On the beat: What to make of UGA looking inward on key hires?

Kirby Smart and Greg McGarity are both Georgia alums.

ATHENS – Georgia’s hiring of Courtney Kupets-Carter to lead its gymnastics team could go a number of different ways. It could be considered a bold and visionary move, a big name in the sport who will recruit well, and with the legendary Suzanne Yoculan providing guidance. Or it could end up a complete blunder, Kupets-Carter’s youth and inexperience proving detrimental. We won’t know for a few years.

What we do know is that this is yet another case of UGA’s tendency to look inward when it comes to hires, big and small.

Kupets-Carter is a Georgia alum. So is Kirby Smart, who when Georgia hired him was very qualified and had been sought after by other schools. But if Smart ends up struggling the next few years critics will continue to wonder why Georgia did not take longer to look and have a truly national search.

Greg McGarity was the Kirby Smart version of that search seven years ago. An alumnus  and an Athens native, McGarity was serving as the No. 2 administrator at an SEC rival. He was the obvious choice, given his connections and Florida’s all-sports success. But unfortunately that success hasn’t translated to Georgia since McGarity came home.

When UGA women’s basketball team had an opening, the school spent nearly a month looking and then hired the team’s top assistant, Joni Taylor. The book is still out on Taylor, who has recruited well, but missed the NCAA tournament this past season.

It’s not just athletics: Even the search for a president at UGA a few years ago ended up with the school just promoting the provost – and UGA alumnus — Jere Morehead. That was a fairly popular hire among the rank-and-file at UGA, as Morehead was one of them and had been for years.

Some of these inward-looking moves could very well work. Only time will tell. Going outside recently hasn’t always proven fruitful.

Danna Durante, the previous gymnastics coach, was an outsider and was just let go after five years. Last year McGarity fired the first coach he hired, volleyball coach Lizzy Stemke, who also was an outsider.

Baseball coach Scott Stricklin has struggled in his four seasons. The Bulldogs have had a good week, taking a series from then-No. 4 Kentucky and completing a season sweep of Georgia Tech on Tuesday. That may earn Stricklin another year. But it would be a remarkable story for a coach to go from four losing seasons to turning it around. Stricklin didn’t have a previous connection to UGA, other than having coached against it as a Georgia Tech assistant.

There are good things that come with hiring people who own a diploma from your university. They know the terrain, they know the challenges and they know the strengths to focus on. They have connections and contacts and real love for the university. They’re invested.

But there’s also a good argument to be made that the University of Georgia, and particularly athletics, needs an outside voice, at least on occasion. It may need somebody to come in and suggest some things that need to be done differently, whether it’s making a true commitment to the facilities arms race, or having a master plan for spending money for athletics.

Alabama had a huge pool of alumni to reach for in football coaches, but when it stopped and just hired the best man available — Nick Saban — look what happened. Similarly, it just hired perhaps the best athletics director candidate available, Greg Byrne, who had no direct connection to Alabama.

UGA can be a fairly insular place sometimes, and that’s for some positive reasons: Athens is a great place to live, people tend to be nice, and the culture of the school and the athletics department has historically been to do the right thing. Even if it comes to the detriment of wins and losses.

There’s a lot of good in that. But there’s also a lot of good in bringing in outside voices, with fresh ideas and approaches. Maybe Smart, given his decade away at Alabama, ultimately is effective because of that. Maybe that also happens with Kupets-Carter. We shall see.

In the meantime, it seems the most important thing one can have at Georgia is to already be a Georgia person. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s not. Again, we shall see.


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