The murder of Florida State offensive tackle Pablo Lopez in September, 1986 had a profound affect on then graduate assistant coach Mark Richt, and was the catalyst behind his biggest personal victory.
Richet went on to have an excellent coaching career, spending 15 seasons as the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs and then for his alma mater at the University of Miami. In January, Richt was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Yet the shocking death of Lopez, who was killed after an argument during a party in Tallahassee by a non-Florida State student, helped Richt to reach out to legendary Florida State Head Coach Bobby Bowden. It was there, Richt said, that he began his relationship with Christ.
Richt, now retired after suffering a near fatal heart attack while at Miami in 2019 and being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, shared his story with an audience Saturday evening at 1025 Church in Monroe. Richt was there to help benefit the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at its first Impact Night in Walton County at the Monroe church.
“I have had a lot of wonderful mentors in my life, especially Coach (Howard) Schnellenberger and Coach (Vince) Dooley, but what Coach (Bobby) Bowden did for me, has impacted me for eternity.”
Richt was a quarterback for the University of Miami and he said Schnellenberger taught him so much about football having come to the U from the Miami Dolphins.
He credited Dooley for giving him a chance to lead a Southeastern Conference program at the University of Georgia.
Richt started his coaching career at Florida State as a graduate assistant under Bowden, who helped lead Florida State to a pair of national championships.
Richt relayed the story of Lopez, who was the Seminoles’ starting offensive tackle in 1986. Lopez had gone to a party and got into a fight with Bryon Johnson. Johnson later returned to the scene with a shotgun.
“Pablo, went up to the guy and said, ‘You are not going to shoot me,’ but he did,” Richt said and Lopez died later that night.
Johnson pled no-contest to manslaughter in Lopez’s death.
Meanwhile, Richt was stunned by the loss. He went to Bowdon for counsel and he said there, he found his answer.
“Coach Bowden shared the Gospel of Christ with me,” Richt said. “I had been a selfish human being. My life, though, began to change. I am forever thankful for what Coach Bowden did. He changed my life forever.”
After a short stint at East Carolina, Richt came back to Bowden’s staff to develop quarterbacks and that led to the Seminoles’ surge in the 1990s. It got him the job at Georgia in 2001.
There he led the Bulldogs to a bowl game in all 15 seasons. His 2002 team went 13-1 and won the Sugar Bowl and finished second and third in the post-season AP and Coaches polls. His 2007 team went 11-2 and also won the Sugar Bowl. He was 145-51 at Georgia and had six teams end in the Top 10.
Richt talked about the Gator stomp in one of his team’s meetings with Florida.
“We scored on a third-and-one and then got two celebration penalties back to back. What people don’t remember, was, that play was under a review. Had they not upheld the touchdown, we would have faced a third-and-31,” Richt recounted.
Richt returned to Miami in 2016 and went 26-13, which included three more bowls.
A year after leading the U, Richt said he began feeling ill after a workout with his wife. He went into cardiac arrest once the medics arrived. He said he remembered feeling peace.
“I think it was because I knew where I was going,” Richt said. “Then I heard someone say, ‘Wake up.’ It was the nurse.”
In 2021, came the Parkinson’s Disease. It was also the year, in August, when Bowden died at age 91.
“It’s a progressive disease. It slows you down, but I know I have hope of for the future. I know I will have a new, eternal body, one without disease,” Richt said. “That’s why it’s important to know where you are going.”
Richt said he spends much of his remaining time campaigning for FCA.
“FCA remains a light in a very dark world,” Richt said in a response to FCA Walton-Barrow Area Director April McClendon.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.