ATHENS — Georgia’s decision to fire Mark Richt as its head football coach had nothing do with how the Bulldogs played at the end of the season. In fact, his dismissal had been in the works for weeks.
Richt, the Bulldogs’ coach for the last 15 seasons, was dismissed by Athletic Director Greg McGarity on Sunday morning. Members of the board of regents were informed around 9:15 a.m. and members of the UGA Athletic Association board of directors were notified a short time later. The university announced the decision via an emailed news release that was delivered at 12:37 p.m.
“Coach Richt and I met Sunday morning to discuss the status of our football program,” Georgia Athletics Director Greg McGarity said in the school’s statement. “And we mutually agreed that he would step down as head coach and would have the opportunity to accept other duties and responsibilities at UGA following the bowl game.”
The announcement came less than 24 hours after the Bulldogs played Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale on Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Georgia won the game 13-7. It was the Bulldogs’ fourth win in a row and they finished the season 9-3.
That represented the 11th time in Richt’s 15 seasons as coach that the Bulldogs won at least nine regular-season games. Richt (145-51) is the second-winningest coach in Georgia football history, after Vince Dooley, and the first in winning percentage (.738).
But “it was never about what happened in the Tech game,” said a person familiar with the inner workings. The decision to make a change actually had been made “weeks ago.”
Serious discussions commenced the week after Georgia lost to Florida 27-3 on Oct. 31, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned. The lopsided loss and the decisions Richt and his staff made in the days leading up to the critical SEC Eastern Division match up swayed the opinion of many state decision-makers and influential UGA alumni. They made their opinions known to McGarity and UGA President Jere Morehead.
The school’s statement said the two parties “mutually agreed” to part ways. But Richt had made it clear after Saturday’s game he intended to continue as Georgia’s head coach.
“I appreciate the opportunity of serving the University as well as considering any other options that may present themselves in the future,” Richt said in a statement.
Richt did not return calls seeking comment. He has accepted the opportunity to coach the Bulldogs in a bowl game. The destination and opponent won’t be determined until next Sunday. There will be a press conference on Monday, the school said.
Richt has stated repeatedly that he didn’t intend to pursue any other jobs, which has been confirmed by those around him. Richt has been offered the opportunity to stay with the university in some capacity, although Richt’s statement did not address that possibility.
Richt will be owed $4.1 million from UGA, according to his latest agreement with the school. He has four years remaining on a deal he made in January that raised his salary $800,000 to $4.1 million. While he still has not signed that contract, McGarity said earlier this month the school would honor the payout terms of that agreement.
“I have asked Mark to remain engaged with the institution in a new leadership role, and I look forward to hopefully working closely with him as we advance our capital campaign at the University of Georgia,” UGA President Jere Morehead said. “I know all UGA alumni and supporters will look forward to celebrating the successful conclusion of his coaching career at UGA in a bowl game later this year.”
In the meantime, the search for Richt’s replacement is already ongoing. It is centered on two primary candidates: Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen.
Smart, a UGA football letterman (1995-98), is thought to be the No. 1 choice but could choose to remain at Alabama in hopes of one day succeeding Nick Saban as head coach there. Mullen has a close personal relationship with McGarity from when the two were at the University of Florida.
McGarity’s statement thanked Richt and his wife Katharyn for their 15 years of “remarkable service” to Georgia and the community.
“Mark has touched thousands of lives over the past 15 years – he has a huge heart and his positive influence has affected many people, young and old,” McGarity said. “We will never actually know how many people were positively impacted by a comforting phone call, a sympathetic or uplifting note, an autographed football or photo – he had the unique ability to shine a bright light on others when they needed it most.”