ATHENS -- This was a quieter football season for Greg McGarity. The Georgia athletics director didnt endure any hot seat talk about his head coach, and when things were rough at one point, McGarity laid low and let events play out.
As he sat in his office Friday morning, he looked out and noted that Mark Richts car was parked, so his head coach was at work. McGarity also said he and Richt had yet to have their year-end sit-down, and there was no urgency this year. No contract extension needs to be hammered out, and no big changes to the program necessary.
McGarity sat down to discuss the football program, as well as the mens basketball program, and other issues on his place as the new year begins. (Note: a full transcript of the interview appears on the Bulldogs Blog.)
State of the football program
QUESTION: The feeling coming off a bowl win and the way the team played in the SEC title game has to leave you feeling a lot better than Jan. 4 last year.
ANSWER: I think everybody feels positive with the improvements that we made over last season. And especially over 2010. That 2010 (season), the first two games of 2011, as you look back on it, the one very strong point was that nobody panicked. Mark didnt panic, his assistant coaches didnt panic. You win 10 in a row, and then you dont finish well against LSU, you dont finish well against Michigan State. Yeah, nobody likes to lose, and nobody likes to lose that game. So were in sort of new territory now, to where we won the last game of the year, with this group of kids.
Its kind of refreshing to see the comments after the game, from Todd Gurley, others, saying we cant wait to get started in January, because we know the season gets starter -- (the schedule) is probably as tough as anybody in the country next year. Theyve tasted what its like to be at this level, so that senior class and the other kids on the team will want to go back and do everything they can do to get back in that position again.
QUESTION: Do you like where this program is in terms of being a top-five type team?
ANSWER: We talked about, when I first got here, being relevant in your sport. And I dont think theres any question that Georgia is now relevant in the conversation. When you mention Southeastern Conference and you mention the Eastern Division, Georgias in that discussion. If we can have that across the board in all our 21 sports, thats where you want to be. But especially in football, because it is the engine that runs out entire department, to be in that conversation to be relevant on the national scene, is very pleasing.
QUESTION: When you go back to after the South Carolina game last year, you were hearing it from fans, I was hearing it. Were you worried at that point?
ANSWER: I think any time you have a game like that, you always worry. I mean Im a fan, too. But we were off the next week. Then we had the Kentucky game coming up and we gutted that one out, that was a very difficult game for us to win, but we managed to win. Youve got to be able to win some of those ugly games. But again, it wasnt like everybody knew -- everybody knew based on last year we had a bump in the road. We were able to come back and still control our destiny. I think the reassuring thing is nobody panicked, nobody did a 180 and reinvented the wheel.
QUESTION: I think one of the concerns that came out of that South Carolina game from fans is that Mark Richt is never gonna win the big one. Do you think what happened after that and being five yards away from Alabama kind of answered that?
ANSWER: Bottom line you won 23 games, you won 12 games this year, and there was only one game where it got out of hand. But the rest of them, were a lot of close games, and games that werent very close. But this team, I just think over the whole season, 14 games, really did remarkably well.
QUESTION: There have been lots of criticisms during the past year about the wisdom of drug-testing and other discipline, or financial priorities -- such as not hiring a bunch of quality control coaches. Things like that. Do the results, in your mind, validate the way things are done here?
ANSWER: I think it did. I think first of all, Im a firm believer that what happens in January sets the tone for the whole year. I know Mark has already delivered that message to the team, that we cant afford for anyone to get in trouble, make poor decisions. Because if student-athletes make poor choices in academics, or class attendance, or missed academic appointments, or do things that are in violation of our policy and procedures, the consequences are missing games.
You know, that first game (at Clemson) is pretty important this year. So the message is going to be lets make sure that the team really monitors themselves.
QUESTION: Will you all still pursue something with the SEC in terms of a uniform drug policy?
ANSWER: Well the SEC is gathering information from all schools. The presidents have asked for that information. So what the presidents do with that information Im not really sure. But I do know that each school has been asked to send their policies to the conference office. And at the level of the presidents they will have a discussion on whether there needs to be any action or a consistent policy in all conferences.
