ATHENS -- A couple of weeks after accepting the job as Georgia’s athletic director in the summer of 2010, Greg McGarity was told that his new dealer car had arrived and he needed to go outside and check it out.
So, McGarity was led to the parking lot of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall and sitting in the AD’s space was a brand new, black Mercedes-Benz.
“Unh-uh,” McGarity said quickly. “I’m not driving that.”
“What do you mean?” he was asked.
“That’s just not something I’d drive,” McGarity said. “I don’t want it. Thanks, but take it back.”
The car was returned. McGarity has been driving a Toyota RAV4 SUV ever since.
“I heard that car dealer wasn’t too happy about it,” McGarity said in a recent sit-down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There’s nothing wrong with Mercedes or anything. That’s just not my style.”
That gesture very early in McGarity’s tenure as Georgia’s top sports administrator provided a glimpse into the type of leadership he would provide the Bulldogs over the next decade. That’s not to say it always was what the Georgia people wanted.
Some constituents may have preferred an AD who stood front-and-center and spoke emphatically on every issue that befell Georgia or the SEC. Fans and certainly the media might have preferred a man who would speak passionately and transparently when the Bulldogs came out on the short end of an NCAA or SEC ruling or action.
Simply put, that wasn’t McGarity’s style.
No, McGarity decidedly was a behind-the-scenes guy. That’s what came naturally to him.
Before McGarity even could drive, his management style was being formed as a “go-fer” for legendary UGA Athletics figure Dan Magill. An exceptional tennis player in his youth, McGarity won several Crackerland Tournament titles and always was playing at the UGA courts over which Magill presided. As he did with pretty much anybody, Magill quickly befriended McGarity -- and put him to work.
McGarity’s first jobs at UGA were picking up trash and planting flowers around the Bulldogs’ tennis complex, sweeping the courts and serving as a ball boy when the NCAA and other big tournaments were played there. He’d ride his bike the short distance from the family home on South Milledge Avenue to the Georgia Coliseum (as it was known then) and simply do whatever Magill asked him to do.
Magill, who simultaneously was serving as sports information director and chairman of the Georgia Bulldogs Clubs of America, gradually gave McGarity more and more responsibility. By the time he entered UGA as a freshman, McGarity was serving Magill as a de facto assistant coach and sports information intern.
“When I got here, guess who picked me up at the bus station? Little Greg McGarity,” current men’s tennis coach Manuel Diaz told Georgiadogs.com. “Coach Magill was busy with sports information because football season was about to start, so Greg ran to the Greyhound station to pick me up and brought me to McWhorter Hall to register my freshman year.”
That was 1972. Like Magill, McGarity would wear a bunch of different hats while matriculating at the University of Georgia. He was the publicist for men’s basketball under coach John Guthrie and assisted with football and other teams in the sports-information office. He was a ball boy at some Georgia football games and famously ended up -- seemingly four feet off the ground -- in the photo of Andy Johnson scoring the winning touchdown against Tennessee in 1973.
Mostly, McGarity did whatever Magill and/or Athletic Director Joel Eaves asked him to do. Naturally, Magill hired him full time right after McGarity graduated from UGA’s journalism school in 1976. He held jobs as the Bulldogs’ women’s tennis coach, assistant manager in the ticket office and finally as assistant AD for facilities and operations.
McGarity left UGA to serve as Jeremy Foley’s right-hand man at Florida for 18 years before he was tabbed to succeed Damon Evans as Georgia’s AD on Aug. 13, 2010. McGarity had been passed over for the job in favor of Evans in 2004, which he described in retrospect as “a gut punch.”
As the 66-year-old native Athenian prepares to ride off into retirement – or whatever comes next in his life – McGarity wants the Georgia people to know that, while he didn’t always share his feelings publicly, he always fought tooth-and-nail for the Bulldogs.
