A different athletic director might have done too much, or too little. Greg McGarity got it right. He met with Mark Richt at the beginning of the first workweek of 2011 and, rather than make demands, McGarity asked a question.
“It was not adversarial or confrontational,” said McGarity of the meeting. “It was heart-to-heart. I asked him, ‘What do you need to get the job done?’ ”
When McGarity gets around to writing his book on management, that deft twist surely will be Chapter 1 — how to make a salient point without pounding the table. By asking Richt what he required, McGarity assured his coach that he and his input were indeed valued, but sent the message that more was expected.
Sure enough, more has arrived. Richt has presided over 10 consecutive victories and an SEC East championship, and this Saturday his Bulldogs will play for their first SEC title since 2005. Credit the coaches and the players, and credit the AD as well. McGarity supported Richt publicly at a time when administrative waffling could have undermined the program, but in-house he delivered a push so gentle as to seem the merest nudge.
A Bulldog born and bred, McGarity apprenticed in Georgia’s athletic department under Dan Magill and Vince Dooley, but it was in his time away that he grasped the ways and means of a cutting-edge athletic department. “It really hit home at Florida,” said McGarity, who worked as Jeremy Foley’s Gator aide-de-camp for nearly two decades. “Jeremy’s attitude toward all his teams is that being mediocre is unacceptable.”
When McGarity was appointed Georgia’s AD in August 2010, some wondered how this famously nice guy would handle Richt, who’s himself a nice guy but whose record had begun to slip. On cue, Georgia went 6-7 in McGarity’s first season back in Athens, the final indignity being delivered on New Year’s Eve in a dreary Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida.
Said McGarity: “That was not a very good day. That was not a very good night. I don’t think anybody around the program slept very well. But we used it as a positive. We said we weren’t ever going to go back to that. That wasn’t Georgia football.”
The Liberty Bowl was on a Saturday. By the time McGarity and Richt met, rumors were flying that the AD had seen enough and was prepared to fire his coach. Said McGarity: “That was not even on the radar. It would not have been fair. I’d just started the Monday of the first game of the season. It wouldn’t have been fair to him or the institution or the players.”
Over those four months on the job, McGarity said, he chose “to sit back and look and listen and learn. There would be a right time for a discussion with Mark, but it’s hard to do that during the season because you’re always focusing on the next game.”
When Georgia’s first losing season under Richt was done, McGarity shared his thoughts but let Richt talk, too. “Being accessible is so important, and it goes both ways,” McGarity said. “Me to him and him to me.”
McGarity’s key observation: Richt needed to free himself of all administrative work that could be delegated. “Mark has talked about ’studying the game,’ ” McGarity said. “I call it ‘coaching ball.’ I wanted him to get back to what made him successful, to being a creative offensive mind. And you see him back in the meeting rooms [where game plans are concocted].”
As part of his “studies,” Richt visited Falcons coach Mike Smith in Flowery Branch, and Smith suggested a book — “The Energy Bus,” by Jon Gordon. “On the bus” became Richt’s rallying cry for 2011, and two of those soon ushered off were Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, Georgia’s leading holdover rushers. Perhaps not coincidentally, a summer passed without a player arrest.
For all that, the season began with Georgia losing to Boise State and South Carolina. Here again McGarity served his coach well, offering support and counseling patience. But did he really foresee such a complete reversal after 0-2?
“I thought it was probably 50-50. It wasn’t to the point that people were jumping off the ship. Inside the building it was, ‘We can only control this week.’ ”
The AD’s verdict on this season: “What has happened since the first two games has been very satisfying. It’s what we all hoped would happen.”
Does “very satisfying” mean Greg McGarity is satisfied? Not quite. “I hope to have a Dream Team every year,” he said. “That’s what the best teams do. We’ve got to back that up with another great recruiting year.”
Another nudge, deftly delivered.
By Mark Bradley