Tony Richardson had a good two-year run in Minnesota. Then he was somewhat of a surprise on the free agency market, considering he had just been selected to his third Pro Bowl and the Vikes had set a franchise rushing mark last season with 2,364 yards.
While the Jets' new 6'1", 238-pound fullback wishes his former teammates well, he is already building a bridge in New York.
"My charge now is getting our running backs across the water in New York and let's break some rushing records over here as well," he told newyorkjets.com on Tuesday. "With the two backs we have and what we've added in free agency, I think we have a good chance to lead the National Football League in rushing this year."
Those words weren't spoken with bravado. Richardson's not a showman, just a worker who's going to put his head down and roll.
The Jets were an attractive option to the 14th-year vet because he has long-standing relationships with Jimmy Raye (the Jets' RB coach was Richardson's first position coach in Kansas City in 1995), Brian Schottenheimer (the Jets' offensive coordinator was a Chiefs offensive assistant in '98 and his dad, Marty, was the head man in KC for some time) and Terry Bradway (New York's player personnel director helped find Richardson, an undrafted free agent from Auburn, in 1995).
"All that kind of factored in, and once I got a chance to sit down with Coach Mangini and heard the direction he wanted to take the organization in and the type of people he wanted to bring in — it was exciting and a pretty appealing opportunity for me," Richardson said.
Mangini, now in his third off-season at the Jets' helm, connected with Richardson on a personal level. Richardson, who established the "Rich in Spirit" Foundation in 2000 that benefits several organizations, will be valued not only in the locker room but also in the community. The more Mangini talked, the more Richardson liked what he heard.
Tony Knows Chemistry
"The number one thing is bringing in good, quality people first. Obviously he wanted to bring in talented players but good, quality people who could bring the chemistry of the team together," he said.
Good chemistry doesn't automatically translate into wins, but you always want to battle with someone next to you in the foxhole who you trust.
"Football in itself is going to be hard, winning football games is going to be hard," Richardson said. "But during the process, when you enjoy the people you work with and you enjoy the time you spend together both on and off the field, then that makes the preparation part that much easier."
Last week Richardson appeared on Sirius NFL Radio and said, "At this point in my career, obviously my main goal is to win a championship and be able to lift that trophy up."
So can the Jets make a dramatic turnaround from one season to the next?
"There is so much parity in the league and you look at it and say, 'Why not us? Why can't we be the ones to have the opportunity to do that?' " he said. "Obviously, a lot of things have to work in your favor. One, you have to stay healthy, and two, you have to have talented players, which we do have. Three, you have to have a great leader in place, and we have that as well [in Mangini]."
Then, when you think this guy might just be too positive and too idealistic, Richardson throws a cold glass of reality in your face.
"Last season when I was with the Vikings, we came into New York and we beat the Giants, 41-17, in their stadium," he said. "And what did they do? They went on that run and hit their stride, dominated throughout the playoffs and they got a chance to lift that trophy."
T-Rich admits to being one of the last of a dying breed. He doesn't touch the ball much anymore, but he's perfectly fine in a supporting role.
Putting His Body on the Line
"Not to take away from the young fullback these days, but there aren't a lot of guys who continuously just want to go in there and pound those linebackers," said Richardson, a friend of Lorenzo Neal and a long-time admirer of guys like Mack Strong and Sam Gash. "But that's something I enjoy and one thing I expressed was that I had my days in the sun in Kansas City when I'm carrying the ball 15-20 times a game.
"That's not my desire at this point of my career. I like to see those guys behind me have big rushing days because if you're running the football, you've got a chance to win."
Richardson thinks the Jets can run and he'll put his body on the line for that to happen. He knows leadership comes in many forms and action is critical.
"The number one thing is to lead by example. If it's after practice running sprints, I'm not saying, 'Hey, guys, you have to do this.' It's 'We need to do it and I'll be out there,' " he said. "The young guys might be in front of me, but I'm going to go out there and bust my butt.
"Don't ask guys to do things that you're not willing to do yourself. Give it everything you have and let guys know you care about them. And that's another thing I hope we can create in New York. When we cross that field, it's a family. We love each other, we care about each other and we want to see everyone succeed."
Things have come full circle for Richardson as he'll return to Raye's RB room once again. He's a proven vet now and he'll be the driver for Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Jesse Chatman.
"We touch the ball more than anybody outside the quarterbacks. As the running back room goes, that's how we go and that's how our team goes. We have to build that accountability and that trust," he said. "I think when you create that atmosphere from a leadership standpoint, it gives you a chance to be successful on Sunday."
Richardson, who has helped multiple organizations and schools through his foundation, also knows what it takes to be successful in the community.
"That's the thing that's probably closest to my heart. I understand the responsibility I have as a football player to help win football games but also the responsibility you have in the community in which you play," he said. "I'm looking forward to hitting the ground running."
Literally and figuratively.