ATHENS – There are some nervous coaches around Georgia’s athletic department these days. That tends to happen when the coach of perennial top 10 program abruptly resigns the week after finishing 11th.
Georgia gymnastics coach Jay Clark offered his resignation shortly after meeting with UGA athletic director Greg McGarity on May 4 and it served as an overture to his staff. Clark had two years remaining on a five-year contract he signed when he succeeded ultra-successful head coach Suzanne Yoculan in 2009.
The Gym Dogs weren’t awful under Clark, not by a long stretch. But they fell well short of the standards set by Yoculan’s teams, which won 10 national championships, including their last five in a row.
“We’re expected to win championships and we wanted to,” Clark said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
It didn’t matter that Clark was part of that run as an assistant coach for Yoculan or that of two of his gymnasts were crowned individual national champions. Three consecutive third-place finishes in the SEC and three whiffs on making the “Super Six” round of the NCAA Championships were too much to overcome, in McGarity’s eyes.
McGarity’s move stunned many in the Bulldog Nation and more than a few in coaching. But it came as little surprise to people who observed McGarity prior to his tenure at Georgia.
Before his UGA appointment, McGarity served as athletic director Jeremy Foley’s right-hand man at Florida for 18 years.
“All I know is when Greg and I worked together, one thing that he and I talked about — and I’ve got to think it’s part of his management philosophy — is you don’t necessarily judge a program on where it is today,” Foley said. “I think you judge it on where it’s going to be or if it’s as good as it can be. Sometimes you evaluate programs and they may be OK.
“But there are certain places in the country — and Florida’s one and I think Georgia is one — where being OK isn’t satisfactory to people in leadership roles.”
McGarity, a UGA graduate and longtime Vince Dooley aide, left Georgia to become Foley’s senior executive in 1992. UGA President Michael Adams hired McGarity in August of 2010 following Damon Evans’ dismissal.
During McGarity’s time in Gainesville, Foley dismissed at least 15 Florida head coaches. Among them were three baseball coaches — including Pat McMahon just two years after playing for the national championship — and a football coach in the middle of his third season.
“Sometimes Jeremy has fired people and I’ve just been stunned,” said Pat Dooley, longtime executive sports editor and columnist for The Gainesville Sun. “[Baseball coach] Andy Lopez was a stunner. Pat McMahon was a stunner. [Football coach] Ron Zook only got 2 1/2 years. But that’s what his philosophy is. If you know it’s going the wrong way, don’t wait until it gets there. And I think Greg learned from that.”
Though McGarity’s primary responsibility with the Gators was as their chief business executive, he also was Foley’s closest confidante and a resident sounding board. Asked how often he consulted McGarity on personnel moves, Foley stated flatly, “I can’t think of one he wasn’t involved in.”
“There are so many things that go into the decisions that you make,” McGarity said. “That’s my job, to have a knowledge of what’s going on in every sport, along with a lot of help from a lot of other people I know.”
McGarity’s said his expectations should not come as a surprise to Georgia’s coaches. He spells it out for them on a sheet of paper he keeps in the bottom left drawer of his desk at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
Aptly titled “What I Expect from Coaches,” McGarity gives a copy to every University of Georgia head coach upon their first meeting. He distributed a copy to all 15 of the Bulldogs’ coaches in the fall of 2010 and he gave one to volleyball coach Lizzy Stemke, his only new hire to date, this past year.
McGarity’s list includes 10 items, most of which are directives about attitude, work ethic and rules compliance. But coaches would be well advised to pay attention to No. 8.
“Develop a program that is competitive in the SEC and nationally, understanding that the definition of ‘competitive’ is different from sport to sport.”
It’s that second clause that tripped up Clark. Nobody could argue that the Gym Dogs were extremely competitive if not dominant. They were ranked among the top five programs in the nation up until the team had had to count three falls at the national championship meet. But relative to previous achievements, Georgia was regressing.
This makes McGarity’s next moves difficult to predict. There are a few coaches watching with keen interest.
Georgia football coach Mark Richt survived McGarity’s scrutiny last season when he earned a new five-year contract following 10 wins and an SEC East championship. Indications are men’s basketball coach Mark Fox and women’s basketball coach Andy Landers remain are in good standing, too, at least for now.
Interviewed at the end of this past week, McGarity declined to discuss any coaches specifically. Speaking generally, he McGarity said he meets with every coach regularly throughout the season and conducts one-on-one reviews at the end. He said he doesn’t judge team performances in a vacuum. Injuries, personal hardships among players or coaches and all extenuating circumstances are considered, he said.
For instance, the fact that Perno lost two players to traumatic, permanent injuries in back-to-back seasons, lost an 18-save closer to injury before the first game and is dealing with a serious, ongoing health issue within his family all will be taken into account.
“People have to trust the leadership here and have confidence that we know what’s going on in all our sports,” McGarity said. “There are a lot of things that go on that people just have no idea about and they’ll never know anything about because they are basically dealt with internally.”
Foley, for one, thinks the Bulldogs are fortunate to have McGarity calling those shots.
“Georgia hit a home run with Greg,” Foley said. “I’m very happy that he’s there. He has the abilities to do that job and he’s been ready to do that job for a long, long time, in my opinion. The blessing is it didn’t happen for a while. I got to keep him for 18 years.”