GAINESVILLE - University of Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity didn't have the luxury of a feeling-out process in his new position.
No sooner had the Georgia graduate and former University of Florida assistant athletic director gotten unpacked than the Bulldogs' football team was facing a 1-4 start to the 2010 season. In the weeks that followed, Georgia bounced back from the dismal start but still finished the season 6-7 -- head coach Mark Richt's first-ever losing campaign in 10 years in Athens, prompting some questions of Richt's future with the program.
It certainly wasn't the situation athletic directors dream of, yet McGarity believes some of the changes the football program has implemented will have the Bulldogs back on the upswing come 2011. And the new top Dog told the Gainesville Rotary Club on Monday that he is excited about the prospects ahead in 2011 -- a campaign that kicks off with two marquee match-ups (Boise State in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and then South Carolina in Athens).
Before McGarity took the podium on Monday, members of the press -- including Access North Georgia sports editor Morgan Lee -- caught up with McGarity to ask about the current atmosphere in Athens, both within the football program, and the athletic department in general.
QUESTION: Talk about your first few months since taking over in Athens. How have things gone so far?
ANSWER: It's been real exciting. It's been a sort of a learning process actually. When I came in, Sept. 1, it was already game week, so it's kind of hard to do an evaluation of a lot of things, because your head's spinning. In football season we had 11 games in a row, so you really didn't have time to catch your breath. It was a great learning experience, and we saw a lot of what was going on, but we still just scratched the surface of what we want to do as a department. And I think we've gotten off on the right foot.
Q: This Wednesday marks National Signing Day; what do you think of all the hype surrounding the commitments of 17- and 18-year-old kids?
A: I've never really gotten caught up in it. You've got to wait and see how every class does after year three or year four. Because there are a lot of things that have to happen for someone to see really how successful they were -- in the classroom, on the field of competition -- so it's hard to judge early. The true test will come this fall and years down the road. And some of the greatest athletes have been those that are the non-publicized that really, really want to be an institution and develop over the years. I know it's kind of the culture in the South, but I don't see TCU and Stanford and Boise States at the top of the food chain as far as the recruiting goes, so it's an inexact science to say the least. But it's something that attracts a lot of attention.
Q: How would describe the direction of the Georgia football program?
A: Well it wasn't too good when we were going 1-4. I don't think there are many people in our program or associated with our program that have been 1-4 at any time. But I do think the Monday of the Tennessee week was a huge change for our program (a 41-14 win on Oct. 9 that ended a four-game losing streak). I think there were several things that changed. (Coach) Mark (Richt) was proactive there and realized that if he could take some things back that he would have taken them back as far as two-a-days go. The progress that Aaron Murray made as our leader and our quarterback was off the charts. And I think the way we've started offseason conditioning has everything on an upward swing. But, heck, this is the first time I've seen us work in the offseason, so I don't have anything to compare to in the past, and I don't have anything to compare to spring practice, so it'll be a good experience for me to see how things develop.
Q: Despite finishing 6-7 Georgia football has built some tremendous momentum of late in recruiting. Do you think that's a sign that Georgia has been able to bounce back from 6-7 and begin to turn things around already?
A: I think Mark and his staff have done a great job, as far as being aggressive. I haven't seen Mark hardly at all, except on the weekends. So he's out on the road; he's been very active. I do know we like what we see as far as coaches on the road. We'll see how things how go this Wednesday. But, as I've said before, Wednesday's just part of the process -- it's an important part of the process -- but at the end of the day we'll see how things go this summer and spring before that. Obviously this fall we start off with two really tough games in Boise State and South Carolina, both in the state of Georgia, so it should be a really exciting start to the season.
Q: Speaking of some of the changes enacted in the football program -- such as tweaking the strength and conditioning program and adding a nutritionist -- how have those gone, and how do those compare with what was going on at the University of Florida?
A: Well, we don't have a nutritionist right now. We had an evaluation last week. There was really no training table in effect. And there were some eye-opening experiences where you say where is the training table, and it's not there. So we just concluded a two-day consult with someone in nutrition that I respect very highly that came in and gave us a physical on our nutrition program for all our sports. And there are a lot of missing pieces there, so there's no question that that's going to be a huge emphasis for us as we move forward. It's a lot of work in getting that done from a staffing perspective and from a training table perspective, but those are just the little things that mount up into big things. I've seen what's happened at Florida for the last 18 years, and I would think that right now we're mirroring a lot of things that Florida has done in the way we go about our work.
Q: There was a lot of talk about coach Richt after this season. Do you think fans are too critical of Richt after the season he just experienced?
A: People will have their opinions. Mark's had a phenomenal record at the University of Georgia. He hasn't forgotten how to coach; I think there's some things he's acknowledged he wants to do, like getting back into the Xs and Os of the game. He kind of got distracted by so many other things he had to worry about. And that's part of the job of an athletic director is to help coaches focus strictly on the things that relate directly to winning. We're off to a good start, and those are things that will add up at the end of the day to help make us successful in the future.
Q: What do you feel is the overall direction of the athletic department in Athens?
A: I think everybody's on the upswing. I know internally our staff is getting on board with the things we're trying to do as far as customer services. You want to be able to work with people, and we're making strides there. Basically, the program is in good hands. We're going to do things the right way. We're not going to cut corners; we're not going to cheat. We may not win every game, every tournament, every event, but we're going to do things the right way. And I think we've got a group of coaches that truly understand that. They do things the right way; they work hard. We're going to be accountable and be transparent. You just want people to do things the right way. We've got to do some work in our conduct across the board in all our programs. That's a huge emphasis for us too; we want to avoid all the knucklehead decisions that some of our kids were making earlier. We've gotten off to a pretty good start, and those are things that you can't ever get complacent on; you have to have a sense of urgency. And those are things that you have to have to be a successful program overall.
-- NOTES: McGarity went on to tell those in attendance that there is no excuse for the Bulldogs not to be amongst the top 10 in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup each season -- an award that measures the success of each athletic program within a university. Last season the Bulldogs finished 20th in the standings. "Our goal is to be competitive in every sport," McGarity said. ... The Georgia athletic director also posited -- in response to a question from the crowd -- that he felt the NCAA would never pay student athletes any sort of stipends, noting that too few athletic departments create enough revenue to allow an across-the-board change such as that. ... McGarity also said that Georgia football will not allow oversigning -- a practice that some programs participate in and is garnering more attention by both media and regulating bodies. "We will not sign more than 85 scholarship football players," he noted.