By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATHENS, Ga. – So you want to be an athletic director at a Southeastern Conference institution?
The top job at each of the league’s 12 institutions are some of the most coveted positions in collegiate athletics. Since August 13, 2010, Georgia’s Greg McGarity has been fortunate enough to hold one of those spots, doing so in his hometown and at his alma mater.
A letterwinner on the 1973 University of Georgia tennis team, McGarity served as head women’s tennis coach, assistant sports information director, administrative assistant and assistant athletics director for facilities and event management during his first round of duty with the Bulldogs. He then spent 18 years at the University of Florida, serving most recently as executive associate athletics director and overseeing the department’s internal operations, before returning to Athens as athletics director.
He sat down with the SEC Digital Network last Friday to give us an idea of the scope of his job and what advice he would give those who aspire to his position.
SEC Digital Network: There are a lot of people out there who would like to be an athletics director in the SEC. What advice would you give to them?
“I think it’s important that they get their foot into athletics at any level. Those that aren’t in athletics right now that want to get into it, I encourage them to basically express their passion just to get their foot in the door. Whatever job they do – it could be the most menial of tasks – that job has to be the most important thing they’ve ever done. And they have to prove themselves like so many of us that are now ADs have done. If you go back and look at the timeline, probably all of us have been an intern or a volunteer and have had to prove ourselves at that level. Now, all of a sudden, the AD that is there at the time says, ‘Boy they have done a great job with this. I think they could do this.’ Or a person that is an AD at another school says ‘Boy, I have met this person and they were really sharp. I need to find out about that person.’ Timing is everything, but I think that getting your foot in the door is really important to being in the profession. Very rarely do you see people cutting their teeth in entry-level positions in the SEC. That may have to happen at a different level, but I would just encourage people to chase their dreams. There’s no one cookie-cutter way for people to move to an athletic director position, but I do think that the hires that have been made lately have been individuals who have a tremendous amount of experience in college athletics at different levels. You see, even within our conference, all types of models are in place. Some are from the fundraising end, some are former coaches, some are former business directors and some are former jack-of-all-tradesmen who have had their hands in a lot of different things. At the end of the day, I think it’s got to be someone who has a passion for athletics, someone that is not concerned with length of contract or how much money they make. It’s got to be something that you would enjoy doing every day and don’t look at it as a job, but as a labor of love.”
SEC Digital Network: What has helped you to succeed and be able to move up in the collegiate athletics industry?
“The key thing is being able to work in an environment that is proactive to where the athletic director is able to include people in the room when big decisions have to be made, and be able to see and witness and learn how to handle situations like that. [Florida athletics director] Jeremy [Foley] was very kind to be able to say, ‘Greg, why don’t you sit in while we’re talking about this today.’ By him letting me be involved in searches, in terminations and in sensitive matters, I wasn’t in the chair, but I was pretty close to it, so it allowed me to have a practical experience in there. If you didn’t have a mentor or a boss who had that attitude, you’re missing a chance there to where others say, “Hey, I know you have aspirations to be an AD one day, let’s have you sit in the room and see how it goes.’ Having been the benefactor of that for 18 years, what I want to do with my staff is let them know I meeting on something and tell them that if they want to be in the room, then come on in. If I had not been in that position early, I would not have had a clue on how it works. I think that is so critical. It’s important to know what your staff wants to do. What are their goals? What are their dreams? If you know that, you can help them get there. Part of helping them get there is letting them be in the room when you make decisions.”
SEC Digital Network: What is a typical day like for you as Georgia’s athletics director?
“I think the neat thing is that every day is different. There are no two days that are the same. The No. 1 task of an athletic director is to make those around him better. We really subscribe to servant leadership to where the question is, ‘What can I do to make your job more effective? What tools do you need to get the job done?’ That’s basically being a mentor and holding people accountable. I think it also means setting the tone for the department and our fans when they come into the building. It’s kind of like going into a Chick-fil-A. You want good service, you want to feel welcome and you want to feel comfortable. There are some things we are working on as far as customer service and kind of creating an exceptional experience for everyone when they come onto campus. It’s all got to start internally. If you have great customer service internally, then chances are, you are going to be pretty good to your external customers. It’s trying to keep a pulse on things and not micromanage, but have an awareness of what’s going on and being able to help people and being a resource. At the end of the day, you know you’re responsible for 250 full-time staff, 600 student-athletes and thousands of interested fans that you are accountable to as far as educating them on what they can and can’t do. It’s a lot of things, but it bounces around. Every day is different.”
SEC Digital Network: It seems like being an athletics director can be a 24/7 job. Is that the case and how do you manage that?
“There’s enough on this campus to do something every night. You could spend as many hours as you want in the office but, obviously, that’s not healthy. It’s not healthy for others, it’s not healthy for yourself or your family life. You’ve got to pick and choose when you need to be present. You can’t be in two places at one time. You’ve got to be yourself and you have to know that you can’t please everybody all the time. You do so many things during the week that you maintain good communications whether it be texting, e-mail, phone calls or going to see them in person. I think you just have to let people know that you care about them, that you’re concerned about them and if they need anything, you’re only a phone call away.”
SEC Digital Network: What are you looking for in the relationship that you have with your staff?
“You want to be surrounded by a lot of people that give you different viewpoints to where they aren’t ‘yes’ people. I love confrontation if it’s handled the right way. We want an environment where people are not afraid to say something or provide recommendations. We talk about how confrontation is what we want if it’s done right. And I’ve got to be aware that that’s the environment that I want there. It’s basically up to me to make that final decision. It’s a very healthy working environment.”
SEC Digital Network: When it comes to the athletics department, what has been a highlight of your first year here at Georgia?
“I think it’s having a staff that has been receptive to new ideas and accepting a way of life that we want to promote here as far as working is not everything. We want you to take vacation. If we have an open weekend, then go, get out of the office and enjoy it with your family and friends. When people are happy at home, they’re going to be happy at work. So we want to create that environment to where it’s not 24/7 and we don’t have people who are in here every day for 12 hours a day. That’s not healthy. We want to be sure that we create that type of environment and people have been receptive.”