I know the general knee-jerk reaction among Dawgs fans at the impending retirement of UGA President Michael Adams is pure elation. As soon as the word spread on Facebook and Twitter Wednesday afternoon, the hoorahs erupted.
But while Adams may have deserved those boos that would chorus from the stands whenever he took the field, assessing him as the leader of the state’s flagship university is much more of a mixed bag.
Yeah, he meddled initially in athletics too much. On the plus side, he did push for Jim Donnan to be fired, enabling Georgia to get Mark Richt as head coach. Whatever you think of Richt in recent years, there’s no denying he knocked the lid off for the slumbering UGA football program.
As was so often the case with Adams, though, there was more to the story than that. After the firing it came out that Adams also had cut a secret $250,000 side deal with Donnan without his athletic director’s knowledge.
Also on the debit side, Adams pushed for the hiring of Jim Harrick despite the stench of his reputation, and that proved to be a disaster of epic proportions for UGA basketball.
And then there was the Vince Dooley affair. While there may have been a good case to be made that it was time for Dooley to retire, Adams totally botched the way that was handled — unusual for a guy with a public relations background.
The resulting furor hurt the university and distracted Adams as he feuded with Dooley partisans leading the UGA Foundation. While the Regents ended up backing Adams fully, a schism was left in the Bulldog Nation.
Adams backed off from such direct interference at Butts-Mehre in recent years, turning his attention to the national athletics scene in an unsuccessful bid to head the NCAA and in campaigning for a major college football playoff, but the die had been cast as far as how he forever will be perceived by a large portion of UGA fans.
Of course, there were legitimate questions about Adams’ leadership of UGA and his spending habits that had nothing to do with athletics, as detailed in Rich Whitt’s 2009 book “Behind the Hedges: Big Money and Power Politics at the University of Georgia.” When the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Senate voted no confidence in Adams in 2004, that was hardly Dooley’s constituency speaking.
Adams survived all that, though, and presided over the tremendous academic rise of UGA as one of the nation’s Top 20 public institutions of higher education, even if his detractors could point out that was mainly thanks to the HOPE scholarship helping retain the state’s best and brightest students. And, of course, now that the Legislature has cut back severely on university funding and HOPE has been limited, that newly burnished reputation is threatenened.
However, full credit is due to Adams for remaking the campus with a billion dollars in new construction and a thoughtful but aggressive use of green space. I recently was talking with a UGA grad who had visited Athens for the first time in 10 years and she couldn’t believe the transformation of the campus.
And back on the athletics side, while you might argue with his stance setting higher standards in behavior for UGA athletes than many competing schools have, Adams’ handling of the Damon Evans debacle was swift and sure and he made a fine hire in Athens native Greg McGarity as his third athletic director.
Still, Adams’ most lasting legacy may prove to be the establishment of a medical campus in Athens and, flying in the face of opposition from North Avenue, his insistence on establishing a college of engineering at UGA.
Those moves, especially the medical campus, have the potential to be the driving force behind the University of Georgia’s growth over the next few decades.
So, no, overall I wasn’t a fan of Adams. A university president as divisive as he was ends up doing more harm than good. But it’s too simplistic to write him off as simply the cardboard villain that many of the school’s athletics fans tend to see when they look at him.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg