There’s a reticence about Greg McGarity that can be exasperating. After Georgia lost to Kentucky in the SEC quarterfinals this March, this correspondent ran – yes, ran – down an arena corridor to ask the athletic director for comment on his men’s basketball program. “I just haven’t even thought about it,” McGarity said, a response so obviously untrue as to be laugh-out-loud funny.
The next day, McGarity – presumably having done some overnight thinking – fired Mark Fox. And that, kind of, is the point: This AD is so guarded in what he says, at least for public consumption, that he might be better off saying nothing. And yet: When he gets around to acting, he tends to do the right thing.
No, not every McGarity move – he has been in place since replacing the disgraced Damon Evans in the summer of 2010 – has come up trumps. Last June, the same correspondent spoke with McGarity for an hour in his office. (The fruits of that conversation can be found here and also can be found here.) Georgia sports was then coming off a deflating year that saw McGarity fire the gymnastics coach he hired in 2012 while choosing to keep Fox and baseball coach Scott Stricklin, and that, not incidentally, saw the football team go 8-5 in its first season under Kirby Smart, McGarity’s first choice to succeed Mark Richt.
Last spring, McGarity conceded to his athletic board: “I know our program is not reaching our full potential.”
Last month, Georgia president Jere Morehead offered this: “I cannot recall in recent memory a stronger year for Georgia athletics. ... The tremendous success we are witnessing this year is a testament to our commitment to excellence in all of our sports.”
The softball team is playing in the Women’s College World Series. Under the un-fired Stricklin, the baseball team was seeded No. 8 in the NCAA tournament and is host to a regional this weekend. The women’s basketball team – under Joni Taylor, hired by McGarity to replace Andy Landers in 2015 – was a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. In its first season under Courtney Kupets Carter, the gymnastics team finished seventh in the NCAAs.
Oh, and the football team went 13-2, won the SEC, made the College Football Playoff, beat Oklahoma in overtime in the Rose Bowl and coulda/shoulda beaten Alabama for the national championship.
We sometimes say that a coach is coaching for his/her job. There’s no equivalent for an athletic director. (“Directing for his/her job?” Nah.) Because Morehead is nearly as inscrutable in his public utterances as his AD, it’s unknown whether another lesser Georgia season would have been cause for directorial change. Today the questions are rather different. McGarity, who’s 63, is under contract through June 2019. Shouldn’t he be given a raise – he makes $675,000 per year, well below the SEC’s going rate – and an extension? Then again, are we even sure he wants to stay?
Asked about his vocational aspirations, McGarity offered this emailed response: “I look forward to serving as AD for the foreseeable future. President Morehead and I have a great relationship and we will deal with the future at an appropriate time.”
(Me, I’d read that as, “Darn tootin’ I want to keep going,” but maybe that’s just me.)
McGarity is an Athens native and a UGA grad. When he was hired as AD, there was widespread rejoicing. (“One of our own!”) In some circles, that soon yielded – I don’t fully grasp just why, and I’ve tried hard to understand it – to utter scorn. To hear his critics, McGarity was a do-nothing whose doing-nothing did harm to the program under his stewardship. He didn’t support his coaches. He didn’t care about the fans. He wouldn’t spend money. (Never mind that enough counter-examples existed to laugh those claims out of court.)
Firing Richt – which many Georgia fans wanted to see happen, but never mind that, too – only deepened the discontent. When Smart’s Year 1 was an epic fizzle and McGarity stuck with Fox and Stricklin … well, the grousing rose to a mighty din. (Rumor: Billy Payne would replace him as AD any minute.) A year later, McGarity stands rewarded in his faith in Smart, Stricklin and Taylor, and his choice to succeed Fox – Tom Crean – arrived with better credentials than any Georgia basketball hire ever. (Jim Harrick had won an NCAA title, yes. He’d also gotten fired by UCLA for lying to his bosses.)
Does McGarity feel gratified by all the above? Silly question. His response: “No personal vindication whatsoever. It is gratifying to see the success our coaches and student-athletes are experiencing.”
Georgia ranks 15th in the Learfield Directors Cup all-sports index, which is where it finished last year. That’s second-best among SEC schools, Florida being 12th. The Bulldogs could move up after the baseball, softball and outdoor track championships are decided. (Georgia’s women won the indoor NCAA title; the men finished third.) Its women’s programs rank first in the SEC all-sports standings.
If there was ever reason to believe McGarity was in over his head, recent events stand as compelling evidence to the contrary. He’d never say so himself, but Georgia’s AD has done his alma mater proud.