ATHENS — Greg McGarity was in his office at Florida on Wednesday morning on a conference call when his BlackBerry buzzed. He took a peek. The caller ID read “Private Number.”
McGarity knew what that meant. He was getting the call.
“I said, ‘Well it’s either thumbs up or thumbs down,’ ” said McGarity, who then holed himself up in a colleague’s office, locking the door to take the call.
It was up. And a lifelong dream was finally realized. McGarity was chosen as the next athletics director at Georgia, a job he was formally hired for and introduced for Friday.
“It was one of those things where you just had to say, ‘This really did happen,’ ” McGarity said Friday, a bit after a news conference on campus. “I’ve gotta pinch myself; this did happen.”
Georgia hired McGarity hoping he can continue a period of on-field and financial success but restore some stability after the disgrace of his predecessor. Damon Evans, who like McGarity was a Georgia alum, resigned last month days after an embarrassing DUI arrest.
McGarity, 55, was a favorite from the beginning. He is an Athens native and former Bulldogs tennis player but has been at Florida as associate athletics director since 1992.
Georgia president Michael Adams gave McGarity a five-year contract, with terms identical to what Evans was getting before his final raise. He will get $420,000 the first year, with that increasing by $20,000 each year. He will also receive a longevity bonus of $125,000 payable at the end of the five-year period.
Evans started his new contract, worth $550,000 per year for five years, about an hour after he was arrested in Atlanta.
McGarity will start Sept. 1.
“It was also clear to me that anyone who spent 18 years at Florida had suffered enough,” Adams joked.
Adams said he was looking for “somebody that had been there, at the highest levels of intercollegiate competition. You could argue that he has not sat in the chair, as an AD. But he’s been about as close to it as you can be.”
Adams also admitted that after the Evans situation, he also was looking for “personal integrity.” He ran background checks all over Florida, as well as with people who had known McGarity at Georgia.
“I got a little bit worried when I couldn’t find anybody to say anything bad about him,” Adams said.
As a 10-year-old, McGarity chased tennis balls for longtime Georgia tennis coach Dan Magill. He later played for Magill and on Friday referred to Magill as “a second father,” getting emotional when he saw him in the audience.
One of McGarity’s first jobs, after graduating, was as an assistant sports information director. He remembered running tennis stats to Furman Bisher, which he called a “big deal.” He rose up to assistant athletics director at Georgia before Florida lured him away.
McGarity thought he had a chance to return to Athens in 2003. But Evans was hired, and McGarity admitted Friday that was a “shot to the gut.” But after he recovered, he said it “re-ignited” him.
Then Evans went through his situation, and McGarity had another chance.
McGarity interviewed with the search committee on Aug. 7 in Chicago at the airport Hilton.
But prior to that, he was called by Adams to a private lunch in New York. They had never met before; even during the 2003 search, McGarity had interviewed with the board of trustees, and Adams wasn’t there.
The fact that Adams wanted to speak separately with McGarity only added to the perception that he was the favorite from the start.
“Given the circumstances that surrounded this opening and led to this announcement, there’s some healing here yet to be done,” Adams said. “And I believe that Greg is the type of person that can facilitate that healing.”
McGarity and his wife, Sheryl, also a Georgia graduate, returned home twice a year. Now they will do so for good.
His parents, Stuart and Francis, are 85 and still live in Athens. His brother and sister still live in the town, too.
“I was the first one to leave,” McGarity said. “And when you leave, it just makes you appreciate home that much more.”