QUESTION: But bottom line you all are comfortable with your policy.
ANSWER: Very much so. Because at the end of the day, were trying to help youngsters. If they havent already formed (from) those impressionable days as teenagers, well theyre now in our hands for three, four, five days. So part of our mission here is to prepare them for life after they leave. If they havent learned their lessons before they got here, then were their next filter. Part of our role is to be sure that were teaching them life lessons. So if we dont teach those and ignore it and are lax in those areas, then probably when they move on and they get married and have families and things of that nature, thats not gonna help them down the road.
I think what youll see down the road is maybe more schools adopting our stance, and our policy there, because I dont think theres anything wrong with it.
QUESTION: Even a drug (marijuana) that is now being legalized in some states?
ANSWER: Well that adds to the complication. Thats probably why it will never be a national issue. Because in Oregon, and where else Colorado I mean, now theyve got smoking bars. I saw something like that on the news the other day, where when it becomes legal, adults can come in and enjoy those drugs. So how do you enforce something nationally when you have states that allow it. Thats why its such a difficult conversation.
State of the basketball program
QUESTION: On the mens basketball program, it got off to a rough start what are your feelings on head coach Mark Fox and the direction of the program?
ANSWER: We talked about its not how you start its how you finish. And I think the fans have seen that Mark has been able to get the freshmen playing time, theyre kind of developing, as he said after the last couple of games, theres a maturing process there. I think we may have to take some lumps early, as far as having the freshmen in there, getting the amount of playing time they are. But I think those are the signs that help you really believe that were gonna have constant improvement throughout the year.
Its still up on the seniors to make this thing work, to make the team run. Its a great group of guys. Its not an issue of the guys not giving the effort. I know at the beginning of the year there were a couple of games where Mark was not happy with the effort. I think those lessons have kind of been learned. And I just think weve got a chance to continue to develop this year. And well just see where things are throughout the season. Its a long year, what 31 games, and were a third of the way through, getting ready to start the second season. The non-conference games out of the way, well start the conference schedule. Well see where things stand at the end.
The fan experience
QUESTION: Attendance at bowl games has been poor, but TV ratings up -- and thats emblematic of everything, it seems. I know the TV money is good anyway, and you all havent had problems selling out Sanford Stadium. But as a whole does the industry need to be concerned about the attendance trend?
ANSWER: I do. First of all, on campus, you must innovative, you must be creative, you must always be concerned about your fan base. You cant take anything for granted. Thats why I think this year in football season the winning helps. At the end of the day, youd like to say thats what drives crowds, but it certainly helps. Its very difficult to do that when youre not winning. But at the same time it doesnt guarantee people are gonna show up and fill your stadium.
You can look at programs now, and very successful programs cant fill their basketball arenas, football stadiums. So its up to us to make sure that were being as creative as possible to give that person a reason to come to the game. I think our use of the scoreboard, of the video board in the stadium this year was exceptional. The replays, the clarity of the board. Our ability to look into other games. Little things like our stadium defender (commercial), the little spoof we did. You can only see that in Sanford Stadium. So weve got to think of things you can only see at Sanford Stadium that you cant at home.
Thats our charge next year: What more creative ideas can we generate? And have a little fun. Can we do a better job in certain areas of how we present the game? Sure we can. Can we do a better job with concessions? Maybe we have more hawkers in the stands. Instead of Greg and Seth having to go up in line and wait 30 minutes for a Coke, lets bring the Coke to you, and maybe thats doubling the amount of hawkers you have in the stadium. Those are all things we think about daily.
QUESTION: Would it also impact non-conference scheduling?
ANSWER: I tell you what, if you think about our schedule (in 2011) if we had not played Boise State. We would have been playing in Louisville this year, sandwiched in between two SEC games. Now we saw what Charlie (Strong) and the job they did. That would have been another game where you have to be at peak performance, you cant just think youve got that one in your back pocket. But I think the strength of schedule, thats something we have to study. We dont know what that means. Thats why we havent done any scheduling in the last year, moving forward, because we want to see what is the strength of schedule.