ATHENS, Ga. (WRCB) -- Mark Richt would have preferred it happen another way, but he believes the University of Georgia's back-to-back losses to open the 2011 season actually proved to his players that they had the tools needed to win.
Richt preached unity, trust and a family atmosphere in the UGA locker room, and the fact that his entire team bought into that concept may have saved not only the season, but perhaps Richt's job.
"When you lose the first two games, it reveals if you have a close-knit team or not," Richt said Tuesday at his weekly media luncheon. "It's rare that you not have a team that's unified, lose two, and then all of the sudden you're unified I don't think that happens.
"I think when you hit adversity, you find out what you already have developed."
It was clear the Bulldogs had developed that bond by the time they left Columbia, South Carolina with an 0-2 mark. There was no pouting, no finger pointing and no tossing in the towel... at least not amongst UGA players.
"We did a great job of ignoring all the negativity when we were losing. We lost two games and suddenly everyone was saying it was 2010 again," said quarterback Aaron Murray. "We won a couple games, but no one really took notice. Now we're 7-2 and everyone wants to pat you on the back, but you can't listen to any of that."
Richt knows that from experience.
Amidst a disappointing 6-7 season in 2010, the SEC's longest-tenured leader seemingly went from a perennial 10-win coach to the man who had driven Georgia's proud football program into the ground. Athletic director Greg McGarity gave him a vote of confidence following the season, but it hardly cooled the notion that Richt's job was on the line in 2011.
Two weeks and two losses into the new campaign, the Bulldogs found themselves 14-14 overall in their last 28 games. The criticism grew louder and the demands for Richt's ouster grew more frequent, yet the ever-stoic coach remained unphased.
"I love the game of football. I love my job. I love Georgia, but what I do is not who I am. I've said that before," he politely explained Tuesday.
The devout Christian once again turned to his faith for guidance, choosing a path that while trusted, isn't always the easiest to travel.
"When all the games are done and all the life is lived, I know where I'll be for eternity. Not to say I don't care about what happens in this world because that's not true," Richt said. "Colossians 3:23 says 'whatever you do, do your work hardly as unto the Lord,' so that's what I was doing on a daily basis. I was doing my job as best I could and trying to do it for his glory and try not to worry about anything else.
"That's kind of how I navigated that time and there will be more tough times I'm sure. That's the way life is."
The Bulldogs hope there will be a few good times before the tough ones return.
Seven games and seven wins removed from that 0-2 start, Georgia is 7-2 overall, 5-1 in the SEC, and in control of its own destiny in the race for the SEC East crown.
"It's been our dream and goal since January to get back to the SEC Championship Game, and we're two wins away from doing that," Murray said. "I think our guys are pumped up and focused about the opportunity, and we're going to continue to work hard."
Richt, meanwhile, will continue keeping the faith.
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