The names are admittedly big.
Paul “Bear” Bryant, Bobby Bowden, Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz and Joe Paterno have all graced the stage of the All Sports Association Banquet, a combined 1,786 wins and 17 national titles are shared between the coaches. And that’s just keeping it in the college football realm.
But, as ASA president Joe Fagundes said, “the message is just as important as the big name.”
This year’s keynote speaker delivers both. Yes, Miami football head coach Mark Richt will headline the 48th annual ASA Banquet on Feb. 10 at the Emerald Coast Convention Center.
“We want the message from the keynote speaker to penetrate our community,” Fagundes said. “Big names are great. Certainly that’s a part of what makes this banquet great, but there’s a certain message we look for.”
That message draws from a former mentor in Bowden.
“Coach Richt is a man of high character and faith, so there’s a parallel to Coach Bowden,” Fagundes said. “He just represented what we want, the message that we strive for. He was a strong leader at Georgia on and off the field and he’s a true man of the community. When we looked at the keynote speaker, we asked, ‘Who’s going to have the biggest impact?’ It was a no-brainer with coach Richt.”
But Richt isn’t the only big name, of course. Steve Spurrier, brought in by Heisman winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel and Wuerffel Trophy Executive Director Tom Brassell, will be at the pre-banquet fish fry and will likely be at the banquet with Bowden.
“We could have a representative from the three major athletic universities in the state,” Fagundes said.
If so, they’ll join forces to help match or surpass the $115,000 donated last year to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast, the Okaloosa County chapter of Special Olympics, the Eleanor J. Johnson Youth Center and the Okaloosa/ Walton County Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“That what we like to call the big four, but we also have other special projects we serve,” Fagundes said. “We’ve endowed scholarships to Northwest Florida State and helped build the rec room for the (Emerald Coast) Autism Center at the college. It’s important that we have a long reach in our communities.”
That, along with his connections to Bowden, drew Richt in.
“He talked to coach Bowden and knew this was the largest banquet in Northwest Florida,” Fagundes said. “He knew of our FCA breakfast and we had actually talked to him in the past, two years ago.”
As for Richt’s on-the-field credentials, they are plenty.
After 15 stellar seasons at Georgia, where he amassed a 196-145-5 record, Richt was let go and landed at Miami, where he has led the Hurricanes to a 5-4 record in his first season.
Richt’s teams at Georgia won two Southeastern Conference championships (2002 and 2005), six SEC Eastern Division titles (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2012) and nine bowl games. His teams represented the SEC in three BCS bowl appearances with a record of 2–1, and finished in the Top 10 of the final AP Poll seven times (2002–2005, 2007, 2012, 2014).