ATHENS - A process that started the week of the SEC championship has finally ended: Mark Richt's new contract is final.
The new deal, which will go through the 2016 season, was approved on Thursday evening by the UGA athletic board.
Most of the details - years, no change in base salary - had already been revealed. The biggest revelation on Thursday is that the buyout is reduced on both sides - to nothing, in Richt's case.
Most significantly, UGA has taken out a clause that Richt would have owed Georgia a minimum of $2 million had Richt left the school. That provision is gone. And so is any buyout, so now Richt can walk away at any time and owe nothing to Georgia.
"At the end of the day, I've always believed that money should not be a determining factor in people staying," Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said. "That should not be an anchor behind somebody's neck. Life's too short. ... There's no question that Mark Richt wants to be at the University of Georgia. He and I are in a good place here."
Meanwhile, Georgia's obligation if Richt is fired has also been reduced: If he's fired at the end of the 2012 season, Richt will be owed $4.8 million. After that, it will be $2.4 million.
McGarity said he had no concern about the new deal creating any perception that Richt could now leave at any time.
"I think people are gonna twist it and say whatever they want to about it. But I'm just telling you the truth. I'm telling you how it is between Mark and myself," McGarity sad. "There's no monkey business here."
Richt said the lack of a buyout was McGarity's idea.
"It was not something that I was asking for. It was something that he had suggested. And I said that'd be fine," Richt said. "I think that the bottom line is for me is gosh I think I've been here long enough for people to understand, and if anybody was here at my first press conference at Georgia, that Georgia's my home. Georgia is where I want to be. Georgia's the only job I want, the only job I have ever wanted as a head coach.
"That's the way it's always been from the very beginning, and that hasn't changed. My mom, my dad, my brother, my two sisters, they all live in Athens. I mean, this is my home, this is where I want to be."
The two sides initiated talks last December, when Georgia was preparing to play LSU in the SEC championship game. McGarity said the main "deal points" were hammered out in January. It was smaller details that had to be worked out before it was finalized. McGarity called it "semantics."
"I don't think anybody was working at breakneck speed on it the whole time through with it," Richt said, in quite an understatement. "I was very comfortable and confident that Georgia wanted me to continue here. And Georgia was very comfortable and confident that I wanted to be at Georgia. We didn't feel like it was a very high priority that we needed to get it done."
Richt's guaranteed salary is still $2.811,340. His longevity payment is rolled into his annual payment.
As McGarity said in May, Richt's incentives all double, except for his appearance in what is called a "Tier 3" bowl game - Music, Liberty, Independence. (That remains $50,000, while winning the SEC championship doubles to $200,000.)
It still works out for a doubling of his possible yearly football incentives, from $400,000 to $800,000.
The buyout - what Georgia would have to pay Richt if he gets fired - gets reduced every year the contract approaches an end. But McGarity said Richt's contract would be revisited at the end of every year.
"I don't think you'll ever get to that point, where you have a coach with a two-year contract," McGarity said.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's new contract is expected to be released on Friday, according to McGarity.
Richt, meanwhile, had plans to celebrate the signing of the contract with his friend, Georgia men's basketball head coach Mark Fox.
"As soon as coach Fox figures out the date and the time, we are gonna have a celebratory meal at the Waffle House," Richt said. "That was something that was decided on a long time ago. In fact I think the entire basketball staff is in on this one. So I think he said something along the lines of, 'When you sign your contract you owe me a meal at the Waffle House.' But I don't know how many months ago that was."