Video: Mark Richt, Greg McGarity talk about Georgia's head coaching change
ATHENS -- Mark Richt isn't oblivious.
While he won 145 games in 15 seasons and has the best all-time winning percentage in program history at .740, Richt understands why athletics director Greg McGarity made the decision to fire him Sunday.
The wins came in bunches year in and year out, but the big-game opportunities never materialized.
That ultimately led to Richt's ouster.
"I think 15 years is a long time," Richt said. "I think the expectations have been built to the point where if you don't win a championship, it's kind of miserable around here. When we don't make it to Atlanta, I'm miserable, too."
Richt created lofty expectations for himself early on as Georgia's head coach by winning SEC championships in 2002 and 2005. But after Georgia lost to Florida this year, it marked 10 consecutive years without a conference title.
That long of a stretch without an SEC banner is what did Richt in, even if McGarity didn't want to discuss his reasoning behind the decision.
McGarity said he and Richt spoke Saturday night after Georgia's 13-7 win over Georgia Tech and agreed to meet Sunday morning. That's about all McGarity shared when it came to details of the move he made.
"We had a good, mature, adult conversation on Sunday morning for an hour or hour-and-a-half or so," McGarity said. "Those things will really remain between Mark and myself."
McGarity also declined to talk much about the upcoming coaching search, except to say he will deal with a search firm when contemplating the next hire. Sources have indicated Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is the front-runner for the job.
In the time since the coaching change was reported, McGarity has taken some criticism from the Georgia fan base. Several students were seen protesting the decision outside of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Sunday, with at least one who brought a "Fire McGarity" sign.
McGarity said he was not surprised at the backlash, given the success Richt has had as Georgia's head coach.
"I expected it," McGarity said. "I think decisions of this nature are very difficult. Our fans are passionate. Mark has tremendous support. Obviously with the way Mark connects with people, sure, I've been the recipient of the emails on both sides. It goes with the territory. I understand it. I wish I could respond to all of them, but that may take some time. But I understand it just goes with the territory of being in a leadership position."
Richt leaves Georgia with a 145-51 record and two conference titles. His 2012 squad reached the SEC championship game and fell 5 yards short in a thrilling game against Alabama, which the Crimson Tide won 32-28. A win against Alabama would have placed Georgia in the BCS national championship game against Notre Dame. Instead, Alabama went on to win the national title.
Richt will take the Bulldogs to a 15th consecutive bowl game this postseason when he coaches this team for the final time. He built a reputation as a gracious coach who did his job in the correct manner. Georgia never faced any serious NCAA accusations or infractions under his guidance, and players generally were held to a high standard off the field.
Richt was hired by former Georgia head coach and athletics director Vince Dooley on Christmas in 2000. Before taking the Georgia job, Richt was the offensive coordinator at Florida State under Bobby Bowden. Richt helped the Seminoles win two national titles (1993, 1999) and coached two Heisman trophy quarterbacks (Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke).
Dooley, who seemed sad to see Richt go, admitted he felt mixed emotions to see his hire's time at Georgia come to an end. Richt's 145 wins are second in program history behind Dooley's 201.
"I don't think you have to talk about his legacy because it's out there in front of everybody," Dooley said. "If you attended this press conference, it just restates what Mark Richt is all about, which is a person I'm exceptionally proud of, who I hired, who performed on the field and also performed off the field. His legacy is well intact."
Richt has been offered an administrative position in the athletics department, at least to some degree, by McGarity and university president Jere W. Morehead but has yet to accept it. Richt said he will contemplate whether to stay in Athens or pursue opportunities elsewhere - whether that is in the coaching profession or not.
Richt was looking forward to hitting the recruiting trail before McGarity informed him of his dismissal. As a result, he'll have the next 14 days to contemplate his future endeavors, whatever they may be.
"Our sport is a very passionate sport, and it's a very public sport," Richt said. "The jobs that we do, everybody seems to have an opinion on it. You can't have all the excitement and all the cheering without the other. If things don't go the way people want them to go, I can understand them being disappointed. I can understand them thinking there's a better way and all that kind of thing. I respect that. It just got to the point where there wasn't enough confidence that my leadership could get it done. That's the prerogative of the people in charge. I understand that."
In the meantime, Richt isn't too worried about what the future holds for him now that his run at Georgia is coming to an end.
"My wife and I will be fine," Richt said. "We're empty-nesters. We're still madly in love. We'll probably get to do some things we just haven't been able to do in the past. I've been coaching for 33 years straight, and that's a long grind. It can wear a man out a little bit, especially sitting in the head coach's chair."