Former and Current Georgia Players 'Mad' and 'Angry' Bulldogs Fired Mark Richt

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterNovember 30, 2015

Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Former Georgia head coach Mark RichtTodd Kirkland/Getty Images

For nearly two weeks in late November, the entire college football world was on "Les Miles watch."

The head coach of the Tigers appeared to be on the hottest seat in America, and a sloppy win over Texas A&M coupled with intense fan and media pressure kept the "Mad Hatter" employed.

It turns out we should have been focusing on Mark Richt, instead.

The veteran head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs was dismissed Sunday afternoon following a 9-3 season and the absence of an SEC East title for the third straight year.

The move came as a shock to several former Bulldog players.

"It was a bunch of different emotions," former quarterback D.J. Shockley (2001-2005) told Bleacher Report. "I was mad. I was angry. I was kind of pissed off. Emotionally, I can't even describe how it feels to hear that Coach Richt was gone. I was kind of sad and disappointed, and in a funk."

"It was very unexpected," former tight end Aron White (2007-2011) told Bleacher Report. "I didn't even believe it at first. I thought 'no way, not after we beat Georgia Tech, going to a decent bowl game and possibly getting 10 wins this season.' Once I read it, I was in disbelief."

Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Former Georgia head coach Mark RichtSam Greenwood/Getty Images
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Georgia posted a 9-3 record this season and, with a bowl win, the program could reach the 10-win mark for the fourth time in five years under Richt. While Richt's record has been stellar, the glass ceiling that has prevented the program from claiming a national title since 1980 and a decade-long SEC championship drought proved too much for him to overcome in his 15th year in Athens.

Do his former players agree with the decision to let him go?

"I don't," said Shockley. "I can understand everybody wants championships and we haven't been back and won one in 10 years. I think he meant so much more than just football and winning. Not just for the University of Georgia, but to those players that played under him. What he turned those guys into—he turned them into men. Guys got their degrees, came back because of him and want to be part of the program.

"Ultimately, it comes down to wins and losses. But what he's done over the last 15 years is pretty remarkable, and did it on a consistent basis as well. There was still time and things that could have been done. It wasn't all on him."

Former offensive lineman Chris Burnette is so disgusted he's jumping off the Georgia bandwagon.

Current linebacker Jordan Jenkins briefly chatted with reporters in Athens before security stepped in, and he echoed the sentiment of former Bulldogs.

“It ain’t right. Ain’t no Georgia football without Coach Richt,” Jenkins said, according to Seth Emerson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Just the way he dealt with everybody up here. And the way it went down just don’t sit right. Just from what we’ve been hearing."

Disappointment from the fanbase is understandable, but five SEC East titles and consistently contending for the division is something that goes underappreciated.

"I do understand the fan frustration in big games," White said. "At the end of the day, I can't say that I'm happy that Coach Richt isn't there at all. We lost two of the three big games this year in pretty bad fashion. I think if that Tennessee game (in which Georgia let a three-touchdown lead slip away) would have gone another way and he ends the season with 10 regular-season wins, that he would still have his job."

Former Georgia QB D.J. Shockley (left) and former Georgia head coach Mark Richt (right)
Former Georgia QB D.J. Shockley (left) and former Georgia head coach Mark Richt (right)JOHN AMIS/Associated Press

Shockley was Richt's first call once he got the job at Georgia the day after Christmas in 2000. He enrolled at Georgia and redshirted during the 2001 season, when the hot-shot dual-threat quarterback became blocked on the depth chart by then-redshirt freshman David Greene. Greene held down the starting job for Shockley's first three after his redshirt campaign in Athens, with Shockley serving as a changeup quarterback who came in during specific packages and on predetermined drives.

Transfer rumors swirled throughout Shockley's first three seasons, but Richt kept him in Athens, and ultimately Shockley led the Bulldogs to the 2005 SEC title.

"It was all him, pretty much," Shockley said. "I had a lot of things that I had to think about personally, but with me being his first recruit to the University of Georgia, that holds a lot of weight for me. During the time that I was thinking about leaving, he could have told me anything in the world to keep me there, and he didn't.

"He came in honest with me, told me exactly how it would be. This man was in a position where he didn't want to lose his first recruit and wanted to win games and keep his players there, and he told me the truth. I knew then that, this is a man who, regardless of situation, he still is the man you look at and want to be like when you grow up."

That hasn't changed over the past decade.

Star linebacker Leonard Floyd passed on the NFL draft last offseason, but Richt's dismissal sealed the deal for the redshirt junior this year, according to his Twitter account.

Football might come first at some programs, but not at Georgia. At least, not under Richt.

"He teaches everything you need to know about how to be a man, and I think that transfers onto the field," Shockley said. "We had character education classes every year. By the time you got to be a senior, you got to be in his character ed class. The things that we talked about had nothing to do with X's and O's or football, but it was all about how you were doing at home. How is life? How is family? What do you want to do when you leave here?

"Things that most coaches wouldn't care about, he forced you to think about the future and have a game plan and think about life once you leave here."

"In terms of becoming a man, I don't think there's a better coach out there," said White. "What Coach Richt brings holistically and as a role model across the board, I think that he's somebody who you want to send your kids to."

Former Georgia head coach Mark Richt
Former Georgia head coach Mark RichtGrant Halverson/Getty Images

Richt's dedication to the development of his players off the field was something White noticed before he even signed with Georgia.

"I remember being 17 years old, and he and [former offensive coordinator] Mike Bobo came to eat with me and [former quarterback] Logan Gray at Logan's house. My dad wasn't there because he was at work. After dinner, they stopped what they were doing, we hopped in a car and drove with me and Logan's dad out to my dad's work so they could meet him at his office and shake his hand.

"That was something that meant a lot to me that, not only did they take the time to come to Columbia, Missouri, but drive all the way across town to shake my father's hand, look him in the eye and tell him that he's going to take care of me for the next four or five years."

The next Georgia head coach will have a high bar to reach for.

Double-digit-win seasons and acting as a role model for his players clearly isn't good enough in Athens, and the new guy—whoever he is—will have his work cut out for him.

"Coach Richt turned a lot of boys into men," Shockley said, "He showed them how to be great."

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.