ATHENS -- Mark Richt has seen hundreds and hundreds of players pass through Athens during his 15 seasons leading Georgia football. Many of them were surprised to hear on Sunday that Richt was stepping down.
"It's shock more than anything," said former Bulldogs quarterback David Greene who started for UGA from 2001-2004. "There's been plenty of speculation for a while about this. It's certainly not the first year. It's hard to even remember back to what football was even like when Coach wasn't the Coach."
Greene added that, with the current climate of college football, it's not as much of a surprise; but he was shocked that someone with Richt's track record on and off the field was let go. Others pointed to this season, where Richt ended the regular season with a 4-game win streak despite losing key players like Nick Chubb to injury.
"I was surprised," said former wide receiver Israel Troupe who played for Richt from 2007-2011. "To go 9-3 this season, do what he's done and still get the axe was real surprising to me when it came across my phone screen.
Troupe, like many others, pointed to what Richt meant to them as a person more than just as a coach.
"I loved him," said Troupe. "He taught you more about being a man than anybody else. I grew up in a single-parent home so he was like my dad."
Off the field, Richt is widely lauded for his character, commitment to his religion and work in the community. One former player says there's more to it than that.
"When I got cut by the Bengals earlier this year the next week I had a letter in the mail from Coach Richt saying, 'hey, I understand you got cut, if you're done with football and want to pursue a career, please let me know and I'll get you connected with someone to help you get a job,'" said former UGA receiver Michael Bennett who played for Richt from 2010-2014. "Stuff like that, he doesn't have to do that, but he does because he cares."
With all of that, there's plenty of disappointment among players who knew Richt best.
"My initial knee-jerk reaction was, one, disappointment," said offensive lineman Chris Burnette who played in Athens from 2009-2013. "I think the timing of it was probably the thing I was most disappointed in. Just shocked as well."