UGA players recall Richt firing one year later, how they helped Smart transition in

Kirby Smart discusses importance of UGA's rivalry with Georgia Tech

ATHENS, Ga. -- Getting a win on senior day is special. Getting it against Georgia Tech, even better.

The Georgia Bulldogs (7-4) host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-4) for the final home game at Sanford Stadium this season. Per tradition, head coach Kirby Smart and his staff will honor the seniors. But all the seniors really care about is beating the team from Atlanta.

"As a fifth year guy here, you don't want to lose to Tech. You don't want to give them the satisfaction that for the next 365 days that they run this state," senior Greg Pyke said. "I want to go out on top with a win at Sanford this weekend."

The current seniors are 2-1 against the Yellow Jackets, fifth-year seniors like Pyke are 3-1. 

While the Bulldogs got to tear up Bobby Dodd Stadium and stick the Georgia flag into the grass after a 13-7 victory against Tech to end the season 9-3, it was just a few hours later that they would find out that then-head coach Mark Richt would be fired.

Mark Richt, who would later accept a head coaching job with the Miami Hurricanes, was fired after 15 seasons, and it caught junior John Atkins off guard.

"It was a surprise. We didn't know at all until he called us to talk to us about it," Atkins said.

Akins said it was a sad time, but in came Smart from Alabama. Akins had to come to terms with playing for someone he didn't choose to play for. 

"He's going to be our head coach, now. We're going to buy into it," he recalled thinking.

For seniors like Pyke, it can be frustrating: play three or four years under one coach, only for someone new to come in and essentially change everything. But Pyke knew there was only one option, accept it.

"You've had the same coach for four years and as a senior, you have a new head coach coming in telling you what to do, but there's no point not to buy in because we want to be a good team and show those younger guys, 'Well our coaches have changed, but on Saturday, it's all on us. We go out there and play, not the coaches. They tell us what to do, but it comes down to us,' " Pyke said.

Smart said he appreciates the seniors and their leadership during the transition. 

"They know I have a lot of respect for coach Richt, and so do they. They were recruited by coach Richt and his staff," Smart said. "They know things like that in this business happen. And they respected our staff and our program."

The transition is still underway, and it has been rocky at times with outsiders questioning Smart's abilities to take Georgia to a level Richt could not. He admits that he couldn't have done it without the seniors.

And that's what will make Saturday that much more special as Smart thanks each senior and his family one-by-one.

"They're the glue that's held this team together through some adverse times," Smart said.

PHOTOS | UGA vs. ULL


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