Following are McGarity’s thoughts on some of the challenges he faced as Georgia’s athletic director over the past 10 years and five months:
On the Todd Gurley controversy that resulted in the Bulldogs’ star tailback being suspended for four games in 2014: “I’ll never forget, it was about 9:30 at night and were having a meeting in my conference room with (attorneys) Mike Glaser and William King and Michael Raber to discuss (swim coach) Jack (Bauerle’s NCAA matter). Greg Sankey (then associate SEC commissioner of compliance) was there, too. We were getting ready to go in front of the NCAA and were going over everything with Jack. Then Carla (Williams, deputy AD) gets a text and leaves the room. So, I have all that horsepower in the room, and Carla comes back and says (UGA compliance director) Jim Booz needs to show us something. He has one of those (flash drives) and we walk into my office and he sticks it in my computer. Well, there it is, right there on video, Todd taking money from these guys. By that time, William King, who was representing Jack at the time, had already left. So we called him and asked him if he could come back and he did. So, we were able to hire him to represent Todd.
“I really hated it for (Gurley) because he came from a really poor background and truly needed the money. But we couldn’t turn a blind eye because it could’ve been a lot worse than it was – playing an ineligible player, forfeiting games. So, we had to do what was right. You always have to do what’s right. And Todd was great about it. He understood and said he was sorry. He owned it. And that’s why I have so much respect for Todd today. He’s obviously come back to Atlanta (with the Falcons) and is helping us with his strategic initiative. We’re so proud and happy for Todd. But, at the time, we had to do what was right.”
On the Auburn rescheduling controversy of 2012 that sent the Bulldogs to the Plains two consecutive years without any reciprocal adjustment: “People have no idea how hard I fought for us on that. I was furious when it first came up; I went (expletive) nuts. I’m in there advocating as hard as I can. But, at the end of the day, there are 14 other people in that room, and it always comes down to a show of hands. The SEC has to do what’s best for everybody involved, and that’s not always what’s best for Georgia. When it’s over, I can’t come out there and trash the league or rant about what other teams are doing. But to say that I’m not in there advocating on behalf of us as hard I can is just not true.”
On the infamous dual news conference with Mark Richt after firing him in 2015: “I regret that; I definitely regret that. Talk about do-overs. But here’s the thing, we didn’t think he was going to leave for another job. I had always been impressed with how well Mark interacted with alumni and good he was in fundraising situations. So, we had talked about him slowing down a little and helping us with that and overseeing the Paul Oliver Network. Based on the conversations I’d had with him, I thought he was worn out. We didn’t think he was going to go right back to coaching. I was stunned he did, to be honest.”
On his favorite memory as Georgia’s AD: “The best was Notre Dame last year, in my mind. Kevin Butler and I were texting earlier about that experience because he and I were standing together in the West End Zone on the field — you had the national anthem going, you had the flyover. You had just beautiful weather. You had the new lights — that day was so magical. I think all of us that were there knew that everything came together in a perfect way. It was one of those times where you shake your head and say, ‘We need to remember this.’ Because as I told Kevin, it was probably the most emotional I have ever been to be on the field during the anthem and see it all unfold. Those, the big-stage moments, that I’ll remember.”
There were many other triumphs and failures. Through it all, McGarity said he made a point not to pay attention to his critics. He always tried to keep the job simple by looking only to please – and answer to -- UGA President Jere Morehead, the Georgia athletics board of directors and the state board of regents.
“It’s been tougher on my family than it has me,” said McGarity, whose older brother, Stu, and younger sister, Peggy Bryant, still live in Athens. “Sometimes you want to say something, but you just don’t. Opinions are formed, and people are going to say what they’re going to say, but they just don’t know, and I can’t change their mind anyway.”
In two weeks, McGarity will vacate the Five Points condo he has lived in since June and drive to his new home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., where his wife, Sheryl, and the family terrier, Riley, have resided since July.
He said he’ll probably take another job at some point – “I’m not the type that can sit around and reorganize the closet or work in the yard” – but he insists he doesn’t know what or when that might be.
In the meantime, McGarity decided to take up tennis again. He hadn’t played in years, while his wife has continued to compete in ALTA leagues around Athens and Atlanta. McGarity decided to challenge Sheryl shortly before she left town.
“She beat me 6-0, 6-0, and I won very few points,” McGarity said.
Perhaps he should just work on that tennis game for a while first.