Dec. 4, 2007
By JACK WILKINSON
The premise seemed simple enough: Which leaders do you admire?
Darryl Richard thought for a moment. Darryl Richard is always thinking, isn’t he? And then the precocious defensive tackle — the kid who’d already earned a B.S. in management before his redshirt junior season began, who’s now well on his way to an MBA — turned a simple question into a delightful variation on that old hypothetical:
If you could invite any three people to dinner, who would they be?
So, guess who’s coming to power lunch with Darryl Richard?
And…Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
Yes. Now, you go find another college football player who’d come up with that blessed trinity.
Belichick? He’s the easy pigskin pick. But Buffett? Jimmy Buffett, perhaps. But Warren, the old Omaha billionaire? And, the ghost of FDR?
“Just find the connect,” Richard said, smiling.
The connect seems three-fold, but it’s simple: Yes, it’s financial. Football. Political. Yet it’s all about leadership. It’s also right there in the three-word credo of the Business School at Georgia Tech, which is engraved on Richard’s business card:
Achieve. Lead. Succeed.
Which nicely, neatly fits Darryl Richard himself.
“I can almost [equate] anything in life to football,” he said. “I’m a big follower of Warren Buffett. When you see a guy come up from, well, not nothing, but a lot less than the billions he has now…
“And he still lives in a regular house, in Nebraska,” Richard said. “He’s on the to-meet list one of these days.”
So is the guy in the gray hoodie, with three Super Bowl triumphs on his professional resume and a $500,000 NFL fine for spying in his personal debit column. “Even with the stuff going on with the New England Patriots, I’m a big fan of Bill Belichick,” Richard said. “Some of the Super Bowls he won, maybe he didn’t have the best players in football.
“But that’s somebody utilizing their talent and everything around them to be successful.”
And in government? In the political arena?
“I always liked Roosevelt,” said Richard, an FDR fan since studying the president in an American history class, and learning how Roosevelt led the country out of the throes of the Depression.
“How he dealt with crisis and adversity,” he said, “and got positives.”
Buffett. Belichick. FDR. “And you rarely hear all three of them mentioned together,” Richard said, smiling. “But if you can find that connect, then you’re working toward something.”
Still 21, Richard is working toward a full and, in every sense, rich life. Already an All-ACC Academic football honoree and a May 2007 management grad, Richard is on pace to earn his MBA in 2009. Whether or not the 6-foot-4, 285-pounder from Destrehan, La., plays in the NFL seems almost incidental. There’s so much more to him than taking on blockers or TFL’s (tackles for losses).
You could call Richard a 21st-century Renaissance man, but why be so confining? He plays the piano as well as football, and is as adept on his new PDA as he is on the keyboard.
“I saw that the successful people are using these, so I might want to use one,” Richard said, holding the PDA with which he organizes his busy life. “It’s like in football, you want to be around stronger people to get stronger yourself. It’s about ‘See good habits.’ The rest is just want-to.”
He wants to do most everything on the Flats, and beyond. He participated in the Georgia Student Leadership Forum, a three-day event hosted by Gov. Sonny Perdue for future student leaders. Richard often visits the Greene County elementary and middle schools, where he spends hours talking to students 1-on-1. He also took part in the Watkins Team Summit to advise teenagers.
As president of Tech’s Student-Athlete Advisory Board, Richard was involved in numerous community service projects, including Toys for Tots and the Special Olympics. He’s also a student representative on the Georgia Tech Athletic Association Board of Trustees. He was a member of Tech’s NCAA Certification Process, giving student-athlete input as a steering committee member.
But then, Richards has always had a sense of curiosity and competitiveness, involvement and lots of want-to. He began playing pee-wee football in the second grade, a 7-year-old running back for the St. Rose Pirates in Destrehan, about 15 miles west of New Orleans. During “my lineman transition” at age 12, Richard occasionally ran wearing a plastic garbage bag on game-day mornings, to sweat off a few pounds and make the 140-pound weight limit.
“The next year, I was 180 pounds,” he said, smiling. “I started growing sideways.”
He grew in other ways, too. He saw the passion with which musicians at his family’s church played, and took up the piano at 13. Darryl was academically competitive with his older sisters, Tiffany and Darolyn.
“We were always trying to outdo each other with our report cards,” he said. “But it was a clean competition. I try to encourage that when I talk to students. [Competition] usually makes you better.”
By the time he reached middle school, Richard had developed a healthy respect for hard work. He and his friends, who played sports together, worked in the summer, too. “We picked tomatoes on a farm for Mr. Charlie. His fruit and vegetable stand is still standing.”
At 5:30 or 6 in the morning, Darryl and his buddies rode their bikes over to the fruit stand. “Mr. Charlie put us on the back of a tractor and drove us,” he said. “He had about three-quarters of a mile of rows of crops.”
The boys filled up their pails with tomatoes. By 9:30 or so, once it got too hot, Mr. Charlie came and picked them up with the tractor. “If you got lucky, you got picked for overtime,” Richard said. “To wash the tomatoes, sort them out.
“We got $15 a day,” he said. “With overtime, $18. He’d pay us on Saturdays, with cash. He kept a notebook, and everybody got paid.”
Richard relished the money, and retained the lesson: “Working for what you want.”
Indeed, he came by this management and MBA and money stuff early, and honestly. “Definitely. From a young age I was interested in making money,” Richard said. “Being successful. And helping people make money. That was instilled in me early, too.”
In middle school, Richard was in the Beta Club and student government. “Just a chance to make a difference, help people, be a voice,” he said. He smiled. “I was more outspoken then.”
In high school, he was the student body president and in ROTC. “It helped with discipline,” Richard said. “It gave me a sense of what it would be like to be in the military. That not only helped with leadership, but knowing how to follow.”
And that leads to one of Richard’s favorite concepts: “Effective leadership.”
“I wrote about this in high school,” he said. “If your best leader can communicate his ideas, in vision or any form of communication, then the people that follow him can take it and go with it. They don’t constantly have to be told or micro-managed. They understand the end goal, and how to work toward it.”
As for football end goals, “This might have been my best season,” Richard said before the Humanitarian Bowl. “If not statistically, then in understanding the scheme. As a team, I’ll be honest, I was highly disappointed. I think we underachieved. We didn’t make plays.”
Not enough plays to save coach Chan Gailey’s job. When Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich made that decision, Richard was saddened but also had a heightened perspective and unique understanding — as both a football player and MBA candidate.
“The players pretty much understood that it’s the nature of the business,” said Richard, who appreciates college football-as-big business thinking. “You definitely have to. I’m definitely interested into moving into this [sports business] field.
“You can understand the direction he [Radakovich] is trying to move, in filling up that stadium,” Richard said. “In business school, you’re being trained and taught to run a business, and understand all aspects of it…
“Even in high school, if you’ve got a football program that’s doing well [athletically and financially], you’re going to see an athletic program doing well. It’s imperative [at Tech] to make sure you’re filling up seats, to make money for the school. It’s a lot of lost money, people not sitting in those seats. That’s the nature of the business, the nature of the beast.”
And it’s a business — sports — in which Richard hopes to continue once he’s done playing. “I love it. Hopefully, somebody will give me a chance,” he said. “I would love to be an AD on the college level, or on the professional level as a general manager of an organization.
“Right now, I’m still early in the game,” Richard said. “I’m still learning the business of college athletics. I see how many different [groups of] people are involved.”
People including alumni, season ticket holders and donors. “No question,” he said. “In business, those are your stockholders. As a CEO, you’d be asinine to ignore those people. That would be a recipe for disaster.”