ATHENS – Stationed in his first fire storm since becoming athletic director, Greg McGarity last Saturday chose to go in a different direction than some of the angry, torch-carrying villagers in Athens who believe the best course of action following SEC losses is to open more “Fire [Coach]” Facebook pages.
McGarity waited for Georgia coach Mark Richt to address his team after the home loss to Arkansas, waited until Richt released most of the players from a holding room under the stands at Sanford Stadium and then walked in.
“I don’t generally go into the locker room because I don’t feel I really belong in there,” he said. “What I did do was go in there after the game, but before the media came in, just to see Mark and the 12 or 14 players who were still there waiting for interviews. I just said, ‘Mark, let’s get ready to go next week. Call me if you need anything.’ I just felt he needed to know I was there to support him.”
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: McGarity said he has confidence in Richt and the direction of the football program. He responded, “Absolutely,” when asked.
But he also was wary of even going down that road.
“I know how the spin goes on these things,” he said. “I’ve seen how things are written and what’s said. People think, ‘Oh, he gave him a vote of confidence. You know what that means.’ But it’s not like that. I just want people to know that we’re working hard and we’re driven to get better every day.”
The Bulldogs are 0-2 in the SEC for the first time in 17 years. The coach in charge then (Ray Goff) is associated with a low point in Bulldogs’ history. That isn’t the case with Richt. He won two SEC championships in his first five years at a school that hadn’t won one in 20.
But national championships at Alabama, Florida and LSU have changed the landscape. The Dogs leveled off. South Carolina, Arkansas and Auburn are on the rebound.
Barbarians are at the gate.
There are Facebook pages to fire Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. There’s a “Fire Mark Richt” website. Juvenile or not, it’s the reality of life in the SEC. McGarity knows that, but he’s not walking around campus, swinging an ax.
“You can’t make a snap judgment on things, especially sitting in my chair right now,” he said. “I haven’t even been here a month.
“We’ve played one-fourth of the season. In athletics, people can turn things around in a hurry when they believe in themselves and they believe in their leadership. I think if our team had not fought back in the fourth quarter [against Arkansas], we would have some concerns, but that’s not what we saw.”
The Dogs conceivably could win their next five games, beginning Saturday night at Mississippi State, before heading to Jacksonville. But losses to South Carolina and Arkansas — following the summer’s arrests, last year’s 4-4 SEC record and the 2008 slide down from a preseason No. 1 ranking – appears to have split the fan base on Richt.
McGarity spoke at a quarterback club meeting Monday morning in Athens. Reading the audience wasn’t difficult.
“It would’ve been very easy to show up there if we were 3-0 and ranked,” he said. “I knew some people in that group were upset. I’m sure everybody is disappointed. But at the same time, I have to do everything in my power to support the team and show leadership. People look to leaders at times like this, just like players look to coaches.”
Asked if there were any harsh remarks at the breakfast, McGarity laughed and said: “No, but I don’t know what happened after I left.”
It’s probably for the best.
SACK SCHULTZ: I’ll have an update on my slow climb to No. 1 later this week. Meanwhile, there’s still time to join the fun. Click here for more info on the weekly college football picks contest and then sign up at ajc.com/go/sack-schultz.