The Mahler Auditorium was filled to the brim with smiles and cheers Friday afternoon.
In a news conference set to announce the new athletic director of the University of Georgia, a crowd of about 250 journalists, bloggers, news crews, Athletic Association employees, administrators, and family members gathered to observe the introduction of long-time Bulldog loyalist — Greg McGarity.
With University president Dr. Michael Adams kicking off the press conference with a joke referencing the promotion of Dr. Laura Jolly drawing the enthusiastic crowd, Adams would continue with his coronation of the newest member of the prestigious Georgia athletic program.
“On September the 1st, Greg McGarity will become the new athletic director at the University of Georgia,” Adams said.
McGarity, who has served the University of Florida’s athletic department since 1992, expressed multiple times what has been common knowledge for many within the Georgia Bulldog family — the athletic director position at Georgia is his one and only dream job. As an Athens native and graduate of Georgia, McGarity has long desired to return to the “home” where he began his collegiate athletic and administrative careers.
“After being away from Athens and the University of Georgia for almost two decades, it is indeed great to be home,” the 55-year-old McGarity said.
Although the search was expected to stretch over the course of six months or more, it was made clear by Adams that he and his search committee had found the prime candidate that met the majority of their desired traits.
“He brings to this position the number of traits that I consider to be especially important at this time,” Adams said. “First, I believe that he will operate in collegial manner with an even greater focus on the needs and success of our student-athletes. Second, he’s one of us. Both he and his wife Cheryl are graduates at the University of Georgia. Third, he understands our desire to compete and succeed at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics. And fourth, he has top level experience in one of America’s most successful athletic programs. He has been there when both football and men’s basketball teams have won national championships. He knows what it’s like to reach that level of success in to which we aspire.”
One primary trait that Adams had voiced when this search initially began back in June, but that McGarity does not meet in this hire is prior job experience as an athletic director. However, Adams was more than willing to confront the issue Friday.
“You could argue that he has not sat in the chair as an AD, but he has been about as close to it as you can be,” Adams said.
After giving his thanks to Adams, his family in attendance, and his mentor — respected Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley — McGarity turned his attention to the task at hand for the athletic program here in Athens. With the most conviction he showed at the podium the entire day, Foley iterated his expectations for his teams donning the red and black.
“Our athletic program will do things the right way,” said McGarity, reading from his prepared speech. “We will represent this institution, community and state the right way, and we will compete for SEC and national championships the right way. We will have very high expectations, and every sport will be expected to be competitive with our peer institutions not only in the classroom, but also on the field.”
With a decision that was alluded to as a “slam dunk” by Adams, many could wonder why this choice was not made seven years ago when the athletic director job opened up following the Vince Dooley era. Back then, in 2003, Georgia went with the now-disgraced Damon Evans as its choice to lead their program into the future.
It was clear in McGarity’s voice and mannerisms that being passed over for his dream job had an affect on him, but he insisted that it was a positive effect in his life.
“I felt like I took a shot to the gut, but I think the next day at work — and Jeremy can attest to this — is that it just makes you want to work harder,” McGarity said. “It would be easy to sulk and just kinda hang around and feel sad for yourself, but at the same time I think the test of one is how you react when you have some disappointment. And I think that it set to me to another path, a higher level of maybe intensity of the work in the office. I think it just sort of reignited the fire.”
Adams stated that he had met with the Athletic Association board of directors earlier in the afternoon to gather a financial package for the hiring, one that will feature a similar payment plan to that of Evans’ first contract.
McGarity’s five-year contract sets him up to earn $420,000 in his first year, followed by a $20,000 increase in pay per year for the remainder of his contract. The contract also features a longevity clause which is worth a $25,000 bonus for every year McGarity stays with the University, and is payable at the finality of his contract — totaling to a possible $125,000 bonus payment in five years.
But financial factors seemed to be of minimal importance on a day of such magnitude for the Bulldog athletic department and its supporters.
Packed in a room largely filled with his staunchest advocates, McGarity just seemed content to be home and in charge of what he repeatedly called “our program.”
It seemed only fitting in his closing statements of his prepared speech that he should say the words he has waited to say in Athens for nearly two decades.
“Let’s get to work.”
(This article was originally published in The Red & Black newspaper.)