Originally created 12/03/01

Richt guides Bulldogs to success in Year 1



ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt isn't satisfied with an 8-3 season. He wanted to go for a championship in his first year as Georgia's coach.

Still, he can't be too unhappy about the way things turned out.

The Bulldogs are heading to a bowl, probably the Outback on New Year's Day. They beat No. 2 Tennessee in Knoxville for the first time since 1980. They snapped a three-year losing streak against Georgia Tech.

"I don't want to put any kind of lid on the success we can have," Richt said Sunday. "In hindsight, it could have been a whole lot better. But it could have been a whole lot worse, too. That's a very respectable record."

Georgia closed its regular season Saturday with a 35-7 victory over Houston, making up a game that was postposted after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the process, Richt became the winningest first-year coach at Georgia since H.J. Stegeman in 1920.

"Our goal was to win the SEC championship and compete for the national championship," Richt said. "That's not an unrealistic goal at Georgia. If everything went well and we got the breaks, it had a chance to happen."

Georgia fell to South Carolina 14-9 on a touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining. Against Auburn, the Bulldogs were stopped at the 1-yard line on the final play and lost 24-17.

The other defeat was more decisive, with Florida winning 24-10.

"We were close," Richt said. "It's realistic to say we could have been 9-2. Florida was a better football team than we were, but we had a shot at another win or two."

Or another loss. David Greene threw a last-second touchdown pass to Verron Haynes to pull off the improbable 26-24 victory at Tennessee.

"We could have been 7-4," admitted Richt, whose team remained No. 16 in the latest Associated Press rankings.

Considering this was supposed to be a rebuilding year and the new staff didn't come together until January, there's plenty of reason for optimism.

"The foundation was built. The concrete was poured," said senior Haynes, who's got only one game left in his Georgia career. "Now, they've got to get started laying the bricks. The sky's the limit for Georgia. They're going to be a sight to see in the future."

First, there's a bowl to play. Georgia could head to Tampa, Fla., site of the Outback, for the third time in five years. The Peach Bowl in Atlanta also is a possibility.

"I would think early this week we might be able to find a scenario that works for everybody, even with some contingencies in there," Richt said. "If not, we can't worry too much about it. I don't know what I could do or say to lobby for any particular place. It's best to just observe and hope for the best."

He certainly wouldn't mind a trip to the Outback, which already has secured Ohio State as its Big Ten representative.

"It's a New Year's Day bowl. The fact that it's in the state of Florida, there's a good chance it would be warm. That's always nice," he said.

"Ohio State is a tremendous team. I would be all for that. There's an awful lot of good positions out there and I hope we're right in the middle of it."