(UPDATED: 7 p.m.)
ATHENS – Greg McGarity didn’t walk into an old house Friday and declare, “These couches need to go, rip up the carpeting, knock down that wall, and why does the garage door open every time I turn on the blender?”
Greg McGarity walked into a mansion. Shangri La. Eden. Bang on the walls and gold coins will fall out of the ceiling. Georgia’s athletic department is a stuffed ATM. It accrues wealth from its football program, the SEC and its very own $93 million marketing rights deal. Major expansion and renovation projects are either recently completed or well underway. Hey, it turns out they even have a basketball team.
Welcome back to Athens, Greg McGarity. Your dream job awaits.
“I’m six or seven years older now,” said McGarity, referencing his failed candidacy to become Georgia’s athletic director in 2004. “I’m more mature. This time, for whatever reason, I felt better prepared. The timing felt right.”
For everybody. The Athens-born McGarity is in Wonderland. Things weren’t so idyllic in 2004 before Damon Evans’ hiring.
Remember? It was a mess. Evans was a terrific choice as athletic director, at least until his personal life derailed one night in Buckhead. Evans brought new levels of wealth, dynamic leadership and Mark Fox. But when Evans was hired over several candidates, including McGarity, nobody could be sure. University president Michael Adams was a borderline pariah on his own campus. He burned bridges by forcing Vince Dooley’s exit. Some faculty members famously took a “no confidence” vote.
It follows that many didn’t trust his choice for athletic director (even if Evans was supported by Dooley).
Some were bothered by Evans’ age (he was only 34).
Some, from the unfortunate segment of the populace, were bothered by his skin color.
Many, given the backdrop of Adams’ tenure, thought he would be a puppet.
But Evans turned out to be the right choice then, just as McGarity is the right choice now.
Adams curiously referred to a “postpartum depression” after Evans’ downfall, as if the episode gave birth to a Bulldogs’ nightmare, which I suppose it did. But while the stain left by Evans’ demons will remain on his resume forever, it will quickly vanish at Georgia. The program is too strong to expect otherwise.
McGarity is the new yet familiar face the Dogs needed after Evans, yet he inherits a program that doesn’t really need fixing (strangely, also thanks to Evans).
Georgia was a tougher job six years ago. McGarity wasn’t ready. Adams knew it then and McGarity realizes it now, even if being turned down in 2004 “felt like a shot to the gut.”
So he read leadership books. He learned patience. “I’m more mature now,” he said.
Adams had a convincing three-hour lunch interview with McGarity recently. Maybe more importantly, he had “multiple” discussions with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, who runs possibly the strongest athletic department in the country (something even the most devout Bulldogs’ fan must admit).
For the last 18 years, when Foley walked out of his office, he could turn left and be at McGarity’s door in five feet. McGarity has been Foley’s numbers guy. That’s not to say he can’t be the creative, think outside-the-box kind of guy. He’s just never been given that chance before.
Asked if Foley pressed for McGarity’s hiring, Adams smiled and said: “Our relationship is such that I wouldn’t say he ‘pressed me.’ But he gave him a very, very strong endorsement. He felt that he owed it to Greg, but he also thought Greg deserved everything coming to him.”
Adams, ever since those early missteps at Georgia, has gotten the reputation of being a guy who would do things his way, regardless of what people think. But the fact is, he’s much more likely to stick his finger in the air now and check for wind direction before making a call. He showed that two years ago when he proposed a college football playoff, and again recently when he moved quickly to force Evans’ exit after an avalanche of negative publicity.
McGarity may have been the popular choice from day one, but he also was the obvious choice. Adams handled this entire process flawlessly, even joking Friday, “Anybody who spent 18 years at Florida has suffered enough.”
He talked about “a healing process.” But the fact is, this thing has pretty much scabbed over for Georgia. For Evans, the wound will linger.