ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity sees a changed football program. And he credits the head coach.
Mark Richt was under fire from fans and critics earlier this month, when Georgia was 1-4 and McGarity was being asked about Richt’s job status. On Monday, following a three-game win streak, McGarity went out of his way to praise Richt.
“At one time it didn’t look it was going in the right direction for our program,” McGarity said. “And I have to credit Mark with what he was able to do, to basically rally the troops after a rough run there and a tough game at Colorado.”
Specifically, McGarity lauded Richt for holding more physical practices, changing course after a lighter-hitting preseason than usual. McGarity believed that the Monday after the Colorado loss, when Richt held a rare full-pads practice, “set the tone for the season.”
“That different tone, and Mark being a man enough to take some responsibility to say we probably made some mistakes on the front end, in terms of the practices and the two-a-days,” McGarity said. “For him to acknowledge that, I think that speaks to the type of man he is.”
Richt is 94-31 in 10 seasons at Georgia, and 53-25 in SEC games.
But he’s also 2-7 against arch-rival Florida, including two straight routs. And Florida is the next opponent, Saturday in Jacksonville.
McGarity spent the past 18 years as an associate athletic director at Florida, before returning to his alma mater in August.
He still speaks with his former boss, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, several times a week.
“We’ll always kind of be joined at the hip in some way or another,” McGarity said.
They have made a point to speak every Friday, wishing each other luck before the weekend of football, but obviously this Friday’s conversation will be different.
McGarity said he didn’t know quite what to expect, as far as his emotions. He pointed out the only time he was in a similar spot was in 1992, when he first attended a Georgia game as an employee of Florida.
Back then, the game was generally — but not officially — called the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” The schools have tried to stop calling it that, in an effort to be sensitive to underage drinking concerns.
“It will always be associated with the game regardless of all the efforts of both institutions and the city make to diminish that part of the weekend,” McGarity said.
“What we have seen recently is an effort by both institutions and the city to address underage drinking, the consequences of poor judgment and poor behavior, and really focus on sportsmanship and really good conduct, to make it that more of an enjoyable weekend. Because I think the game is important, but I think what happens beforehand and afterwards is probably the bigger story.”
That’s why McGarity supports keeping the game in Jacksonville, citing the job the city does in supporting and promoting the game.
“It’s that bond, it’s that experience, it’s that special week that brings these groups together, that some have been doing the same thing for so many decades,” he said.
“And that’s what makes this weekend unique, as opposed to coming on campus.
“It basically offers those opportunities of togetherness, and friendship that have been in place for years and years.”