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Georgia sophomore tailback Sony Michel admitted to battling his share of emotions the past few days, when Mark Richt was fired and Kirby Smart was hired.

ATHENS, Ga. — Mark Richt expressed excitement last Friday while being introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Miami.

Kirby Smart did the same Monday afternoon as the Alabama defensive coordinator was introduced as Richt's replacement at Georgia, but what have the last several days been like for Bulldogs players?

"At the end of the day, it's still football," tailback Sony Michel said. "You never know what to expect, and it's kind of hard to explain my feelings right now. As a team, we're excited to know who our new coach is, and some of the guys are excited about a new opportunity to establish themselves."

Richt was the Southeastern Conference's longest-tenured coach until Nov. 29, when he was fired after 15 seasons by athletic director Greg McGarity. His termination occurred less than 24 hours after the Bulldogs won 13-7 at Georgia Tech to cap a 9-3 regular season.

Several Bulldogs openly expressed their disappointment with McGarity's decision, but their mood was softened when Richt found employment so soon.

"Once the team saw how Coach Richt was able to go back to his alma mater, we were happy for him and able to move on," outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said. "We knew then that he was happy, and once we moved on from that, we knew we had to embrace the next coach that was coming in.

"We made a great hire in Coach Smart. He was the best coach available, and we're excited."

Though he did spend the 2005 season as Georgia's running backs coach, Smart is the first head coach of the Bulldogs in the modern era to have a defensive background. Richt, Jim Donnan, Ray Goff and Vince Dooley each played quarterback in college.

Smart was a safety for the Bulldogs from 1995 to 1998, and his offensive goal now is more about getting the ball to the best players than a particular style or philosophy.

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"You have to recruit great skill people, and they're here in this state," Smart said. "They're within a five-hour radius, so you've got to go get them in your program so you can make explosive plays. I think that was lacking somewhat last year here on this team.

"The coaches I've worked for have been the most successful when the good players got the ball. So you need to go get good practice players and get them the ball, and that's what we plan to do."

Georgia's defensive players are excited about the arrival of a defensive-minded coach who has been so instrumental in three national championships with the Crimson Tide and in the running for a fourth. Those on offense are a bit more curious about his hiring of an offensive coordinator.

Smart did not offer timetables for any of his hires.

"As a quarterback, you want to know who the OC is and what we're going to do on offense," Greyson Lambert said, "but Coach Smart is having to be the head coach and the defensive coordinator right now for two different teams. He's having to recruit for us right now and coach his guys, so when it comes it comes.

"I don't think much will change as far as the offensive scheme, because every offense today has to be multiple and be able to do every little detail."

Smart met with his new team Sunday evening, and Lambert described it as complete silence as everyone listened intently. The message was simple, as Smart told his new roster to get better every day and to never take a day off.

A unique change has occurred, and the Bulldogs are embracing it, even if it took some players longer than others.

"We'll always love Coach Richt and what he's done for us," safety Quincy Mauger said. "He's helped us on and off the field, and he taught us the 'Georgia Way' and respecting the 'G.' With Coach Smart coming in, we know we're heading in the right direction, and we're all going to buy in.

"Whatever he has planned for us, we'll be ready."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6524.

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