UGA’s McGarity talks negative perception and Mark Richt

Greg McGarity-UGA
Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity. JOSHUA L. JONES / SPECIAL

ATHENS – Georgia athletics director McGarity, an Athens native and Georgia alum, is finishing his seventh year as AD. He’s 62. His contract runs through June 2019.

Georgia will finish 15th in the Learfield Directors Cup standings, an all-sports measure. (For comparative purposes, Florida is in the top five; Kentucky ranks ahead of the Bulldogs, Alabama roughly 10 spots behind.) Also for the record, Georgia isn’t under NCAA investigation, at least as far as is known.

This week McGarity sat for an hour-long conversation in his office. Read the full interview on my blog at MyAJC.com.

Here are some excerpts:

Bradley: It seems to me that you’ve been playing defense about your department and you personally. Am I reading that wrong?

McGarity: I think sometimes you have to be defensive — because of the way the media has changed as far as the different formats. There’s so many ways to communicate, so many different platforms and so many people that weigh in now instantly that it makes it difficult to navigate through those waters. There are times when you are reactive. Trying to be pro-active, so much information does go out on our website, whether it’s academic achievements or schedules or things along those lines that we can get ahead of or announce. But sometimes you are in a defensive mode reacting. I think that’s where we are right now, with so many different ways to communicate and everything’s so instant and everything’s done so quickly, sometimes without verification. Sometimes you have to respond to certain situations. I would say that there are times where not only us but probably every athletic association and every company is in a defensive posture.

In your view, what is the state of Georgia athletics?

Well, I said at our (athletics) board meeting that our goal, first of all, is to graduate all our (student-athletes), and unfortunately that’s not a real popular topic. We’re coming off our best academic performance ever. I understand that moves the needle for some …

Yeah, but the football team went 8-5.

Yeah. So it’s a big melting pot. But I was very upfront: We’re not reaching our department goals, and that’s to have every sport competing for a national championship. You can’t win it unless you’re in it. We have some sports that have been phenomenal. We’ve have some sports that have had uncharacteristic results this time. At the end of the day, we will end up in 15th place from an overall perspective. And I understand that people will point out how we do in different sports, and football is extremely important to what we do. Obviously you want to be successful in that sport because it drives every other program from a revenue standpoint. So we have not met our expectations. Our stated goal is to have 21 of our 21 sports compete in championships, and five did not this year. We came up short, but we’re still 15th in the country. I know some may say, “Why are you bragging on that?,” but it’s still a marker where only two SEC teams have been in the top 20 every year – Florida and Georgia. So if you take a step back – and granted, some sports took a step back from their expectations; some sports exceeded their expectations – no one’s content. No one’s overjoyed. From a total standpoint, we realize there’s a lot of work to be done. But I think the perception earlier was that we’d be out of the top 20 for the first time in the history of our program, and that turned out not to be the case. Because we had some of our sports that really had outstanding years. Altogether the top 20 is something we should be proud of. Are we totally overjoyed? No, I think there’s so much room to improve. And we know if a few other teams might have advanced a little further, the top 10 could (have been) achieved this year if a few things had gone our way.

Greg McGarity on UGA football: “Obviously you want to be successful in that sport because it drives every other program from a revenue standpoint.”The Directors’ Cup is the won-lost record for ADs.

Among our peers in the business, that’s sort of the marker for all of us. Some institutions will be very successful in two or three sports, but it has always been – what I inherited here, and the way it was at the University of Florida (where McGarity worked as assistant AD) also – that all sports are important. I’ll tell this to non-football recruits all the time: I can assure you as athletic director that you’re going to have the same resources here as a football player as an equestrian student-athlete, as a gymnast. I may not be able to have 95,000 people watching you play, but everything else we can control, we’re going to provide to you. That’s important to a broad-based program. We want to really excel in every sport.

If you’re not where you want to be as an athletic department, why not?

I would love to go season to season: Football, (then) people excited about basketball and gymnastics, then baseball. (That’s) from a revenue standpoint. We go from fall to the winter to the spring. We’re competing at a high level. That has not happened yet. I want to see that happen. Especially our revenue sports, I want to see them become successful. Because we only have a few opportunities to generate revenue. All our other sports are complimentary admission. So I want to see us maximize that opportunity, and the way you maximize it is to be successful.

Is there one decision you wish you had back?

You can second-guess yourself all the time. Then again, you’re wasting time on moving forward. I think you can learn lessons from that. We all learn lessons from mistakes we’ve made – in every area, not just coaching hires. We always want to be learning how we can get better. I just know that, in my past experience at Florida, we didn’t get it right every time.

Mark Richt and Greg McGarity sitting side-by-side at the Richt-post-firing press conference made for some awkward moments. (BOB ANDRES/AJC).

Firing Mark Richt was the biggest decision you’ve had to make. When you finally made it, how did you think it would be received?

Fifty-fifty. No question. That was it all the time. It was pro and con. It was a consistent 50-50. I knew that whatever decision was made was going to be a 50-50 proposition. I knew that going in, whether I did anything or didn’t do anything.

I understand why you didn’t take questions about why you fired Richt at the press conference with him sitting next to you. That would have looked awful. But I’ve always felt the staging put you at a disadvantage. You didn’t want him sitting up there by himself, but you sitting there not talking about what just happened made you look awkward. If you had that to do again, would you do that differently?

Unfortunately there are no replays. It was awkward, I have to admit. We have to remember that, at that time, Mark was still going to be part of our program. So it wasn’t an adversarial environment. Going in, our thought was that Mark was still going to be part of our team and we appreciate everything he has done for us. Just a phenomenal person. We were all looking at it as something that would be healthy for all of us. Mark comes in and he’s so engaging. I mean, I’ve seen him in that environment in small groups to where he’s phenomenal. In the summer before the 2015 season, Katharyn (Richt) and my wife Sheryl and Mark and I flew up to Asheville to have lunch with this donor. I said, “Boy, we’ve got to do more of this.” We were trying to raise money for the indoor building. I told a number of people, “Mark was fantastic.” So I’m thinking that, with him in that setting (at the press conference), he was still the Bulldog and he’s going to these donor events in the summer and he’s focusing on his initiatives and things that are really true to his heart. That’s what I was thinking on that day. I was not thinking about him getting back into coaching. I knew that this was a short-term decision because he didn’t really know what he wanted to do. I know that there was an offer (to remain on Georgia’s staff) and he wanted to sleep on it. I was trying to make that happen. That was the intent going in. When the Miami (coaching) position opened up, it obviously changed everything. Going in on that day, that was the thought process. Sure, it was awkward. If I had to do it over again, I probably would handle it a different way.

Just for the record: What made you decide to fire Richt?

I felt like we all needed to hit the reset button. There’s a great book (by Jim Collins) – “Good to Great.” What I was trying to do was to create an environment to where we could have a great football program. I felt like we had sort of maxed out. We had reached a certain plateau. Our conversation on that Sunday morning … I struggled more than he did.

I should tell you that I’ve heard a counter-narrative: That you didn’t actually make the decision on Richt, that it was done for you by boosters …

I can put that to bed right now. I did not have any influence from anyone. People weigh in all the time. I get calls pro and con, pro and con. But there was not one person here on our campus that directed me to do anything. That was my decision. I made the recommendation to the president. He supported that, and so we moved on.

(Coming tomorrow: McGarity on Kirby Smart, Mark Fox and the future of Georgia athletics.)

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