ATHENS -- It didn’t take long for Greg McGarity to feel back at home in Athens. His hometown hadn’t changed much in the 19 years since he left.
“It really is odd, because it’s a feeling like you never left, in a sense. Because you’re so familiar with everything,” he said.
But as he sat in his corner office Tuesday, reflecting on his first year as Georgia’s athletics director, there was one obvious difference. McGarity is no longer the anonymous administrator. He is in charge, and the football team, whose practice field McGarity’s office overlooks, dominated his first year on the job.
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McGarity tried to address the football team’s arrest problem by meeting with local police chiefs last year, and one of those chiefs credits the new athletics director’s actions with helping stem the problem.
McGarity overhauled Georgia’s scheduling philosophy and set up an all-important season-opener against No. 5 Boise State.
He helped suggest seemingly small changes to head football coach Mark Richt. But he kept his embattled coach around.
McGarity did make one coaching change, to the volleyball program. But while he changed the organizational chart in the athletics department, there was no overhaul of personnel.
He also extended the contract of his successful head men’s basketball coach, Mark Fox. He kept around the head baseball coach, David Perno. Despite the struggles of other programs, he preferred to keep them on edge for the future and hold off on actions for now.
Largely, McGarity’s most visible actions in his first year concerned the football program. And he realizes it will probably be that way going forward.
“Football is so critical to every sport. I mean, you’ve gotta get it right,” McGarity said Tuesday from his corner office that overlooks the football team’s practice field. “You have to be successful there. Or you’ll have a certain element (of fans) that pulls out. I think the majority of fans will be with us through thick and thin. They kind of showed that this year. But I think you’ve got to consider all those things when you go through the evaluations. Football is what makes our whole athletic department work.”
The meeting with the two local police chiefs occurred last fall, at McGarity’s behest. The football team had 11 players arrested in 2010, continuing a worrisome trend. McGarity said he wanted to “basically find out what could we do as a department to assist those that have to make decisions in the law enforcement world. What could we do?”
The answer, according to UGA police chief Jimmy Williamson, was to keep players’ driver’s licenses up to date, thus avoiding many of the traffic-related offenses that had occurred.
“I never really felt we had a problem,” Williamson said. “We all have done dumb things, including me. But it wasn’t malicious or criminal behavior. … Most every problem they had was driving-related things where they hadn’t paid a ticket or had a suspended license. It was more like little book-keeping things they needed to do. So I know they put in all these little procedures that people needed to do.”
The last known arrest of a Georgia player was in October of 2010.
McGarity also helped create a mentoring program for the football players, led by about 30 men in Athens -- from law enforcement, community leaders and businessmen.
On almost his first day on the job last year, McGarity noticed the need for a nutrition program. A coordinator was hired in the offseason.
The overhaul of the strength and conditioning program happened later and was initiated by Richt, according to McGarity, who signed off on it.
Another immediate action on McGarity was scheduling. He canceled a planned series with Oregon, in a mutual decision between the programs. Then a few months later McGarity made perhaps one of the bigger decisions of his first year: Replacing Louisville with Boise State this year.
“Our goal was, we want to play in Atlanta,” he said. “We knew that we needed something as a program to jump start things. And we talked about this, to get us back in the national spotlight. Regardless of the outcome Saturday, and we know we all want to win, Boise State expects to win, we expect to win, it’s college football at the highest level. But what this has done is really shaped our whole season in the offseason.”
In the year since he started the job, McGarity hasn’t gone out of his way to put his stamp on the department. There was no massive housecleaning. Associate A.D. Arthur Johnson returned to Texas for a similar job, but he was replaced from within as McGarity reorganized.
“The wheels weren’t off the bus when I got here,” McGarity said. “There were a lot of talented individuals. We’ve moved some people around a little bit. We’ve changed some seats on the bus. But I think all in all people are buying in.”
His most important employee, Richt, said he and his boss have been on the same page throughout the past year.
“It’s been a great exchange of ideas,” Richt said. “He was very open to wanting to hear what I felt like we needed, what we might be missing, what I thought was important. And then he had some things that he felt were important too. …
“We really haven’t had anything we really had to bang heads about, to be honest with you.”