ATHENS, Ga. -- Despite growing criticism swirling around Georgia'sfootball program following a critical loss to Florida, coach Mark Richt promised that his team won't quit during the final month of the season.
"We're Georgia. We're a team. We work together," Richt said during his Tuesday news conference. "We're gonna fight. We're gonna fight together. We'll do the things we think we need to do to get better as we go. But the Georgia people can count on us fighting our tails off and doing it in a way that everybody would be proud of in our young men, to get better. So that's where we're at right now."
The Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3 SEC) are coming off a 27-3 loss to the Gators that eliminated them in the SEC Eastern Division race for the third straight year. The overwhelming media pick this past summer to win the division and compete for a conference championship, Georgia lost three critical SEC games to Alabama, Florida and Tennessee. The Bulldogs were outscored 65-13 against the Gators and Tide.
Georgia hasn't won the SEC since 2005.
Despite the fact that the Bulldogs are yet again out of the SEC race after losing three of their last four games, Richt is urging his players to stay motivated for the remainder of the season.
"What we've done to this point really hasn't defined us as much as what we do from here on," Richt said of this season's struggles. "That's how you handle adversity in a season and that's how you have to handle adversity in life. You decide, what am I going to do now? What we're gonna do now is we're gonna focus on our jobs, we're gonna fight like mad and we're gonna get it together."
Richt, who is 55, has amassed a 141-50 record in his 14-plus years at Georgia, but the Bulldogs' inability to consistently claim the SEC East crown while rivals Florida and Tennessee have both been down over the past five years has drawn plenty of criticism for the coach and his program.
While talk surrounding Richt's job security has ramped up since Saturday's loss, players said they haven't paid attention to the growing negativity surrounding the program. Senior wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell went as far as to question whether bringing in a new coaching staff would provide the "quick fix" critics and fans have been calling for.
"Sometimes, people have a misunderstanding for how long it takes for change to take place," Mitchell said. "Because this last offseason there were a lot of changes and people have expected immediate results, which is not the way change works. It's progress, and over time you begin to see the effects of those changes.
"But there isn't one person who can come in one year and fix something. That's just not the way it works."
Sophomore tight end Jeb Blazevich said that the team still fully supports Richt and that there hasn't been dissension among the players.
"He knows where we stand with him," Blazevich said. "We love Coach Richt and we're all behind him 100 percent. We're not too worried about [speculation surrounding his job status for next season], and it doesn't seem like he is, either."
Richt said he hasn't spoken recently with university administrators about the state of the football program or his job situation. He also said that despite the recent offensive struggles that have resulted in the Bulldogs starting third-string quarterback Faton Bauta against Florida and failing to score a touchdown in the past two games, he hasn't thought about taking over play-calling duties for first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Mitchell said he doesn't believe the Bulldogs will be playing for Richt's job over the next month, but he isn't surprised the program has received criticism over its performances in the last four games. The critiques are valid, he said, but he hopes that doesn't stop fans from continuing to support the team.
"Criticism just comes from emotions, definitely high emotions," Mitchell said. "It wouldn't be fair to say that our fans shouldn't feel some type of [negative] emotions for the turn of events [this season], but I think overall they'll support us, like they always have."
With four regular-season games remaining -- including two against rivals Auburn and Georgia Tech -- and possibly a bowl game, Richt has advised his players to "ignore the noise" and focus on the last month of the season.
"Ignore the negativity. Negativity brings people down," Richt said.
"Also begin to focus on the positive and then focus on manning up, standing up, taking care of business, and do it hopefully in a unified manner. Families blow up because somebody decided it was too tough and decided to run. Don't do that. Don't be that guy."
Georgia hosts Kentucky (4-4, 2-4) on Saturday at noon on the SEC Network.