ATHENS — These have not been heady days for Georgia athletics, and two days ago athletics director Greg McGarity fired one of his key coaching hires. So with that as a backdrop, and with McGarity watching, UGA president Jere Morehead was asked a two-pronged question on Wednesday:
What does he say to the many fans who are concerned about the state of the athletics program? And what is his confidence in McGarity?
Morehead began by listing the accomplishments of several Georgia teams, mainly in spring sports, and also expressed confidence in the future for Bulldog football, men’s and women’s basketball. While he did not directly address the question about McGarity, the president stated his confidence in the direction of the overall program.
“I still have confidence in our athletic program,” Morehead said. I think our prospects for the future are bright and I don’t have any reason to think that we’ve got any systemic problems that have to be addressed at this point.”
The question came at a regularly scheduled media briefing with Morehead, which followed a cabinet meeting. McGarity was among about a couple dozen officials who was sitting nearby as Morehead spoke.
McGarity fired gymnastics coach Danna Durante on Monday, five seasons after hiring her. She was the second coach who McGarity hired who ended up being fired, the first being volleyball coach Lizzy Stemke.
Baseball coach Scott Stricklin, who McGarity hired four years ago, is also under fire from fans, in danger of a fourth straight losing seasons.
UGA ranks 25th nationally in the most recently updated NCAA Director’s Cup Standings (April 20), which measures teams in all sports. That’s still relatively good, but a far cry from the 1990s and 2000s, when UGA routinely finished in the top 10. All told, it has led to a seeming state of malaise in Georgia athletics.
“What I can say to our fans is to first, look at our teams,” Morehead said. “I think with the exception of baseball, all of our spring programs are nationally ranked at this time, some as high as No. 3 or No. 4. If I remember the women’s tennis ranking. So overall, the state of our spring sports is that except for one sport in the top 25 in the country.
“When you look at the sports that have been completed, I have great confidence that our football team is on the rise. We’ve had a No. 3 class in terms of these rating services. We’re bringing in a lot of talented football players. The expectation is that football should be improving in the very near future.
“Men’s basketball, you look back, six of our losses were to teams in the Elite Eight. Many of our losses occurred in the final seconds of our game. We’re returning, likely, all but one starter from the men’s basketball team. So you would expect that the prospects are very positive for that sport moving forward. Our women’s basketball team had a top-10 recruiting class. We would again expect significant improvement there next season.”
McGarity, meeting with two reporters afterwards, pointed out that baseball was the only spring sport that’s not nationally ranked right now.
He also addressed the track record of his coaching decisions.
Whether it’s pro sports or college sports, sometimes things just don’t work out. So it’s not a perfect science,” McGarity said. “I accept full responsibilities for every hire, whether it be regardless of what the person’s rank or title is. So I understand and it’s no fun when things don’t work out. But that’s part of the business.
“And I think if you look at any conference school, or any institution, there are going to be times when things just don’t work out. Then it reaches a point where you just move on and try to make sure the next hire is successful. But I’m sure in the history of our sports program and others it’s an inexact science, to where it’s very difficult, for reasons that you just can’t predict.”
McGarity, an Athens native and 1976 graduate of UGA, was hired as athletics director in Aug. 2010. His current contract runs through June of 2019, and currently pays him $575,000 annually. He’s due to see his salary increase each year so that he’ll earn $650,000 after July 1, 2018.