Here’s a submission from an unexpected source: The famous Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe loosed a screed against Georgia president Michael Adams on Sunday. Bobby’s point — I’ve known him since 1978, when I was a cub reporter at the Lexington Leader and he’d gotten snowed in on an assignment to write about the Kentucky Wildcats — was that Adams is unfit to be president of the NCAA.
A couple of things here: First, Adams insists he’s not interested in the NCAA, and second, almost nobody believes him. That said, here are the highlights from Bobby’s blast:
Former NCAA president Myles Brand lost a battle with pancreatic cancer last September. A search committee is at work to choose his successor, and while I do not know for sure who should be that person, I have little hesitation in saying that I know who most definitely should not be that individual. That would be Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia since 1997 and, from all indications, a leading contender for the job.
To say that the Adams reign at Georgia has been controversial is to indulge in vast understatement. Now, the idea of a college president, especially one at a large state university, butting heads with faculty, clashing with the athletics department, or having policy decisions challenged by everyone from politicians to alumni is not uncommon. Some of that almost inherently comes with the territory.
Complicating matters at Georgia is an arrangement where there is a Board of Regents responsible for the running of the entire network of state colleges, as well as an entity known as the UGA Foundation, which oversees investment gifts and pledges, manages investments, and distributes endowment gifts and scholarships, among many functions. Is there inherent office politics? Are there friendships and loyalties? You betcha. Are all the dynamics at the University of Georgia remotely understandable to outsiders such as you and me? Absolutely not.
But here’s something that is easy to comprehend. After being subjected to six years of what its members believed to be serious lapses of judgment and competence, the UGA Foundation engaged prestigious Atlanta law firm King & Spalding to select an independent firm to conduct what is known in the trade as a forensic audit, not of the entire Adams operation, but of seven specific items it believed called into question Adams’s conduct.
Is there more? Oh, yes. Lots.
Start with the idea that he is not really an academic. His doctorate from Ohio State is in political communication. Michael Adams is a spinmeister. He is a clever and ruthless politician. He was once chief of staff to then-Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker. He knows how to amass allies — a power-seeking liquor magnate named Donald Leebern being the most prominent — and he knows how to wield power. He is not a leader. He is a schemer and an intimidator.
And still more:
He pushed out athletic director Vince Dooley, a much-beloved figure in Georgia, a year ahead of schedule and then sold a surprisingly compliant Atlanta Journal-Constitution the entirely misleading premise that it was a matter of Academics vs. Athletics, which was simply not the case. The idea that the newspaper of Ralph McGill would buy into such a phony act is truly sad.
What’s really scary is that the same search firm that delivered him to the University of Georgia is handling the NCAA matter as well. As one Georgia source said, “Don’t ever underestimate Michael Adams.’’
But if the NCAA people want to investigate Adams for themselves, all they need do is pick up a book written by the late Rich Whitt titled, “Behind the Hedges: Big Money and Power Politics at the University of Georgia.’’ (NewSouth Books, Montgomery, Ala.) It’s all there, in exquisite detail.
And here we note — as has been noted before in this space – that the firm in question is Parker Executive Search of Atlanta. And here I must also point out that this newspaper was not “sold” on Adams’ rationale for ousting Dooley. I still bear the memories of a not-entirely-comfortable off-the-record lunch at the Commerce Club convened by Adams in the summer of 2003. (Adams did most of the talking. Shockingly enough, he wasn’t happy with some of the things I’d written.) But let’s get back to Bobby, who’s about to wind it up:
Both [former King & Spalding partner Robert] Miller and [law professor James] Ponsoldt are mystified that the NCAA would even consider Adams as a candidate for its most important job.
“The charges against him all come back to integrity,’’ said Miller.
C’mon, NCAA. Wake up. You can do better than Michael Adams.
Me, I’m guessing Bobby Ryan is about to get an invitation for lunch at the Commerce Club. If I recall, I had the chicken.