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

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CHARLOTTE, NC — In the weeks since 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 for him.

That hasn’t stopped in Charlotte, where Richt works for ACC Network as part of ACC Kickoff’s coverage. On Wednesday, Miami receiver Mike Harley — who recruited Richt for the Hurricanes — gave his former coach a big hug and told him he was praying for him.

Richt says that, in addition to the several speaking engagements he has around the country, he wants to continue working as an analyst for ACC Network. He has a new book, “Make the Call,” due out next month 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 a few months ago in search of answers: fatigue, balance problems and motor problems that were starting to take its toll.

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

“To walk, I really have to focus on walking. I could sit in a chair. And if I say in my head, get up and go, I usually get up and go. What you do is your brain training to handle this new responsibility.”

Richt revealed that his father also suffers from Parkinson’s. He and his wife, Katharyn, recently returned to Athens, Georgia, to be closer to his family, including his parents, children and grandchildren.

After his diagnosis, which Richt received in May but made public on July 1, he has had time to reflect on his last years coaching in Georgia and then Miami. After Richt was fired from Georgia, he spent his last three seasons with the Hurricanes, his alma mater, before retiring after 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 stress of being a head coach. Richt was head coach for 18 seasons, from 171-64.

“Even if I went back to Georgia, my energy just ran out. You know, working 15 years in 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 Play again. I should have taken a year off and in 48 hours I get the job and become the play caller and all that stuff. But I remember just doing it couldn’t spit out that fast. And I thought, well, maybe it’s a little new terminology, and looking back, it probably wasn’t.”

The Parkinson’s diagnosis came nearly two years after Richt suffered a heart attack that nearly killed him. Despite his health problems, Richt remains optimistic, 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 on Wednesday that he had been diagnosed with a terminal medical condition.

“We’re here on Earth, it’s temporary. Heaven, it’s forever, Heaven is forever,” Richt said. “And the truth is, we’re all going to live somewhere forever, instead of living forever. It’s just a matter of where we go. That’s why I’m so grateful to be coaching.”

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

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

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