Greg McGarity officially becomes UGA’s athletic director Wednesday, though the hometown boy actually couldn’t wait that long to start and has been on the job for a couple of days.
A lot of Athens folk, including me, were thrilled when it was announced that McGarity was returning to the UGA athletics department where he literally grew up. Greg impressed a lot of people in Athens both as a kid and while working his way up through the ranks of the UGA Athletic Association before leaving for the No. 2 job at Florida in 1992.
I didn’t know Greg that well when we were kids, since he was two years behind me in school, but I knew his brother Stu and was even better acquainted with his dad, who taught my Sunday school class for a couple of years and ran the selling of football programs at UGA home games. He and my father were friends and that’s how I came to sell programs.
My main memory of Greg is that he was great friends with my neighbor Chipper Jones (no, not that one). Greg and Chipper were constantly playing tennis down at the UGA courts, where they came under the tutelege of the already legendary Dan Magill. When I was a senior at Athens High (which became Clarke Central the next year), among the sophomores on the tennis team were Greg, Chipper and another of Chipper’s pals, Dirk Howell.
Dirk, whose Dirk Howell Band has been a party fixture around Athens for decades, remembers that in their senior year, 1972, Greg “was the best player on the team.”
“It was rare for him to make a mistake, on or off the court,” Dirk recalls. “Consequently, it was pretty obvious that Greg was the ‘Coach’s favorite.’ I’m sure that Coach John Williford wished that all of us players were as dedicated and serious about our tennis playing as Greg was. Greg always did everything by the book.”
But on a road trip to Chattanooga to play in a tournament, Dirk remembers, the team got a kick out of the fact that Greg left the shower curtain out while taking a shower and flooded the bathroom. “We all got a good laugh out of that one! … It gave us comfort to know that Greg was actually ‘one of us’ and capable of doing something stupid!”
McGarity inspired Howell even as a youngster. “I remember seeing Greg trimming grass around the fence at the UGA tennis courts around 1966. I was impressed as a 12 year old and I wanted to be like Greg … so I got some tennis lessons and soon became one of ‘Mr.Magill’s boys.’ We would work at the courts for tournaments and tennis matches for the UGA team. It was actually at the Crackerland tennis tournament around 1969 that I worked in the Coke stand with [future Oscar winner] Kim Basinger. We all worked hard and learned a lot from our experiences around the Henry Feild Tennis Stadium. … None of it would have happened for me had I not seen Greg working at the courts on a hot summer afternoon in ‘66.”
Another member of the 1972 Clarke Central tennis team, Bill McDonald, grew up with McGarity and has remained close to him. They were part of a group of UGA fans called “the Aisle 10 Crew” who chartered buses to away games in the 1970s, and they still spend lake time together in North Georgia each summer.
“I’ve known Greg since we were about 6 or 7 years old,” McDonald told me. “We went to the Y together in the ’60s and were sort of raised and influenced heavily by Coburn Kelley, who many know was like a father to so many of us. Greg used to wear an orange and white Tennessee helmet with a big ole orange ‘T’, while I wore a white, orange and blue Auburn helmet with the ‘AU’ when we played football at the Y back in those days. Everybody wore different gear, since there was no real budget for fancy uniforms. I know we both caught a little grief about those helmets from some of the others, who thought we were crazy, but we were just having a good time.”
The other major influence in McGarity’s life was Coach Magill, McDonald said. “I remember Greg spending all that time at the courts with Magill. It seemed like he was always over there. Dirk Howell used to tell me Coach Magill was always on Greg and the other kids to pick up all those Coke bottles all the time. I know Coach Magill has been a driving force behind Greg all along. After Greg left in 1992 to go to UF, whenever he, [his wife] Sheryl and [son] Alex would come to Athens, Greg would ALWAYS be sure to stop by and see his mentor, Coach Magill. Always.”
One of my classmates, Ben Anderson, who lived next door to the McGarity family and worked for a while as a sportswriter, remembers, “For many years, if you were around Dan Magill, chances are that Greg McGarity was close by. … Greg went from being right-hand boy to right-hand man. If there were a matter of routine urgency, Dan would preface the issue with ‘Greg, oh Greg!’ If there were a matter of hyper urgency, Dan began with ‘Greg Greg Greg Greg!’
“And in every case, Greg would not only answer the call to action right away, but also answer it thoroughly and effectively. No surprise that Greg has since become one of the best administrators in college athletics. UGA made the right call in bringing him home with something akin to ‘Greg Greg Greg Greg!’”
Bill McDonald said he did offer McGarity a piece of “advice” after he accepted the UGA job. “When he went to Florida in 1992, he told me that … some of the people in the Gator athletic department kind of had to correct him. Seems Greg was referring to the annual showdown in Jacksonville as the ‘Georgia–Florida game.’ Greg was promptly trained to bite his lip and call it the ‘Florida–Georgia game.’ We let Greg knew we did not appreciate that.” So after McGarity got the call to come back home to Athens, McDonald said, “I made sure not to forget to remind our new AD that the game is in fact to be called the ‘Georgia–Florida’ game.”
The thing that always impressed McDonald most about McGarity was “Greg works his tail off. But at the end of the day Greg McGarity is one of us. He truly appreciates people and does not take life for granted.”
On the day the news broke that McGarity was to be named UGA’s AD, McDonald talked with him on the phone, but the primary subject wasn’t the new job. Their main focus was Chipper, their former teammate, who was in the hospital in Atlanta.
“That’s who Greg and I talked about for a good while, before Greg even told me he had the AD job,” McDonald said. “That is just another sign to all that Greg puts people first, not himself or his position. And that is one major reason why Greg will do a terrific job at UGA for years to come. He will work hard, enjoy his work and put people first.”