ATHENS — There are those who might complain about the way University of Georgia President Michael Adams went about his business as chairman of the Georgia Athletic Association’s board of directors. But most will agree that he was, first and foremost, a sports fan who wanted the Bulldogs to win in the worst way.
Adams, 64, announced Thursday morning his plans to retire from the university on June 30, 2013. That will mark the end of his 16th year in office.
During that time, Georgia has enjoyed perhaps its most success as an athletics program. The Bulldogs won 27 national titles (including equestrian and indoor tennis) and 53 SEC championships (regular season and tournament titles combined).
UGA also saw tremendous growth in athletic facilities. Among the improvements that were made during Adams’ tenure were Butts-Mehre and Sanford Stadium expansions, a complete renovation of Stegeman Coliseum, the Stegeman Athletic Training Facility, the Rankin Smith Academic Achievement Center, a new Women’s Sports Complex and the golf training facility.
“He loves sports. He loves baseball,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “We’d sit together at a baseball game, at football games, at women’s basketball games. How many presidents do that? Dr. Adams has always been a tremendous source of counsel. There has never been one instance of intrusion.
“It has been every athletic director’s desire, what I’ve had here for the last 18 months.“
Former Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley doesn’t share that assessment. Dooley and Adams butted heads on several matters toward the end of Dooley’s 40-year career in UGA athletics. Adams fired football coach Jim Donnan over Dooley’s objections following the 2000 season.
Three years later Adams refused to extend Dooley’s contract, essentially forcing Dooley into retirement. The political fallout divided Georgia supporters and eventually led the dissolution of the UGA Foundation.
Dooley was diplomatic in his reaction to Adams’ announcement but did say he thought it was time for a change.
“First of all, I commend President Adams on his retirement, his service and his contributions to the University of Georgia,” said Dooley, who devotes 27 pages to Adams in his latest book, “History and Reminiscences of the University of Georgia.” “I do believe it is time for a change and I look forward to the Bulldog Nation uniting under new leadership in the near future.”
Asked if that meant Georgia supporters were divided because of Adams, Dooley said, “I can’t say that. Regardless of the situation, I think new leadership would be good. But I’m going to stick with my statement.”
It also cannot be forgotten that Adams in 1999 championed the hiring of basketball coach Jim Harrick, who led the program into the biggest scandal in UGA basketball history. The program was cited by the NCAA for recruiting inducements, unethical conduct, academic fraud and providing extra benefits.
But others lauded Adams for his willingness to assert himself into athletic matters. Bob Bishop, who has been a member of the athletic association’s executive board for 30 years, believes Adams is the best president Georgia has ever had as an advocate for athletics.
“I think he’s going to leave an excellent legacy,” said Bishop, a retired bank executive. “He’s handled every situation we’ve had as well as it could be handled, in my opinion, with the exception of the so-called Dooley conflict. He’s been a great supporter of athletics from softball to football to equestrian.”
Bishop said he first witnessed Adams’ willingness to exert his power when Donnan was fired.
“That was the most demanding I’ve seen him on anything,” Bishop said. “He made up his mind and said, ‘We’re going to do it.’ You just don’t argue with somebody like that.”
As a former chairman of the NCAA executive committee and dean of SEC presidents, Adams became increasingly outspoken on national athletic matters such as a college football playoff and SEC expansion. McGarity doesn’t expect that to change.
“When Mike Adams talks, people listen,” McGarity said. “Very few leaders during this critical time for the NCAA have the historical perspective he has. So I expect him to be fully engaged in continuing developments of NCAA policies and procedures. Just because this is his last year doesn’t mean he’s irrelevant in that discussion.”
Said SEC Commissioner Mike Slive: “Dr. Adams has made significant contributions not only to the [SEC] but to intercollegiate athletics generally through his work as a natural leader in the field. In his many roles — as vice president, president and as a member of the executive committee — he has provided leadership in setting and achieving the conference goals.”
While he worked with Adams for only 18 months, McGarity said he’s disappointed to see him go.
“The thing I’ll miss most is a good friend, not just personal but a good friend of athletics,” McGarity said. “He’s someone who got it, someone who really knew the proper place of athletics in a collegiate setting. He and I have always been on the same page about where athletics fits in. It’s part of the university’s fabric but it’s not the most important piece.”
– Chip Towers, The UGA Blog