Incoming UGA president says he won't take a backseat role in athletics

semerson@macon.comFebruary 4, 2013 

JERE MOREHEAD OPENING REMARKS

JERE MOREHEAD ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ATHLETICS AND ACADEMICS

ATHENS - Jere Morehead was officially confirmed on Monday as UGA's next president, a job that entails many duties and challenges, which he outlined in his opening statement.

Then the first question from a media member was about sports.

And, about a half-hour later, so was the last one. And in between, I threw one in too.

As Morehead himself pointed out, it's the SEC, athletics cannot be ignored. And Morehead, while not carrying the reputation of his predecessor for being involved in athletics, vowed not to be a spectator.

Morehead knows plenty about athletics, having served on the school's athletic board in his current role as provost, and as the faculty rep for athletics for much of the 2000s. But will he be as visible and as active as Michael Adams has been in athletics for more than a decade as UGA's president, or would he kind of take a backseat? That's what I asked him on Monday.

"Well I don't think any president of a Southeastern Conference school can take a backseat when it comes to athletics," Morehead said. "Athletics is very important to this university and to its supporters. But I also believe that we have a very competent and highly qualified athletic staff. I will certainly continue to work with them, as I have in my current role."

Morehead then pointed to his current roles on the board, which put him in the middle of some critical decisions. And he said he would be in "regular communication" with Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, including a conversation on Monday morning.

Morehead also said he had spoken to SEC commissioner Mike Slive within the past couple days.

"So I haven't really been taking a backseat to athletics," Morehead said. "It will remain important."

When the press conference began, Morehead was asked his thoughts on the relationship between athletics and academics. (The entire answer is in the video above.)

"I believe the academics drive any university. I'm pleased to say that at the University of Georgia we have a very good relationship in that regard," Morehead said, then speaking about a monthly meeting with administrators, and mentioning his confidence in McGarity and his staff.

"In the end, I want to see our student-athletes be successful in the classroom, and earn their degrees. And I also want to see them win a few championships along the way as well. I don't think that's mutually exclusive. I think we do both very well here. And I'm committed to continuing to support athletics."

The press conference ended on a light moment. A student reporter asked Morehead if he was a "big Bulldog fan."

"Absolutely," Morehead said, and the crowd laughed. (It was one of those moments that wasn't really that funny, but after discussing weighty topics like funding HOPE scholarships, levity was a nice way to finish.

"If you haven't seen me at athletic events then you haven't been looking very well," Morehead said.

The student followed up with another question: Who is your favorite player? (No sport was specified.)

"Oh I'm not gonna answer that question," Morehead said, leading to more laughter. "I'm gonna refrain from responding."

Morehead is a native of Lakeland, Fla., who moved to Atlanta as a teenager. He earned his undergraduate degree from Georgia State, then earned a law degree from UGA in 1980. He will officially take over from Adams on July 1.

Follow Seth Emerson at @sethemerson.

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