ATHENS, Ga. - The dean of Southeastern Conference football coaches has started his second decade a lot better than he ended his first.
Georgia's Mark Richt will begin his 12th season with the Bulldogs this Saturday when they welcome Buffalo to Sanford Stadium. With a 106-38 record, an SEC East championship last season and a No. 6 ranking this year, the Bulldogs seemingly have left behind the dark days of 2009 and '10, when 8-5 and 6-7 seasons ended in trips to Shreveport and Memphis.
"There were so many close games that we didn't win during that stretch," Richt said Tuesday. "If you go back further and some of the years that people were saying we were more successful or seasons we had more wins, there were a lot of close games we won. It's really a fine line between winning and losing.
"You have to understand that sometimes when you are winning there are some things that need to be fixed, and sometimes when you are losing there are some things that you probably don't need to abort."
The Bulldogs insist they are eager to play Saturday and will not be looking ahead to the following week's trip to Missouri. After losing opening games last year to Boise State and South Carolina, Georgia reeled off 10 straight wins, defeating 10 teams the Bulldogs were favored to whip.
Which wasn't always the case in the preceding two seasons.
"I think the whole team took for granted going out and winning a game you're supposed to win," senior inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. "Every game is an opportunity and the other team gets ready, too, but when you have the level of athletes we have -- there were games we went into and thought we were going to win and we didn't, especially that 6-7 season.
"I think we had more athletic ability on that team than we had this past season, when we went to the SEC championship game."
Fifth-year seniors such as Robinson and receiver Tavarres King redshirted in 2008, when the Bulldogs began that season No. 1 before finishing 10-3. All they had known was a sliding program until last year, yet those players and the ones who arrived in 2009 said Richt's persona never changed.
"No matter whether you're winning or losing, you're going to get the same guy every day in practice," redshirt junior quarterback Aaron Murray said. "If we lose, he's not going to be out there yelling and screaming and making us all run. He knows what it takes to be successful and how to coach successful teams."
Said King: "I think he has learned how to deal with adversity, as we all have since '08. He has put his head down and continued to coach like the man that he is, and I think he is a better person for it."
Since leaving his role as Florida State's offensive coordinator under Bobby Bowden, Richt gradually has worked his way into the SEC record books. His 106 victories rank 15th all-time among coaches at league institutions, and his 62 wins in SEC play are tied for 10th with the legendary likes of Tennessee's Robert Neyland and LSU's Charlie McClendon.
"The types of things that Coach Bowden was building in Tallahassee were the types of things that I wanted to build here at Georgia," Richt said. "So it's not shocking to me that I'm still here in that I know in my heart this is where I want to be, but we know that it's a rough business, too."