In the days since Georgia lost to Georgia Tech, several people close to the program have suggested that all is not well in Athens, that some fans have lost faith in coach Mark Richt and doubt that athletic director Greg McGarity would be forceful enough to make such a high-profile change even if warranted. (For the record, I don’t yet believe it is.)
On Wednesday, McGarity and I spoke for 30 minutes at a Midtown restaurant. (He was in town for lunch with a donor.) Here’s a slightly truncated version of that lengthy conversation:
Q: I’ve heard there’s more dissatisfaction with Richt than ever, that even folks who love Georgia are buying the “underachiever” label. Have you heard as much?
A: I hear that from people, sure. There’s a certain population of our fans that are that way. There’s a certain population that has a different viewpoint in his overall success over the years. There’s a population that is going to be behind Mark Richt regardless of what his record is. So you have different groups of fans, and I hear from them all.
I hear after the Arkansas and Missouri wins that it’s “the best coaching job ever,” and then (after the Florida loss) it’s the worst. You hear everything, and people vent. They’re frustrated; they’re happy — it’s all over the map. I listen to it all. Emails that do come in, I pay attention. Some I respond to; some I don’t.
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Q: Do you think Richt has underachieved?
A: I’ve always said that I want to see the full body of work. We have an opportunity that has not happened often at Georgia — to win 10 games, to perhaps be in the top 10. If you would have asked before the year started or especially after Todd (Gurley) got hurt that if Georgia could finish in the top 10 and have 10 wins, people would probably have said, “I’ll take that.”
Q: I picked Georgia to go 10-2. Had I known that Gurley would miss six games, I’d probably have knocked that down a win or two. On the other hand, the East opened up, and it seemed you were the best team. Did you share some of the disappointment in not winning the division?
A: Give Missouri credit: They had to win three games (at season’s end), and there’s probably not a Georgia fan who felt like they were going to win all three. So give them credit: They did what they had to do. We were not able to do that in certain games, which is why we are where we are. But we have a chance to pick ourselves back up and get that bad taste out of our mouth — that Tech loss — and propel ourselves into the offseason (by winning a bowl), which we haven’t been able to do but one time in the last four years.
Q: What were your thoughts after the Florida loss?
A: That particular game was very disappointing. I don’t think there was anyone in our building or (among) our fans pleased with our effort and our performance. I really think we underestimated Florida’s ability to perform. Those are the games you’ve just got to overcome. Every game’s so important. We just didn’t have our best that day.
Q: When a coach says after a game that he made a mistake (as Richt did about the squib kick against Georgia Tech), do you think, “That’s a laudable admission,” or do you think, “We’re paying him not to make those mistakes”?
A: There are always going to be situations where (you wish) you had a do-over. We all live through those in our daily life. … I’ve always thought it was noble when someone can admit their mistakes. It’s an outstanding character trait. I think those are healthy signs, instead of deflecting to others and giving excuses — that to me turns people off.
Q: Do you think the squib kick was a mistake?
A: You could go either way. You could always second-guess. People are going to say, “If the defense had done something different.” I was standing there watching (Tech’s tying field goal) pass the crossbar by about a foot. A lot of things had to go wrong. All three things went wrong for us — the kickoff, the scramble and the field goal. That 18 seconds, nothing worked for us. And everything fell right for Tech. Give them credit. … It was just such a swing of emotions the entire day — to lose a (lead) in that way and then to come back and almost have a chance to win it in overtime. Our fans were just spent for the next 48 hours. I know I was not in a very good mood the next day, and days.
Q: You being an alum, your hire was popular among Georgia fans. Do you think they feel the same way now, or is the honeymoon over?
A: One of my mentors said, “You’re starting your fifth year, so you’ve earned the right to have people who are not in your corner. You’re going to have people who disagree with you.” I took that to heart, especially with what we’ve had this fall. From our staffing situation (assistant AD Frank Crumley resigned after an affair with a married co-worker) to (NCAA investigations involving) Todd Gurley and (swimming coach) Jack Bauerle to football in general — there’s just been a lot going on.
I know I’ve been criticized for decisions in the Gurley situation and in the Bauerle situation. You’d like to be maybe more vocal and deny rumors that are out there, but I’ve always felt that when it’s all over, the story will be told. In Todd’s situation, the story was told. In Jack’s situation, the story was told. In both situations, the institution handled things appropriately. Everybody didn’t agree with everything we did, but if they were sitting in my chair, they’d see there were no other options.
Q: Do you think Richt is capable of delivering a championship?
A: Until I’m convinced he is not, then I believe he can.
Q: If you were to decide that he’s not that guy, could you make what you know would be in some circles an unpopular move?
A: I’m not afraid to make decisions of that nature. I’ve had to do it five times already with very popular sports here — gymnastics, baseball, soccer. While they’re not the marquee program, I think that demonstrates that I have the ability to assess and consider all factors. We all have bosses. I have a boss and a board that I report to. Decisions of this nature, they obviously have to start with me. Then there would be a further review. That’s been the case with all the changes I’ve made … I keep the president involved with everything that goes on, very frequently.
Q: About coaching changes: Do you look at Tennessee and think, “It made one and hasn’t been as good since”? Or do you look at Auburn and say, “It made one and played for the national championship the next year”?
A: I think it’s a risk. For every Bob Stoops, there’s an assistant coach that wasn’t successful. Look at Michigan — both times, with Rich (Rodriguez) and Brady Hoke. You can’t convince me they’re not good football coaches. It’s just the fit. The most important thing you deal with is, “Does it fit?” If the fit’s not there, it’s not going to work.
Q: Look at Florida. Ron Zook was gone in three years. Urban Meyer won the national championship in Year 2. Will Muschamp was gone in four.
A: No AD has ever batted 1.000. There’s not one. Even the Toner Award winners that recognize the best and the brightest in our profession, they’re not going bat 1.000. But you have to be able to make the tough decisions when they’re there. And I don’t want that to be read into anything with football, OK? That’s across the board in 15 sports.
Q: If I were to say, “I hear people wondering if Greg McGarity would be able to make a major change,” what would be your response?
A: I would just say that my pattern in 4 1/2 years is what we’ve done. People may argue, “Those aren’t your big-revenue sports.” It doesn’t really matter. When you have to make changes, you’re affecting people’s lives. Other than dealing with a student-athlete death, it is the most disturbing thing we have to deal with. It’s no fun. It changes so many people. It’s not just coaches — it’s support staff, strength staff, the whole thing.
You have to be 100 percent convinced that it can’t work. If you get to that point, you make the decision. Which has had to happen in five other sports. … I think I’ve shown the ability to be able to make changes, not only on coaching staff but administratively, too. Yes, I have the confidence and the ability to make that assessment.