ATLANTA (AP) — Mark Richt stepped down as Georgia’s coach on Sunday in what was called a “mutual” decision but looked like a firing.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said in a statement that he met with Richt on Sunday morning “to discuss the status of our football program.” McGarity said the two “mutually agreed that he would step down as head coach and would have the opportunity to accept other duties and responsibilities at UGA following the bowl game.”
Georgia (9-3) ended its regular season with Saturday’s 13-7 win over Georgia Tech. It was clear following the game Richt had no plans to step down. He said he planned to begin recruiting “and getting prepared for the future at Georgia.”
Now, his future as Georgia’s coach will include only one game. Richt will coach the Bulldogs in their bowl game as the search for his successor begins.
Richt had only a short statement in the announcement released by Georgia.
“I appreciate the opportunity of serving the University as well as considering any other options that may present themselves in the future,” Richt said.
There has been speculation about Richt’s future since losses to Tennessee, Alabama and Florida ended the Bulldogs’ hopes for a Southeastern Conference championship. Georgia closed the regular season with four straight wins, but that was not enough to make up for failing to land a spot in the title game. The Bulldogs were the preseason pick in the SEC East.
Richt acknowledged Saturday the team “came up short of our goal” to win the SEC championship.
“That’s the standard here,” Richt said. “Win the SEC and hopefully go beyond that. From that point of view, we fell short of our goals.”
Richt, 55, also spoke with pride about the team’s strong finish.
“We could have gone one way or the other,” he said. “It was that moment of truth where what are we going to do? Are we going to lay down and die or are we going to lock arms and go after it? And they did, they really did. Coaches, players, everybody did.”
McGarity had praise for Richt, who was 145-51 with two SEC championships. Only Vince Dooley (201) won more games at Georgia.
McGarity thanked Richt and Richt’s wife, Katharyn, “for 15 years of remarkable service to the UGA community, hundreds of our students and staff, and to college football.”
“Mark’s record on the field was outstanding; however, his impact on college football goes well beyond the gridiron,” McGarity said before mentioning children who attended Richt’s summer camp, recruits and his players. “For those contributions, we are sincerely appreciative.”
Richt, strongly religious, was respected for his integrity but criticized for failing to keep pace in the SEC’s recent string of seven straight national championships. Georgia’s last SEC championship was in 2005. Its last national championship, under Dooley, came in 1980. The Bulldogs lost in the 2011 and 2012 SEC championship games.
This season, Richt earned positive reviews for his personal role with Southern wide receiver Devon Gales, who suffered a serious neck injury in a loss at Georgia. Gales said on his Twitter account Sunday that Richt “understands that football is about more than winning. It’s about shaping and molding the lives of young men.”
Georgia has tentatively planned a Monday news conference.
A leading candidate in Georgia’s search could be Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a former Georgia safety and assistant coach under Richt.
Georgia’s tradition of hiring or promoting assistant coaches to become coach includes Dooley, Ray Goff and Richt, who was the former offensive coordinator at Florida State.
If Georgia chooses to pursue a current head coach, a possible candidate who has a history with McGarity is Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. When McGarity was an associate athletic director at Florida, Mullen was an assistant coach for the Gators.
Georgia also might contact Colorado State coach Mike Bobo, who left as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator following the 2014 season, when Georgia led the SEC in scoring. Bobo is 7-5 and won his last four regular-season games in his first season at Colorado State.
McGarity said if Richt chooses to remain at Georgia, he would “be heavily involved with outreach programs for our former football lettermen.”
University of Georgia president Jere Morehead said he personally asked Richt to stay on “in a new leadership role” that apparently would include fundraising.
“I look forward to hopefully working closely with him as we advance our capital campaign at the University of Georgia,” Morehead said.