Count Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity among the many who offered congratulations to Mark Richt Saturday night after a milestone moment for the Bulldogs football coach.
McGarity spoke to Richt in the locker room at Tennessee after career win No. 100.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” McGarity said Monday. “I know it meant a lot for Mark to see the way people kind of responded. … I think that was one of the few times you’ll see him have a `wow moment’ as far as `That was pretty neat.’ ”
Georgia has bounced back from an 0-2 start to put together a four-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs are tied with South Carolina atop the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division race.
There are six games down and six still to go in the regular season for Georgia and Richt, who has coached this season with questions persisting about his job security after a couple of down seasons.
“What everyone must do at a halfway point — it’s just like the halfway point of a project the halfway point of anything you do — it’s how you finish that really is the key thing that everyone has to focus on right now,” McGarity said. “Once you think you might have it figured out or you may rest on your laurels so to speak, that’s when you have problems. The message that we need to have and the message that everyone needs to have is that each week gets bigger and bigger. To get to certain levels, you have to work that much harder.”
Richt is 100-36 in 11 seasons, which puts him up there “with some of the great names in our conference,” McGarity said. He is 10-9 since McGarity became athletic director last year.
Georgia started 1-4 last year and finished 6-7.
It began this season losing to No. 5 Boise State and No. 12 South Carolina after pointing to those matchups all offseason, but McGarity said he knew that those games could be perhaps the toughest the Bulldogs would have all season.
“It gives you a pretty quick picture of what you need to do,” McGarity said. “I think the team took it the right way to where it’s not the end of the year by any stretch of the imagination.”
Instead of the end, Georgia (4-2, 3-1 SEC) has found new life in recent week.
“We didn’t like being 0-2, but we weren’t down on ourselves,” Richt said. “We were thinking more about the possibilities of what we could be rather than what we may have lost. Somebody asked mel, ‘Well how did you turn it around from 0-2?’ Sometimes you have to rally the troops somehow. We never had to rally the troops. The troops were already there, ready and fighting and believing. We’ve got great chemistry and a great bunch of guys. We’ve just been fighting hard.”
Prior to the Ole Miss game on Sept. 24, the game was dubbed the “Hot Seat Bowl,” because of the matchup of embattled head coaches.
Richt was ranked No. 3 at the time on the website CoachesHotSeat.com.
After beating the Rebels, Mississippi State and Tennessee, Richt has dropped all the way down to No. 22 this week among coaches nationally considered to be feeling the heat.
McGarity on Monday called his evaluation of the program as “a week-to-week process,” but said that “winning obviously creates a much better atmosphere at work, at practice, really in everything that revolves around college athletics.”
Richt addressed the type of scrutiny he is under this year after the 20-12 win Saturday in Knoxville.
“If this was the second year of my career at Georgia, all of this stuff wouldn’t even be cropping up, but we had two years that weren’t very exciting, last year especially,” Richt said referring to the losing season that followed an 8-5 2009 record. “And so you go into a season playing a very mature and very good Boise State team. We were not ready for that game as much as they were ready for that game. …They were just a veteran bunch that knew how to play in that type of atmosphere. We didn’t. The South Carolina game, we played well enough to where we knew could compete in this Eastern Division and have a chance to win it.”
South Carolina has the tiebreaker over Georgia by virtue of that 45-42 win in Athens in week 2.
Georgia has wins the past three weeks against teams that are a combined 0-7 in the SEC.
“Obviously you’re winning the games that really you need to win,” McGarity said. “At the same time, those teams have really struggled. I don’t know if there’s a (conference) win among them. You’ve got to keep things in perspective because there are some big tests coming up.”
McGarity didn’t want to diminish winning at Neyland Stadium “because everybody knows how tough it is to win there regardless of Tennessee’s program.”
Going forward, McGarity says this team “has very good leadership and I think that translates into doing the right things on and off the field.”
“This is a really good bonded team,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “We’ll fight to the end for each other.”
Even after the 0-2 start, Georgia has meaningful games ahead that will shape whether it could get to Atlanta for the SEC title game.
“We’ve still got to keep chugging,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We’ve got to worry about Vanderbilt (this) week and continue to get wins.”