Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity wants to see “improvement in all areas” from the football program this year. And he’d like the public to see more displays of coach Mark Richt’s passion for his job.
Those were among McGarity’s comments in a conference call that was held Thursday to answer reporters’ questions about the state of the Georgia football program, which last week lost to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl to finish with its first losing record (6-7) in 14 years.
McGarity previously had answered the biggest question, saying Richt would return as coach. Here are highlights of what McGarity had to say Thursday:
Q: What did you think of Richt’s end-of-season news conference on Wednesday?
A: I think he started to show the passion he has for the job. Mark is not the type who is going to get out of his skin, so to speak, as far as the way he handles himself. But I know in conversations we have had all through the season and especially in the last two or three days, his passion has really come through. . . . I think that’s something Mark needs to do more of –- show his passion and express it in ways that perhaps he hasn’t done before. I encourage him to do that. And I thought he addressed a number of issues and basically stated what he wanted to do moving forward.
Q: What are your expectations for the football team next fall?
A: Improvement. Improvement in all areas. We want to see improvement in discipline; we want to see improvement in leadership; we want a passionate team. We want every member of our staff, regardless of what sport it is, to be passionate about being here. We want individuals that are invested in our program, that want to do everything it takes to get us to the next level.. . . We are stressing two focal points as an association in 2011. One of those is to have a sense of urgency in everything we do. And [the other is to] have a very high level of accountability [with] every employee we have. . . .
Q: Would you ever establish an ultimatum – a certain number of wins – that Richt or any coach would need to reach [to keep his or her job]?
A: No, across the board. In our first meeting we had with all of our coaches [after McGarity's hire as AD] back in September, that was one point that was made very clear. All our coaches know what is expected of them; they are expected to compete for championships, to be in the hunt. So I’m not here to put a figure on number of wins and everything. We just want to see improvement. We want to see a program that is headed in the right direction, all our programs. That’s the goal. That’s what we’re doing. And if we see shortcomings in certain areas that are outside the lines, then that’s our responsibility to do everything we can to take care of those and address them so that our coaches can focus on coaching, recruiting and watching the student-athletes graduate.
Q: Richt mentioned you had helped relieve him of some administrative duties. . . .
A: Every person has strengths and weaknesses, and I thought one of Mark’s weaknesses was that he was trying to do so much himself. He was the point person on so many issues, whether they be academics, discipline, things of that nature, to where it was so time-consuming . . . [and] almost impossible to focus really on the X’s and O’s of the game in every phase of the game. So as you analyze things, you look, you listen, sometimes you wonder, ‘Why is our head coach the point person there?’ …
Q: Was there a tipping point during the season when you decided in your mind you were not going to make a coaching change?
A: Yeah, I think the Monday after the Colorado game was probably the most telling day. I think that’s when things really started to jell, so to speak, as far as [Richt and McGarity] getting to know each other better to where we did not feel maybe afraid to just be brutally honest with each other. . . . Basically from that point forward, everybody was really upset and we wanted to change things and Mark was very proactive there. And as we continued to improve, I think the stats will show that leading up to the UCF game we were scoring close to 40 points a game for seven games in a row. Things were on the upswing. I mean, we had a tough, tough loss to Florida, and we had a difficult loss to Auburn. There is no question the effort was there. I know people don’t like to hear about ‘we were close,’ but we were not out of those games until the end of the game. And we just basically couldn’t close those close games. . . . And then we go against a UCF team that I think unfortunately people don’t give enough credit. Coach [George] O’Leary has done a phenomenal job down there. . . They played a great game, maybe their best game of the year, and we did not. And at the end of the day you’re going to lose games like that. But I think the tipping point was maybe how we responded after being 1-4.
Q: What is your reading on the pulse of Bulldog Nation? And what has been your response to people you’ve heard from this week, particularly those calling for change right now?
A: It’s interesting. I don’t want to say it’s been 50-50, but it’s probably been pretty close to that as far as people supportive. You’ve got a certain faction of fans out there that aren’t just disappointed; if they don’t have change, they’re going to drop out of the program. I understand the frustration. I think everyone here is frustrated. But everybody in this building and anybody who is on our staff, they’re working hard to turn this thing around. And I know we can do it. . . . I wish I could turn a light switch on and change it overnight, but people are going to have to make decisions on, ‘Do they want to hang in there with us, or do they choose to do otherwise?’ The way I look at it is that people who support our program, it’s really supporting our [whole] program. I know they’re frustrated with football right now, but what is so important is that their contributions go into funding every sport that we sponsor. So in essence if we have some that are pulling out of the program … they’re basically pulling out of making a contribution that helps us in every facet of our operation. But I do understand the frustration, and the only thing we can do is to say we are working as hard as we can to turn this ship around. And after we get it going, then I think you’ll see a lot different reaction.
Q: How would you characterize your discussions with Richt in the past few days? Have you learned anything about him you didn’t know beforehand?
A: Even though you know the right things are happening, even though you know he is working extremely hard to turn this thing around, I think everybody wants to hear, ‘Hey, I am passionate about this work; I am doing everything I can to turn this thing around.’ Bottom line is, I think the conversations we have had have been very reassuring that he has the ability [to] maybe go back to the way he might have been doing some things earlier in his career. He admitted he is really looking forward to studying the game. When you’re so concerned and so ingrained in all these other things that are outside the system, something has to lag behind; something basically has to be moved to the corner of the desk. I think what we’re seeing now is that we’re kind of clearing the deck so Mark can get back to doing the thing he really enjoys doing, and that’s doing what he talked about [Wednesday] as far as studying the game and getting back into all phases of the game. I think that’s the healthy part about it. I know he’s passionate about it. We’ve just got to get to where we are expressing that more frequently.