that he would be in the mix at Penn State.
“I didn’t know about that. Is that now? Is that what’s happening now?” Richt said dryly Friday, when asked about Penn State.
Richt and athletics director Greg McGarity are working on a contract extension, ending (for now) a period when the coach’s job status was hanging over the program. That hasn’t stopped the speculation and occasional reports that a school with an opening is targeting Richt, who just finished his 11th season at Georgia.
“A&M got bigger than life,” Richt said, in his first media availability since the day after the SEC championship. “I had not been contacted personally. Anybody who could have possibly represented me in any way, shape or form, never said to me A&M is interested. I don’t know where all that came from. That was interesting to me to have that much smoke and no one that I know of got contacted on it.”
Georgia players didn’t appear to put much stock in the Richt-to-Texas A&M talk either.
“It just sounded silly to me,” junior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “I knew that wasn’t going to be an issue at all. Coach Richt has always told us he wants to be here. He wants to end his career here. That was never in my mind that he was gonna leave.”
“He’s like Joe Paterno at Penn State. Someone who’s going to be there for a long time,” junior receiver Tavarres King said.
Of course, Penn State has an opening after Paterno was fired following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. So Richt also had to say that he had “not heard a thing or word from Penn State, and I’ve never been a guy to try and leverage a situation.”
Later, Richt did say he has been contacted by other teams, and his agents have been contacted. He clarified later that he wasn’t referring to this year.
“I’ve always -- behind closed doors, behind the scene -- said, ‘You know what I appreciate your interest but I like it where I’m at and I don’t have any interest,’ ” Richt said. “So a lot of things haven’t become a big deal. I haven’t said, ‘Let me go fly there and take a look.’ I’ve never done that.”
On the flip side, Richt’s future at Georgia was tenuous enough that it has impacted recruiting. Richt agreed that he and his staff may have been playing some catch-up this month on the recruiting trail, having spent the season worrying most about winning with the current talent.
“There’s been some that have just come out and said, ‘I’d like my son to go to Georgia, but I’m not sure what is going on’ maybe in the summer or after the second game of the year,” Richt said, referring to the team’s 0-2 start. “So there were some people that would just come out and say that, and there were others that maybe through the high school coach would say, ‘Coach, if everything was set, he would have done it a month ago.’ ”
That isn’t an issue now. In the two weeks since the SEC championship loss to LSU, Georgia has secured a commitment from Keith Marshall, the nation’s top tailback recruit, and Mark Beard, a junior college offensive lineman.
“We knew the more we won the better chance we would have to nail a great one,” Richt said. “I think we still have the potential for a really great class.”
Junior Richard Samuel is expected to play in the bowl, after missing the past five games following ankle surgery. Richt still isn’t naming a starter at tailback. Isaiah Crowell, the team’s leading rusher, is coming off being named SEC freshman of the year, but he has struggled with injuries and discipline issues.
“Do you guys think anybody established themselves as a solid starter at the tailback position?” Richt said. “I’m not seeing that. Competition is a good thing, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Jones staying; others mull jump
Jarvis Jones, a third-year sophomore, remained adamant that he is staying in school, after being named a consensus All-American. Jones said he won’t even send his name to the NFL draft advisory committee, which gives draft-eligible players an estimate on what round they could be picked.
But three other Bulldogs said they sent their names in, including tight end Orson Charles and safety Bacarri Rambo. Each player said he would make a decision after the bowl.
Quarterback Aaron Murray said he sent his name in too but only because it would be “cool” to get the feedback.
“No chance I’m leaving,” Murray said, laughing.