(Updated 8 p.m. Friday)
ATHENS — A 2 1/2-hour lunch in New York and a two-hour interview in Chicago brought Greg McGarity home to Athens.
The University of Georgia on Friday named McGarity, the University of Florida’s No. 2 athletics official and an Athens native, as its new athletic director — the culmination of a speedy process that McGarity acknowledged left him pinching himself.
McGarity, 55, was formally introduced at a Friday afternoon news conference as the successor to Damon Evans, who resigned as Georgia’s AD in the aftermath of a June 30 DUI arrest. Moments before the news conference, the UGA Athletic Board approved a five-year contract that will start McGarity at $420,000 per year with $20,000 raises each subsequent year. He’ll also get a $125,000 longevity bonus if he completes the contract.
McGarity said he was offered the job in a Wednesday morning phone call from UGA President Michael Adams, whom he had met for the first time over a long lunch in New York about 2 1/2 weeks earlier.
“It was just great,” McGarity said of that first meeting. “I left there thinking, ‘I feel like I’m speaking with someone I’ve known a long time.’”
The process continued last Saturday, when McGarity was interviewed for two hours by Georgia’s six-person search committee at a Chicago airport hotel, the O’Hare Hilton. The committee interviewed a number of candidates — it’s unclear how many — over two days at the hotel.
McGarity said he was “really nervous” in the days leading to the high-stakes interview. “I was having a hard time sleeping,” he said. But he left the interview feeling, “You know what, I’ve done the best I could. Let the best person win.”
Search-committee chairman David Shipley, a UGA law professor, was reluctant to discuss details of the interviews in Chicago, which he referred to only as a “neutral site.” He said “more than” four candidates from around the country — he wouldn’t name them — were interviewed for two hours each, with the committee taking one-hour breaks between interviews. Adams was present for the interviews as a “fly on the wall,” Shipley said.
At the end of the interviews, the committee voted by secret ballot, each member ranking the candidates. Once back in Athens, the committee reconvened.
“And there was full agreement on this,” Shipley said, meaning the hire of McGarity. The ultimate call was Adams’.
Early Wednesday morning, Adams made the call — literally.
Around 8:30 a.m., McGarity’s cellphone rang, interrupting a conference call he was having on another line.
“I saw the call [from Adams] coming through as ‘private number’ on my BlackBerry,” McGarity said, “and I thought, ‘Well, it’s either thumbs-up or thumbs-down.’ Dr. Adams offered the job and spoke about the reasons, and … it was just a dream come true.
“It was one of those things where you just say, ‘You know, this really did happen. I’ve got to pinch myself.’”
McGarity grew up in Athens, where his first childhood job was chasing tennis balls for legendary UGA coach Dan Magill. McGarity earned a journalism degree from Georgia in 1976 and started his career at UGA, working in a variety of roles in the athletics department before leaving for Florida in 1992.
“It is indeed great to be home,” said McGarity, whose parents, brother and sister live in Athens.
He will start his new job Sept. 1.
“Given the circumstances that surrounded this opening,” Adams said, “there is some healing here yet to be done, and I believe Greg is the type of person who can facilitate that healing.
“Greg has told me this job is his lifelong dream. … I am convinced that he is the right person at the right time at the right institution.”