ATHENS – If you’ve run into Greg McGarity lately, you might have noticed a little more pep in his step. I did, and that was my take-away.
The last couple of years have been pretty trying for Georgia’s athletic director. You may have heard, the Bulldogs just made a change in football coaches. But that’s a drama that didn’t just play out in the last two months. And it hasn’t been the only thing with which McGarity has to deal.
To varying degrees, McGarity has been having to assess the football coach equation ever since he arrived on the scene in 2010. Georgia went 6-7 under Mark Richt that first year, then came up short in the East the last three years. So there has been some semblance of tumult since he showed up.
In November, McGarity finally pulled the trigger and fired Richt. And anybody who thinks that was an easy decision is kidding themselves. For all of Richt’s shortcomings in game preparation and management, he was a beloved figure among fans, a model employee and a central attraction in recruiting. It was a polarizing decision, to say the least.
But in the two months since making that call, McGarity hired Kirby Smart, who helped win the national championship as Alabama’s defensive coordinator, then landed a Top 10 recruiting class for Georgia. It appears to have had a unifying effect and McGarity, understandably, is feeling a lot better about things.
“I feel like the right decision was made,” McGarity said in a rare moment of transparency. “Of course, all this will be validated down the road. But I still feel great about the hire. I feel reinvigorated, I feel a jolt of adrenalin, just like every other fan.”
McGarity was in the stands at Stegeman Coliseum a few weeks ago when Smart took a microphone and whipped the basketball crowd into a frenzy during halftime of the Arkansas game. Smart’s message was that he wanted to see the same “passion and energy” he was witnessing at that sell-out basketball game on display at Georgia’s G-Day spring football game. He challenged the fan base to sell out Sanford Stadium for the intrasquad scrimmage.
Earlier that day, Smart received a rock-star’s welcome as he walked into the Coliseum with a procession of 2016 recruits trailing him.
McGarity took it all in and said to himself, “this is good.”
“I just sat back and watched it all unfold,” McGarity said. “I just sat there and said, ‘this is really cool.’ The way they went out of the tunnel and they went over to their seats and the way the way people responded to Kirby at halftime, those are really, really neat things to watch unfold.
“So, yeah, I got goosebumps. It was nice to hear the crowd respond that way.”
To be sure, being an athletic director is often a thankless job. If you don’t make a move, you may be perceived as weak. If you make a move, you might be thought of as overbearing or manipulative or worse. Ultimately you’re responsible for everything from academics to jockstraps, often without any real control of either.
But hirings and firings, now that’s on what you’re judged.
In his sixth year as Georgia’s AD, McGarity is starting to gain enough of a sample size that we might be able to make a determination about his inherent abilities as an athletic administrator. But we’re not there yet.
To date, McGarity has hired (eight) and fired (seven) 15 coaches. And it could be argued that none of them have out-performed their predecessors. But baseball was the highest profile of those sports, so most of that passed below the radar.
McGarity has also weathered a few off-field storms at this point. There was the NCAA’s investigation of legendary swim coach Jack Bauerle and Todd Gurley’s sports memorabilia controversy. McGarity drew criticism for his handling of both cases. But, in the end, Georgia was praised by the NCAA for its compliant response and the school avoided potentially devastating results.
But all that was a walk in the park compared to what he had to deal with this past fall.
“The Jack Stuff and the Todd Thing, that was a hectic fall. But we ended up in pretty good shape,” McGarity said. “The football season and everything that went on, yeah, it was tough. But that just comes with the job…. There are just things that develop during the season that you evaluate, you reach a decision and you move forward. I’d say December was probably tougher on family than it was on me.”
To be clear, McGarity isn’t looking for any sympathy from anybody. He simply answered one guy’s pointed questions. A veteran of more than 30 years in athletic administration, McGarity knew what he signed up for when he came back to his alma mater after 18 years as the No. 2 man at Florida.
“If you ask any athletic director what’s the thing that is the toughest to deal with, it’s always personnel, it’s always people,” McGarity said. “It could be parents, it could be donors, it could be your staff, it could be student-athletes. It’s just people in general. Managing people I think without question is the most difficult thing. You’ve got coaches to manage, you’ve got 521 students looking for direction, you’ve got 250 staff members.
“I’m no different than any other AD. When we get together, we learn that we’re all dealing with the same issues. Some of us have different issues in different buckets, whether it be compliance or programs not performing like they should, but we’re all dealing with something. I’m no different than any other AD that made a change in their football program. But when you go through it, it’s very difficult.”
For now, McGarity can bask in the afterglow of change. He should enjoy it while he can. Basketball season concludes in March, and there will be more decisions to be made.