Georgia AD Greg McGarity on Richt, Smart and more
It was a memorable year for University of Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, with his most notable decision being the one in December to part ways with longtime football coach Mark Richt before hiring Kirby Smart to succeed him.
Approaching the sixth anniversary of his hiring, McGarity spoke with Saturday Down South’s John Hollis this week about the experience, the immediate future of the Bulldogs football program and other challenges facing the school’s athletic department.
Q. Mark Richt had become a fixture at Georgia, and was beloved in many circles. How hard was the decision to part ways with Richt on you personally? Had anything you had ever done previously prepared you for that experience?
A. It’s really just the nature of this business. We had undergone a number of coaching changes in other sports the last few years as well. (Coaching changes) are one of the toughest things we have to deal with. That’s what (athletics directors) do and it’s very difficult because you’re dealing with very good people. Everybody has always had and will always have great respect for Mark. But it had reached a point when a different direction was needed.
As an athletics director, you have to put aside your own personal feelings for what is best for the university. Nothing I had ever done before had prepared me for that experience. I had spent 18 years working alongside (AD) Jeremy Foley at the University Florida, but I wasn’t in the chair. I was an advisor. It’s different offering your opinion, but I wasn’t the one making the decisions.
Q. What was the most important thing you learned from the process?
A. I think you always want to make sure that you don’t rush a decision or rush to judgment. You want to take your time for everything. You make a mental note of the situation. You do everything you can do to try to make it work, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. But you still have to know in your heart that (a coaching change) is the right thing to do. If you’re not 100 percent convinced, you can’t do it.
Q. Has everything you’ve seen so far in Kirby Smart reaffirmed your decision to hire him?
A. I knew that he was a process- and detail-oriented person, and that’s been clearly evident so far. As far as the energy, the professionalism and the fundamentals of putting together an organization and making sure everybody is accountable. Our student-athletes are already buying in. Keep in mind that some of our football players will be playing for their third offensive coordinator in three years this year – Mike Bobo (2014), Brian Schottenheimer (2015) and now Jim Chaney – so there’s a tremendous amount of transition that has to take place and, by all indications, we’re going in the right direction.
I’m confident that all these things will equate to success on the field. Success is the result of really doing things in a really detailed manner.
Q. How are you feeling about the Dawgs’ chances to contend in the SEC this fall?
A. You could ask just about every athletics director in the SEC and probably 12 of the 14 would say they expect to be in Atlanta (for the SEC Championship Game in December). We’re just like everybody else. The little things are going to make the difference.
Q. Is it unfathomable to you that a program with a history as rich as Georgia’s hasn’t won an SEC football championship since 2005?
A. It is so hard to do. You have to be talented and you have to be very fortunate. We have missed out on some opportunities and that has been disappointing, but I’m confident we’re headed in the right direction.
Q. The school has already broken ground for an indoor practice facility that will cost more than $30 million, with further plans for a new home locker room and recruiting lounge at Sanford Stadium. The Dawgs have to keep up, but do you see this college football arms race continuing and is it bad for college football in the long run?
A. I think every institution has to make decisions as far as best fit their own financial situations. We feel very fortunate that we just went over the $26 million mark in funds raised for that indoor practice facility by our donors. That helps us out a lot to get to other projects as well. Our donors have really accepted the challenge. But you always have to be careful because we know we’re walking a fine line.
You want to always have nice facilities so that your fans have a more enjoyable experience, but you also have to be careful that you don’t put yourself in a financial hole or price out your fan base by raising ticket prices.
Right now, we basically have a $100 million house, which means that we have debt that we have to pay on that house each month. So you have to be careful that you have the revenue stream in place. These days, we do a lot more for our student-athletes on campus, such as in nutrition and in their housing. But you have to be careful that you don’t over-indulge and spend more than you can afford.
Q. As you know all too well, being an AD at a big-time athletic program like Georgia has its perks, but the critics and naysayers are obviously everywhere, too. Especially in today’s world of social media and ubiquitous message boards. Does it ever become too much?
A. It kind of goes with the territory. You know that when you get into this profession. When you’ve been in it for so long, everything you do is going to be second-guessed. But it’s not really a popularity contest. It’s always about doing what’s best for the university.
Q. Your good friend and former boss at Florida, Jeremy Foley, recently announced that he would be retiring in October after 25 years. Could you ever see yourself on the job as long as Jeremy or is he an aberration?
A. I just know that I’ve been in the (AD) chair for six years and that everything comes to an end eventually. For (Foley) to be on the job for that long at that level is remarkable. I have a lot of respect for administrators and ADs who have been in their current roles for decades. Jeremy affected a lot of people’s lives – both student-athletes and others – in a positive manner. But it does come to an end sometime.
Q. Naturally given your previous time at Florida that there would be some who would wonder if you might be interested in returning to Gainesville to succeed Foley. Any thought in doing that?
A. No, I’m not interested. I’m in my destination job right here. I’m a Georgia grad and this is where I want to be. The University of Georgia is a great place.