Greg McGarity: Never the people’s choice, but a darn good AD

Georgia director of athletics Greg McGarity waves to fans entering Sanford Stadium prior to Saturday's game against Auburn.
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Georgia director of athletics Greg McGarity waves to fans entering Sanford Stadium prior to Saturday's game against Auburn.

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@

Greg McGarity gave many if not most Georgia fans what they wanted, whereupon many decided it wasn’t what they wanted after all. McGarity fired the nice guy Mark Richt, which made McGarity the bad guy. That was always going to be the move for which this athletic director would be remembered, and it’s hard to argue that the AD whiffed.

Five years and a day after the Richt decision, McGarity announced his retirement, effective New Year’s Eve. This was not unexpected. He’s 66. Rumors swirled when he put his Athens house up for sale in the spring. McGarity said he was just “downsizing,” but he never quite denied that his retirement wasn’t near. Then COVID-19 hit, and he couldn’t in good conscience leave his alma mater on June 30 of a pandemic year. He stayed a few more months to shepherd his athletic association through this frightful time.

To say that McGarity was a good servant to his university is to understate by a bunch. Did he have his critics? Oh, yes. Sometimes it seemed he had nothing but critics. He wasn’t a great politician, a slapper of backs and a teller of tales. He’s a shy guy who wound up in a high-profile job, which doesn’t always work. He made this work. He won’t win many popularity contests, but he did just fine as an AD.

He was criticized, sometimes by his coaches (read: Jeremy Pruitt), for not throwing money wherever a coach decided it needed to be thrown. But, as Georgia State AD Charlie Cobb noted back in the summer, saving money for a rainy day turned out not to be the world’s worst strategy when COVID hit. The Bulldogs have dropped no programs. They haven’t asked coaches to take pay cuts.

Georgia’s athletic department mightn’t have been the world’s swankiest — there’s no fish tank in the locker room, as per Clemson — but the Bulldogs manage to get more than their share of high-profile recruits, do they not? And not only in football. Anthony Edwards was the No. 1 basketball player in the land, and he left as the NBA’s No. 1 pick.

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Greg McGarity took over as Georgia’s athletic director on Aug. 13, 2010, and retires in 2020 a 50-year veteran of college athletics administration.

Full disclosure: I like McGarity a lot. I tend to admire people who do what I consider a good job while seldom getting the credit that’s due. He’s one. Why so many alums turned on him is something I’ve never fully understood, but I’m not a UGA alum. I don’t see everything through red-and-black lenses, and what I saw from McGarity was a guy who some considered a bumbler but who never bumbled anything of great importance. On the contrary.

He hired Kirby Smart to replace Richt; two years later, Georgia won its first SEC title since 2005 and played for its first national championship since Herschel. McGarity hired Tom Crean to replace Mark Fox, and one year in, Crean signed Edwards, exactly the sort of player Fox could never get. (No, Edwards’ one season as a Bulldog wasn’t especially memorable, but his presence put Georgia back on the basketball map.) More than a few folks were incensed when McGarity fired baseball coach Dave Perno, who grew up in Athens, and when replacement Scott Stricklin didn’t meet with overnight success. But Stricklin’s Diamond Dogs made the NCAA tournament in 2018 and 2019 and were 14-4 when last season was halted.

Factoid: With Edwards, O-lineman Andrew Thomas and pitcher Emerson Hancock, three Bulldogs were just taken among the top six picks in the three biggest sports. That doesn’t seem an athletic department that can be deemed second-rate.

Lest we forget, McGarity returned to Athens after serving as the chief assistant to Florida’s Jeremy Foley at a moment when the Georgia brand had been tarnished by Damon Evans’ midnight drive through Buckhead. Richt was about to have his worst season, and the 2011 schedule opened with the Bulldogs losing to Boise State and South Carolina. McGarity didn’t overreact – not overreacting might have been the thing he did best – and stayed supportive. Georgia wound up winning the SEC East that year and nearly the SEC in 2012.

It was only after the 2014 season, which saw the Bulldogs go 9-3 with wrenching losses to South Carolina, Florida and Georgia Tech that McGarity began to wonder if Richt could still do what McGarity said he hired coaches to do – play for championships. Many Georgia fans wondered the same, but none of them had to be the guy who fired Richt. That task fell to McGarity alone. And for those who insist that moneyed boosters called that shot for him … well, here’s what McGarity told this correspondent three summers ago:

“I can put that to bed right now. I did not have any influence from anyone. People weigh in all the time. I get calls pro and con, pro and con. But there was not one person here on our campus that directed me to do anything. That was my decision. I made the recommendation to the president. He supported that, and so we moved on.”

It will be fascinating to see where Georgia goes from here. (His chief aide, Josh Brooks, has been named interim AD.) It will be fascinating to see how much of a role Smart, who wants everything and wants it now, will play in the selection of the person who’ll technically be his boss.

It will also be fascinating to see how McGarity is treated as he takes his leave. Some fans will rejoice – not many ADs ever become beloved figures – but I’d like to believe the majority will view him in a favorable light. He tried to do his best for the school he loved. His best was pretty darn good.

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