ATLANTA — Mark Richt’s pursuit of a defensive coordinator is still on while the search for Georgia’s next starting quarterback is on standby until spring practice.
Richt’s Bulldogs capped an 8-5 season with a 44-20 win over Texas A&M in Monday night’s Independence Bowl. The win followed a 30-24 victory over then-No. 7 Georgia Tech to close the regular season.
Georgia’s streak of 13 consecutive season with eight or more wins is the longest in the nation, but that wasn’t a point Richt celebrated on Thursday as he reviewed the season.
“People have a picture in your mind of what we should be and we do, too,” Richt said. “We certainly don’t want to say that 8-5 was the greatest season in Georgia football by any means. I like the way we finished and I like the way the guys battled until the very end.”
The school’s search for a new defensive coordinator stretched into the new year after LSU officials said Thursday they have reached a new deal to keep defensive coordinator John Chavis, who had interest from Richt. Georgia earlier was denied in its pursuit of Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster.
Richt fired defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, linebackers coach John Jancek and defensive ends coach Jon Fabris after the regular season. The three declined an invitation to coach in the bowl game.
Graduate assistants and student assistants filled in as Georgia had one of its strongest defensive games against a potent Texas A&M offense.
“I would say it was a great effort by the team in general but without question our defensive players did a wonderful job,” Richt said. “I think we put a good plan together. I think our players were just stellar in their attitude toward rallying around our coaches. I was real proud of them.”
Richt said he wouldn’t comment on Chavis or other candidates “until we’ve got our man.” He added that Rodney Garner, the team’s assistant head coach and defensive line coach, is not a candidate for the position. Richt has another tough choice looming: He must decide who will be the team’s next starting quarterback.
Quarterback Joe Cox finished the season as the only senior starter on offense. Backup quarterback Logan Gray, who will be a junior in 2010, is considering a position change. Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, who will be redshirt freshmen, are the likely top candidates in spring practice if Gray makes a switch to receiver or another position.
“The things I’m going to be looking for are a guy who can hit his target, a guy who can make good decisions, a guy who can handle the pressure of the job,” Richt said. “It’s the same thing I’m looking for when we go recruiting. I think whoever wins that job has got to have a very good respect for the football.”
Richt is not committed to naming a starter by the end of spring practice.
Georgia’s biggest rebuilding job will be on the defensive line, where seniors Jeff Owens, Kade Weston and Geno Atkins were seniors. The team may also lose two juniors on defense — linebacker Rennie Curran and safety Reshad Jones — to the NFL draft.
The deadline to declare for the draft is Jan. 15.
“They are certainly debating about what they are going to do,” Richt said.
Richt said the last two wins were “positive absolutely for the program.”
“I think finishing with the big victory against Georgia Tech, who was and is a top 10 football team and is certainly our archrival within the state, that was a very big day for our program and then certainly to finish the way we did Monday was, too,” he said.
Georgia should return all its top offensive linemen except Vince Vance, a part-time starter. Most of the team’s top skill position players, including tailbacks Caleb King and Washaun Ealey, receivers A.J. Green, Tavarres King, Rantavious Wooten and Israel Troupe and tight ends Aron White and Orson Charles were freshmen or sophomores this season.
Caleb King said the bowl win was a good start for 2010.
“It gives us momentum for next season so it was a great win for the program,” King said.
Punter Drew Butler and placekicker Blair Walsh also were sophomores who will return from what Richt called a character-building season.
“I think when you have a group of guys who will not give in, will not quit, will not surrender to adverse times, I think it is a sign your program is strong and I’ve never really had any doubt about that whatsoever,” he said.