Georgia’s new AD Josh Brooks takes express lane to leadership

Josh Brooks was speaking from his new office Wednesday inside Georgia’s athletic-industrial complex, having deftly made the move from his old one, maybe 12 feet down the hall.

“It was an easy, short move,” he said. “And when you’re the boss, people are willing to help you move stuff.”

The Bulldogs’ new athletic director, Greg McGarity’s deputy until McGarity left the job at year’s end, didn’t get this far by wasting time. At 40, Brooks is the youngest athletic director among Power Five programs. He is younger than any of the UGA head coaches he oversees. Well, lookie here, Georgia is right on the borderline of having itself a Millennial AD.

It always has been Brooks’ way to rush to the fore.

As a freshman at LSU he walked in uninvited to the football offices to offer himself as a student manager for the football team and was in charge of the group within a year. As a graduate assistant at Louisiana-Monroe he made such an impression with his organizational skills that they created a position for him, football ops not being nearly the common catch-all job it is now.

By the time he was 34 he was the AD who talked a Mississippi Division III school founded by the Methodists – Millsaps College – into building a beer garden at the football stadium. The mind reels as to what he might manage at a more secular institution.

Youth isn’t nearly the affliction that the codgers make it out to be. And if you prefer your administrators a little more seasoned, well, deal with it.

“It’s not an issue as long as you take a humble attitude and the servant-leader mindset that we’re here to work together. I don’t have to prove to anyone that I’m the boss,” he said.

“I leave my ego at the door. Greg has modeled a lot of that for me. I’ve had some great bosses before that who did that as well. If someone gets hung up on (age), that’s their issue. As long as I treat people the right way and keep working hard, the rest will take care of itself as far as that goes.”

Lack of age is not to be confused with lack of experience. A person can squeeze a lot of sports management into 20 years if he really tries, from making peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for hungry football players at Louisiana-Monroe to shepherding a $60 million stadium renovation at Georgia.

The mixture of traditionalist and innovator was apparent even in the sports Brooks chose to play in high school in Hammond, La. As a southern male he naturally played football, as a linebacker of little note.

“Average as grits, but grits are good,” he said. “When I was on the field, I was probably the worst player on defense, but I had a lot of heart and played hard. I knew what to do, but just wasn’t very talented. Loved the game.”

That he paired with the offbeat pursuit of throwing the javelin, something that’s rubbed off on one of his three young boys. Which must make a father-son game of catch quite the adventure.

Shaking things up at a place like Georgia – where the coffers have been well-tended, the football players enjoy all the luxuries of a day spa and the NCAA is not currently on daily Zoom calls with the school’s compliance officer – is not exactly a top priority for the new guy.

“I don’t think we need a course correction, we’re on the right path,” Brooks said. “You want to take the foundation that’s already here and just keep finding ways to get better. Never settle. Just keep tweaking but not change for the sake of change, just to say we did it differently.

“I’m a big fan of Disney, big fan of Chick-fil-A, I want to keep finding ways to make the fan experience better, but also make the experience better for our student-athletes and our staff and our coaches.”

When he suggested adding color to the beginning-of-the-fourth-quarter light show that illuminates evening football games, he heard some static about turning Sanford Stadium into a disco. But the place survived this alteration without slipping down the slope of moral decay.

He promises to purposefully walk the line between honoring the past and plowing up the hedges to replace them with retail kiosks:

“You want to be respectful of tradition, but you want to keep innovating and finding ways to tweak and get better. You have to respect the tradition of this university because it’s been here before me, and it will be here after me. I’m just bearing the torch along to pass it to the next person.”

Brooks said he developed his first pangs of affection for UGA and the city of Athens in 1999, visiting the place while a student at LSU. And, brother, has he cultivated that relationship ever since. Just listen to how he can go on.

Of the Georgia “G”: “We have the greatest logo in all of sports.” (The folks in Green Bay may raise an objection).

Of Sanford Stadium: “It’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing stadiums – it is the most, in my opinion.”

Of course, his job will involve a great deal more than singing glory, glory to old Georgia all day, every day. Some duties will be hard. Some wrenching. Which brings to mind the question, has the whippersnapper ever had to fire a coach, an inevitability if he’s at Georgia long?

“I had to fire a coach at Millsaps and leading up to that you lose sleep thinking about it, how you going to do it, if you’re making the right decision. And I called (McGarity) during that time and he helped talk me through it. He said if you’re not losing sleep over firing somebody, then you’re not wired the right way. It should hurt a little bit. It should feel bad. People are trying to do the right thing; they’re not trying to not be successful, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”

Brooks never has held a job that comes with this much scrutiny. Never faced a critical obstacle course like the Georgia fan message boards. During a leadership course he once took from the Marines at Quantico, Brooks said he was faced with scenarios that came with no perfect solutions. That should help prepare him for any booster club Q&A.

It’s a jungle out there in the media, both social and traditional. How prepared is he to field the short hops of criticism?

“I am one that I take everything to heart about what’s said about the university, what’s said about one of our coaches, about one of our student-athletes,” he said. “What was said about Greg, I took it to heart. What was said about other people I took ownership of, that’s thickened my skin up over the years.”

He adds, perhaps employing an optimistic formula, “I’ve come to learn that no matter what we do, 10% are not going to like it. That’s a good rule of life.”

That’s bound to age a man in a hurry.