ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Georgia is presenting Mark Richt's exit as coach as a mutual decision, and Sunday's announcement came padded with tributes usually reserved for retiring legends.
Glowing compliments for Richt came from University of Georgia president Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity. Richt has been allowed to remain as coach through the team's bowl game. New home pages for the athletic department's Web site were constructed to pay tribute to Richt.
All of Sunday's warm and fuzzy tributes couldn't overshadow the fact Richt insisted one day earlier he had plans to be on the job for the immediate and long-term future.
McGarity met with Richt on Sunday morning. Soon after, Georgia announced the news that Richt was out as coach.
McGarity said in a statement released by the school the two ''mutually agreed that he would step down as head coach.''
Richt has been offered a chance to remain at Georgia in a new role that McGarity said would include helping former Georgia players and fundraising.
McGarity had generous praise for Richt, who ranks second in all-time coaching wins at the school.
''Mark has touched thousands of lives over the past 15 years,'' McGarity said. ''He has a huge heart and his positive influence has affected many people, young and old. We will never actually know how many people were positively impacted by a comforting phone call, a sympathetic or uplifting note, an autographed football or photo - he had the unique ability to shine a bright light on others when they needed it most.''
Morehead said Richt ''has been an outstanding coach and mentor to our student-athletes.''
''I am deeply grateful for his many years of dedicated service to the University of Georgia, and I particularly appreciate the positive way he has represented UGA,'' Morehead said.
Richt had a short meeting with his players Sunday night. A news conference was scheduled for Monday.
''I wish the best for him,'' said senior fullback Quayvon Hicks before the meeting. ''I enjoyed my four years here with him. ... We have to understand it is part of the business.
''We've got to make sure we stay together and our minds are right. It's bigger than us.''
Several players declined comment following the meeting.
Fans set up a small tribute for Richt outside the team's football facility. The words ''Thanks Coach Richt'' were written on a white poster board, situated near a burning candle. A smaller sign said ''Fire McGarity.''
Georgia (9-3) ended its regular season with Saturday's 13-7 win over Georgia Tech. The win left Richt 13-2 in the state rivalry.
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.''
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, 55, 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.''
Alabama coach Nick Saban reacted to the news with shock.
''I don't know what the world's coming to in our profession,'' Saban said. ''Mark Richt's been a really good coach and a really positive person in our profession for a long, long time. I think when you win nine games, that's a pretty good season, especially with the body of work that he's been able to put together there for however many years he's been there.''
Richt is 145-51 with two SEC championships. Only Vince Dooley (201) won more games at Georgia.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org