Players, including Pierce's running backs, said they had no warning of the news before Coach Mark Richt told the team Monday afternoon.
"I hadn't heard anything,'' said tailback Tony Milton. "I thought it was just a normal Monday. It's still a shock to my system right now. I couldn't believe it. I still don't know everything that happened.'' Added starting tailback Musa Smith: "It was out of the blue to me.''
Players were told Pierce had family reasons for resigning. Pierce is married. He and his wife, Michelle, have three children. Richt met briefly with reporters but would not address any specifics of the news, including if he had asked for Pierce's resignation.
Said Richt in a statement released by Georgia: "I respect the personal nature of the situation with Coach Pierce and his need to address it.''
Pierce could not be reached for comment Monday night. The news comes at a crucial point of No. 6 Georgia's season - two days after the Bulldogs scored an upset victory at then-No. 22 Alabama and five days before the No. 6 Bulldogs play host to No. 10 Tennessee.
"It's definitely a shock for the players,'' said assistant coach Mike Bobo, who will assume responsibility for running backs. "It was a shock for us. Our thoughts are with Coach Pierce, but we've got to go on with a game this week.'' With Bobo's shift from quarterbacks coach to running backs coach, Richt will coach the quarterbacks in practice. Richt already had been spending most of his practice time helping Bobo with the quarterbacks.
Bobo, a former Georgia quarterback, said he has never coached running backs. "It will be a little different, a new position I've never coached, but I think I've got a good handle on what the running backs' assignments are and the techniques we teach around here,'' Bobo said.
Plans were quickly put in place for coaches on the staff to assume other parts of Pierce's job. Tight ends coach David Johnson will pick up Pierce's work with the kickoff return team. Graduate assistant coach John Seagrave and senior backup quarterback Cory Phillips can fill Pierce's job of signaling the plays to the offense from the sideline. The bigger concern is the possibility that Pierce's surprise exit will be a distraction as Georgia prepares to face Tennessee in one of its most important home games of the past 20 years.
"You're going to have adversity you have to come back from, and this is one of those situations where we've got to regroup and come together as a team,'' Bobo said. "I think we've got a lot of senior leaders who are going to help us refocus and get our mind on Tennessee.''
The Georgia-Tennessee game marks only the third time since 1976 that two top 10 teams have played at Sanford Stadium. Georgia is 5-0 for the first time since 1982. It is the only undefeated SEC team and the only team in the SEC's Eastern Division without a conference loss. With so much at stake as he tries to guide Georgia to its first SEC championship since 1982, Richt admitted that the announcement about Pierce "does not come at a good time.''
"The players and the coaches, I think we all know there's only certain things we can control and that's how hard we work at what we do,'' Richt said. "I think those guys will stay focused.''
Pierce, 41, is the first assistant coach to leave the staff hired by Richt when he was named head coach in 2001. Pierce, a native of Newark, N.J., had been co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Wake Forest before moving to Georgia. He previously served as an assistant coach at West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Delaware State.
NOTES: The Oct. 19 home game against Vanderbilt will be televised by Jefferson-Pilot with a 12:30 p.m. kickoff. Kicker Billy Bennett was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after he kicked two field goals, including the game-winning 32-yards with 38 seconds left to play, in the 27-25 win at Alabama Saturday. Bennett leads the conference with his 85.7 field goal percentage (6 for 7) and he has made all of his 19 extra-point attempts. For his career, he is 11 for 12 in fourth-quarter field goal attempts.