ATHENS – This was a quieter football season for Greg McGarity. The Georgia athletics director didn’t endure any hot seat talk about his head coach, and when things were rough at one point he laid low and let events play out.
As he sat in his office on Friday morning, he looked out and noted that Mark Richt’s 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 to be hammered out, and no big changes to the program necessary.
McGarity sat down to discuss the football program, as well as the men’s basketball program, and other issues on his place as the new year begins:
STATE OF THE FOOTBALL PROGRAM
Q: 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.
McGarity: 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 didn’t panic, his assistant coaches didn’t panic. Mark’s talked about that often, is that there was no reason to really have any big team meetings.
You win 10 in a row, and then you don’t finish well against LSU, you don’t finish well against Michigan State. Yeah, nobody likes to lose, and nobody likes to lose that game. So we’re in sort of new territory now, to where we won the last game of the year, with this group of kids. It’s kind of refreshing to see the comments after the game, from Todd Gurley, others, saying we can’t 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.
They’ve tasted what it’s 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.
Q: Do you like where this program is in terms of being a top-5 type team?
McGarity: We talked about, when I first got here, being relevant in your sport. And I don’t think there’s any question that Georgia is now relevant in the conversation. When you mention Southeastern Conference and you mention the Eastern Division, Georgia’s in that discussion. If we can have that across the board in all our 21 sports, that’s 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.
Q: 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?
McGarity: I think any time you have a game like that, you always worry. I mean I’m 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. You’ve got to be able to win some of those ugly games. But again, it wasn’t 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. So regardless of the game, we all thought we’re still in control of our destiny. That South Carolina had some difficult games coming up. If we ran the table, then we’re probably gonna be in Atlanta. That’s what happened. I think the reassuring thing is nobody panicked, nobody did a 180 and reinvented the wheel. There are gonna be some games – you see in the pros, you see it at every level of every sport – where things just don’t work out. Where you don’t play very well and the other team plays maybe it’s best game of the year.
Q: 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?
McGarity: I think you look over a two-year span, you win 23 games over a two-year span, I don’t care who your opponents are, that doesn’t happen often. It’s only happened once here, I think. So I don’t get hung up on who your opponents are. I know there’s noise out there about your strength of your opponent. Well you could look at the 2013 schedule
(McGarity picks up a composite SEC schedule for 2013) ..
“And you could now say, ‘Well South Carolina in the West they play Mississippi State and Arkansas. That’s the way this Southeastern Conference schedule works. 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 weren’t very close. But this team, I just think over the whole season, 14 games, really did remarkably well.
Q: I tried to get you to say something publicly after the South Carolina game, but you declined. It seems you’ve adjusted how you handle some of this stuff over the past few years.
McGarity: From an athletic director’s point of view, you never want to say anything that could get in the way of the season, that could be misinterpreted, where somebody could read something in there – especially internally, where they could say: ‘Well what is he saying?’ So I just choose not to really comment on anything until the season is really over with. .Coaches and players, they certainly have enough to focus on during the year, they certainly don’t need me adding another layer of comments that deal with things, that might confuse people or might lose our focus.
Q: There have been lots of criticisms over 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?
McGarity: “I think it did. I think first of all, I’m 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 can’t 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 let’s make sure that the team really monitors themselves.
We’re talking about effort and accountability. We just left our orientation for all our mid-year enrollees, and we talked about effort in the classroom and athletics, and we talked about accountability. As an athletic director that’s all you can ask for from student-athletes.
Q: Will you all still pursue something with the SEC in terms of a uniform drug policy?
McGarity: Well the SEC is gathering information from all schools. The presidents have asked for that information. So what the presidents do with that information I’m 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.
Q: But bottom line you all are comfortable with your policy.
McGarity: Very much so. Because at the end of the day, we’re trying to help youngsters. If they haven’t already formed (from) those impressionable days as teenagers, well they’re 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 haven’t learned their lessons before they got here, then we’re their next filter. Part of our role is to be sure that we’re teaching them life lessons. So if we don’t 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, that’s not gonna help them down the road.
But I’m sure everybody that has really gone on to college has learned some life lessons. I look back on my time as a college student, and I’m so glad I learned that lesson with I was 18 or 19 years old, rather than when I was 25 years old. Because people now get fired now for breaking rules where in college you get a second chance. I think that’s part of our role, is to help them grow, not only athletically but as a total person. So we have nothing to be ashamed of.
I think what you’ll see down the road is maybe more schools adopting our stance, and our policy there, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
Q: Even a drug (marijuana) that is now being legalized in some states?
McGarity: “Well that adds to the complication. That’s probably why it will never be a national issue. Because in Oregon, and where else – Colorado – I mean, now they’ve 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. That’s why it’s such a difficult conversation. What’s Vandy’s policy? We don’t know, because it’s private. You’ve got some schools that don’t even drug test. I don’t think Stanford University even has drug tests. They just don’t worry about it. I remember my good friend at Washington State, Bill Moos, said it’s not legal to randomly drug test in the state of Oregon and maybe Washington. The only way you can drug test is if there’s a reason to. But if you just have random drug tests, pull out of a hat like we do, just random, they’re not allowed by law to do that. I don’t want to say never, but it would be extremely difficult to have a national policy like that.
BOBO’s NEW DEAL
Q: Back to football: This year the offense had a great year, and last year the defensive coordinator was rewarded. Is something in the works there with Mike Bobo?
McGarity: Yeah we’ll talk. That’s why we really haven’t had a chance to sit down in earnest with Mark, and go over a bunch of plans. We have not talked really about details. We’ve talked about a few things in general that will remain between he and I. But we really haven’t sat down since the bowl game was over with and had a definite plan of action.
