THE RICHT DIRECTION
Georgia is behind only LSU in wins among SEC schools since Mark Richt took over the Bulldogs before the 2001 season:
TEAM - W - L
LSU - 125 33
Georgia - 118 - 40
Florida - 116 - 40
Auburn - 104 - 49
So. Carolina - 91 - 59
Tennessee - 91 - 61
Alabama* - 90 - 45
Arkansas - 90 - 61
* Alabama had to forfeit 21 wins during the 2005-07 seasons due to NCAA sanctions.
It was somewhat brash for a Southeastern Conference football coach, and it was completely out of character for Georgia's Mark Richt.
After his Bulldogs plummeted to 8-5 and 6-7 records during the 2009 and '10 seasons, Richt went before several hundred reporters at the 2011 SEC media days event near Birmingham. He fielded questions regarding his job security as well as that embarrassing Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida on the last day of 2010.
One final question concerned the difficulty of lasting in the league more than a decade.
"It's not difficult if you win nine, 10 or 11 a year, win the Eastern Division every other year and win the SEC every three or four years," Richt said. "It's when you get to 6-7. That's when it's a problem."
Richt could have left the podium at that point, but he added, "Greater days are coming. The best is yet to come."
When reminded of those comments Tuesday night before addressing nearly 300 Bulldogs fans at the Catoosa County Colonnade, Richt smiled.
"I remember that," he said. "After you go 6-7, just about anything is better than that, so I didn't think it was that brash of a statement."
Since guaranteeing the best is yet to come, Richt and the Bulldogs have gone 22-6 with two SEC East titles. Last season's team went 11-1 during the regular season and played Alabama in an SEC title game that also served as a semifinal in the national landscape.
Alabama prevailed 32-28, with the game ending with Georgia on the Crimson Tide's 5-yard line. It was the closest Georgia has come to a national title since the No. 1 Bulldogs lost to No. 2 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl following the 1982 season.
"That was the national championship game," Georgia president Michael Adams said Tuesday. "They just didn't call it that."
Adams is stepping aside next month after a 16-year tenure that included only one head-coaching change in football. He replaced Jim Donnan with Richt after the 2000 season and said he never considered making another.
Georgia slid from the preseason No. 1 in 2008 to the '09 Independence Bowl champion to the Liberty Bowl runner-up, and Richt was being compared with Auburn's Tommy Tuberville and Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer as successful SEC coaches who had run their course.
"I didn't come close at all, but the groundswell was substantial," Adams said. "I think Mark knows that, but you don't make coaching decisions on that basis, with all due respect to our friends. I've had great confidence in Coach Richt's ability to lead the team and to represent us and to deal with the media and alumni and all the things you have to deal with.
"I've felt from day one that he was the whole package, and there was never a discussion toward making a change."
Following the 2010 season, athletic director Greg McGarity met with Richt to discuss ways in which the coach could delegate responsibilities that needed to be delegated. Richt, who is 118-40 entering his 13th season, admitted Tuesday that there have been things taken off his plate that have been healthy.
"In the rebirth of Mark Richt, if you want to characterize it that way, the real unsung hero is Greg McGarity," Adams said. "The AD has worked with Mark on setting priorities and on focusing on things he needed to focus on. Mark was spread thin, and I think he would tell you that.
"He had so many demands and maybe said 'yes' to a few too many as we're all prone to do."
The Bulldogs went 82-22 in Richt's first eight seasons with three SEC East titles and league championships in 2002 and '05. The '02 team posted his best record (13-1), while his '07 team had the highest final ranking (No. 2).
Last season's team was the closest to touch the crystal ball, so Richt has a hard time answering if the best yet was in 2012.
"The 2002 team was special because we won the league, and winning the league is a big deal," Richt said. "It had been 20 years, and it helped validate us as a staff with our players, in recruiting and maybe in the college football world a little bit, so that was a really important year.
"The 2007 team was fun. There were some rough spots in there, but we got our act together and really finished strong. We left that season feeling like we had reached our full potential. They're all pretty big. Year one was big just to experience everything."
For Adams, however, there is no doubt.
"I would go with this last one," he said. "I got to be very close to a lot of young men on this team, and they gave me the game ball from the Tech game and the bowl game. Ten more seconds against Alabama, and it might have been a different result."
A day after touted Florida State linebacker signee Matthew Thomas told the Miami Herald that he wanted out of his scholarship in order to play at Georgia or Southern Cal, Richt said not all of the Bulldogs' 85 scholarships are taken.
"We could have signed as many as 35 this year," he said. "We signed 33."
Richt did not mention Thomas specifically.