New AD McGarity starts work, expresses concern about arrests

ATHENS -- He first worked in the University of Georgia athletics department as a tennis ballboy and later served as a mid-level administrator in an office he recalls as a converted storage room. On Monday, he returned -- this time with the biggest title and biggest office in the department.

Greg McGarity reported for work as Georgia's athletic director, 18 years after he left and two days earlier than scheduled.

"When you see your name on the door," he said, "you have to kind of still pinch yourself to say, ‘This is really happening.'"

With the grand office come heavy responsibilities, and by mid-afternoon of his first full day in the office, McGarity was being asked about one of the many thorny issues he inherits: the eight UGA football players arrested this year.

"I'm going to really learn a lot about that," McGarity said. "I'm going to learn about our structure, what we have set up as far as education of student-athletes. I want to learn exactly, why is this happening?"

Clearly he is concerned about the arrests.

"Yeah, I think there are too many," McGarity said. "I think when it happens, it's embarrassing to the institution [and] it takes away from team unity. . . . I think it's a problem, and it's something we want to do a 180 on across the board. It's really every sport, and I don't like the excuse, ‘Well, that's going to happen [with] college students; it's just part of the deal.' I don't buy that.

"I think it’s a privilege to play intercollegiate athletics . . . and it must be treated that way. Any other way -- if you want to go and behave like that, then probably you don’t need to be in college athletics. Just go do your own thing and not be a part of something that should be a special experience.”

McGarity stressed that he needs to understand Georgia's current procedures, particularly regarding how athletes are held accountable, before assessing possible changes.

When McGarity was named Georgia's athletic director on Aug. 13, his start date was announced as Sept. 1. He couldn't wait quite that long to get home.

He grew up in Athens and started hanging around UGA at age 10 -- first as a tennis ballboy, then as a Sanford Stadium press box aide who would deliver statistics to sports writers. After earning a journalism degree from UGA in 1976, he had a series of jobs in Georgia's athletics department, working his way up to assistant AD before leaving for more responsibility at Florida in 1992. He was the Gators' No. 2 athletic official when Georgia hired him to succeed Damon Evans.

McGarity got reacquainted to his hometown and alma mater this past weekend.

"You spend time on North Campus and go by the journalism school and cross the bridge and go to the stadium, and it's like, ‘I've been here before,'" he said. "It was sort of a calming effect.

"You knew the honeymoon was going to be over pretty quickly, that once you occupied the office the real world was going to hit you."

And speaking of the real world, McGarity said he is aware of -- but hasn't been fully briefed on -- the NCAA inquiry that Georgia confirmed last month.

"Am I concerned? I think you're always concerned about an inquiry until the final verdict is rendered," he said.

He said he doesn't know when that will be. "I'm sure I'll be brought up to speed here in the next day or two," he said.

The inquiry is part of the NCAA's look into dealings between football players and agents at multiple schools. Georgia  receiver A.J. Green has said UGA officials asked him about an agent-affiliated party in Miami. Green has said he's never been to Miami and is not worried about his NCAA eligibility.

Meanwhile, McGarity settles into the big office with his name on the door.

"I don't think I've finally reached the top of the mountain, so to speak, because I'm nowhere close to that," he said. "I think we're at the bottom of the mountain now, trying to . . . help others join you in that climb to the top."