But I think Mike and his staff have had just an exceptional year. Recruiting, the whole nine yards, there it’s really been fun to watch. You can’t argue the success that we’ve had offensively. It’s amazing to see how the offense has grown now that you have some quality running backs. You now have that threat back there, and will have for years to come. That’s what makes the offense so successful, is you can’t focus on one thing. Just think about your wideouts: I mean you lose Marlon Brown and you lose Michael Bennett, and boy you’ve got kids that step up. And in the bowl game, even with Malcolm Mitchell out, Justin Scott-Wesley steps up. So obviously by the practice and by the preparation, all this stuff, we pretty well got the job done with your three top receivers out and still had remarkable passing numbers. So I think Mark’s staff did one of the best jobs that could be done, managing the whole season, and managing on the field, off the field, academics, all those type things. I think it gives us a strong foundation moving forward.
Q: Obviously Grantham has a three-year deal and had one when you got here. Are you comfortable with Mike also getting more than the one year?
McGarity: Those are things that Mark and I are discussing. Those are the things we really haven’t sat down, face-to-face, and talked about those things. He and I are in a good place right now.
STATE OF THE HOOPS PROGRAM
Q: On the men’s basketball program, they got off to a rough start what are your feelings on coach Fox and the direction of the program?
McGarity: We talked about it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. And I think the fans have seen that Mark has been able to get the freshmen playing time, they’re kind of developing, as he said after the last couple of games, there’s 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 we’re gonna have constant improvement throughout the year. It’s still up on the seniors to make this thing work, to make the team run. It’s a great group of guys. It’s 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 we’ve got a chance to continue to develop this year. And we’ll just see where things are throughout the season.
It’s a long year, what 31 games, and we’re a third of the way through, getting ready to start the second season. The non-conference games out of the way, we’ll start the conference schedule. We’ll see where things stand at the end.
Q: You gave him a contract extension less than two years ago, after they made the tournament, it just seems that wasn’t too long ago.
McGarity: Back at that point in time, there was an adjustment made in the salary because we were in the bottom half of the league (in terms of Fox’s salary), and we didn’t feel that’s where Mark deserved to be. We’re not the top, we’re kind of in the middle now. Our assistant pool (of basketball salaries) is in the middle. And that’s kind of where we are right now. That’s why you really don’t discuss them during the season. You wait until the season’s over with, because you really don’t want coaches – it’s kind of like I mentioned with football earlier – you don’t want to do anything that’s gonna distract from the team. I mean we’re behind this group 100 percent. Even though we did have a rough start, you didn’t see a support staff that was just calling it a day. It’s our job to be there when there are difficult times.
THE FAN EXPERIENCE
Q: Attendance at bowl games has been poor, but TV ratings up – and that’s emblematic of everything, it seems. I know the TV money is good anyway, and you all haven’t had problems selling out Sanford Stadium. But as a whole does the industry need to be concerned about the attendance trend?
McGarity: I do. First of all, on campus, you must innovative, you must be creative, you must always be concerned about your fan base. You can’t take anything for granted. That’s why I think this year in football season the winning helps. At the end of the day, you’d like to say that’s what drives crowds, but it certainly helps. It’s very difficult to do that when you’re not winning. But at the same time it doesn’t guarantee people are gonna show up and fill your stadium.
You can look at programs now, and very successful programs can’t fill their basketball arenas, football stadiums. So it’s up to us to make sure that we’re 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 we’ve got to think of things you can only see at Sanford Stadium that you can’t at home.
Because the thought is, If I’m home and I’ve got my (remote control) out I can toggle between Game A and Game B, and if I wanna cut it off I can cut it off. Well, we’re thinking that way in the stadium, to where if I can do it at home, hopefully I can do some of that stuff at the stadium. That’s 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, let’s bring the Coke to you, and maybe that’s doubling the amount of hawkers you have in the stadium. Those are all things we think about daily. Locally we have to do that.
Now nationally, it’s a much bigger deal. Because people have less – and now they’re gonna have even less expendable funds That’s a huge concern, the cost of tickets to BCS games. They’re all triple figures. There’s none under $100. When you see FSU discounting tickets to the Orange Bowl, half price. Northern Illinois, if a student showed up they got a free ticket. Well someone’s gotta pay for that. I think Louisville, Papa John’s showed up, the tickets that weren’t sold, the gentleman who owns that helped defray the expenses. So you’re seeing that across the board. But I think that’s a big concern, and there are different committees set up within the conference, there are different committees set up with the NCAA to look at those type things. It’s a huge issue for the SEC. Huge issue, as far as fan involvement. I’m one of two A.D.’s that’s on a committee that deals with the fan involvement piece.
Q: Would it also impact non-conference scheduling?
McGarity: 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 can’t just think you’ve got that one in your back pocket. But I think the strength of schedule, that’s something we have to study. We don’t know what that means. That’s why we haven’t done any scheduling in the last year, moving forward, because we want to see what is the strength of schedule.
Q: Are you also waiting to make sure the SEC schedule stays at eight games?
McGarity: Yeah, yeah. We are going to discuss what a nine-game model looks like, at least have that discussion. But you want to be sure that you’re not over-scheduling and making it more difficult to be in the BCS games, by adding an SEC game.
Q: Will you also discuss that in Destin, at the SEC meetings?
McGarity: It’ll be a topic, yeah. We’ll cover some of that in Nashville at the next A.D. meeting. But yes that nine-game schedule we’re going to take a look at it, to see what it looks like. But no commitment, either way.
Q: But the rivalry with Auburn is protected no matter what.
McGarity: I think so. And even if you went to nine games it’s still protected. ____________________________________