Michael Adams' tenure marked by growth, controversy

photo University of Georgia President Michael Adams

Michael Adams will step down as University of Georgia president on June 30, ending a 16-year tenure in which he was intently involved in Bulldogs athletics.

Adams has been widely respected nationally, serving a three-year term as chair of the Southeastern Conference and a three-year term chairing the NCAA. Yet he has been booed by Georgia football fans on several occasions since 2003, when he denied Vince Dooley's request for an extension as athletic director.

"I hope I'm remembered as someone who has helped to create proper balance," Adams said. "The academic interests at Georgia come first, and I don't think there is any doubt in anybody's mind about that, given some of the decisions I've had to make through the years. I also hope I will be remembered as a supporter. I think that athletics, if done properly, brings significant advantages to a place of our size."

SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack describes Adams as a "significant force in providing leadership" not only for his university but the league in various national matters.

A 1966 graduate of Chattanooga High School, Adams has nearly doubled the size of Georgia's campus since his arrival and has hired every current vice president and dean. The university has raised more money under his watch than it raised previously in its history, and it is in a seven-year streak of more than $100 million in annual contributions.

Georgia's athletic department has flourished as well, producing the largest profit ($23.9 million) of any NCAA institution in 2006 and a profit of more than $10 million in almost every year since.

"I would think he'll be viewed as a president who provided tremendous leadership not only to the university but to the athletic association through his association on so many NCAA and Southeastern Conference committees," Bulldogs athletic director Greg McGarity said. "He has the most tenure of any president in the conference, and I think there is no question he has provided a level of expertise and a level of counsel that [SEC commissioner] Mike Slive depends on from a historical perspective.

"I've always said that when Dr. Adams speaks, people listen, because so many people have so much respect for him in really all areas of campus life."

Georgia football coach Mark Richt succinctly concurred, calling Adams "a special supporter who has always been in our corner."

Adams has expressed the desire to take a year off and possibly write a book or two before returning to campus life as an occasional political science teacher. He will remain in the athletic realm as well, having been appointed in January to a three-year term on the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Should any of his books include detailed viewpoints of what transpired on the athletic front during his time in charge, Adams will not be lacking for readers.


When Adams was hired in 1997 from Centre College in Kentucky, he made clear he would have a say in the handful of positions that have a profound impact on the way Georgia is viewed. The provost and three senior vice presidents fall into that category, as do the athletic director and the head coaches for football and men's basketball.

"You don't have a physics section every day," Adams said. "You have a sports section, and you're usually writing about either football or basketball in large measure. I wanted people in those jobs who shared my values and who thought that protecting the name of the university and doing things right was important, and whose ethics were impeccable."

The first prominent athletic hire Georgia made under Adams occurred in the spring of 1999, when Jim Harrick was tabbed as basketball coach to replace the fired Ron Jirsa. Adams recommended Harrick to Dooley, with Adams having worked as vice president of university affairs at Pepperdine from 1982 to '88 while Harrick was coaching the Waves to four NCAA tournaments.

Harrick had led UCLA to the 1995 national championship but was fired after the '96 season for falsifying expense reports. He turned the Bulldogs around, guiding them to the 2001 and '02 NCAA tournaments and producing his best Georgia team in '03, but the program imploded that March.

It was uncovered that assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr. provided $300 to former player Tony Cole, but the real embarrassment was a "Coaching Principles and Strategies of Basketball" course the younger Harrick taught. Three basketball players received A's in the course without having to attend, and questions on his final exam were as simple as "How many points does a 3-point field goal account for?"

Dennis Felton was hired to replace Harrick and coached six seasons before he was fired and replaced by current coach Mark Fox.

On July 1, 2004, Georgia made history when Damon Evans was introduced by Adams as the SEC's first black athletic director. Evans oversaw new financial highs and continued success in football, but he offered his resignation on July 4, 2010, following his arrest in Atlanta on a DUI charge, when he was accompanied by a 28-year-old female who was arrested for disorderly conduct.

"We've had a miss or two along the way," Adams said, "but on balance and particularly the two we have right now with Mark Richt and Mark Fox and certainly the leadership of Greg McGarity, I think they're pretty well-positioned for the future."


That Adams and Dooley weren't always on the same page became evident late in the 2000 football season, when the Bulldogs ended a once-promising autumn with losses to rivals Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Coach Jim Donnan had lost to those three schools in 1999 as well, and the 2000 loss to Tech marked a third straight to the in-state foe.

Donnan had a 35-13 record from 1997 to 2000, which Dooley felt was enough to keep him around for another season, but Adams overruled his athletic director and Donnan was fired.

A legendary football coach who led the Bulldogs to 201 wins, six SEC titles and one national championship in 25 seasons, Dooley reached an agreement with Adams in 2001 that he would retire as athletic director on June 30, 2004. Dooley privately asked Adams for a four-year extension in March 2003 and a two-year extension in June 2003 but was turned down each time, which led to what Adams described as a fracturing between the university's academic and athletic camps.

Dick Bestwick, a former Virginia football coach and former Georgia associate athletic director, was open in his criticism, calling Adams an "'arrogant egotist" and saying his framing the backlash as academics versus athletics was "'unconscionable."

"I don't think it's unconscionable, because that is where the dividing line has come on this one," Adams told the Times Free Press in July 2003.

Georgia's 18-member Board of Regents quickly announced its unanimous support for Adams, and other presidents weighed in as well.

"Mike Adams has the right to appoint an athletic director, and that right ought to be clear," said Ohio State president Gordon Gee, who was Vanderbilt's chancellor at the time. "The fact it's not clear and not in sync as far as power and responsibility is problematic."

Dooley's reverence at Georgia may be topped only by Herschel Walker, the tailback who powered the Bulldogs to three SEC titles and the 1980 national crown and won the '82 Heisman Trophy. Walker announced in June 2003 that he was withdrawing as a fundraiser, and supporters of Dooley began an online campaign to send 34-cent checks to the UGA Foundation in respect to Walker's jersey number.

That drive quickly stalled after Adams mocked it.

"We've had 140 people, in round numbers, send checks for 34 cents," Adams told the Times Free Press. "Now that's in a state of 8 1/2 million people with 250,000 on the alumni and friends system. That's not what I would call a huge outpouring, and some of those had never given a penny before, so it was a step up for some."

In his 2011 book "History and Reminiscences of the University of Georgia," Dooley wrote that Adams was "hands-on, controlling and [some say] egotistical." He has since referenced his book when asked about Adams.


With SEC athletics getting more attention and providing more revenue than ever before, Adams believes the challenge presidents have of keeping it in balance continues to get tougher.

"While we haven't done that perfectly, I think we've done that better than most," he said.

When Adams arrived at Georgia, the SEC was distributing $58.9 million to its member institutions. Last spring, the league distributed $241.5 million.

There is no bigger factor for the increased windfall than the television contracts the SEC has in place. The league currently receives $150 million annually from ESPN and $55 million from CBS, and those figures are expected to increase once Slive and Womack finish negotiations that began shortly after Missouri and Texas A&M joined the league.

Television revenue has provided stadium and practice facility enhancements throughout the league, but Adams said it has not been without drawbacks.

"You can't put certain genies back in the bottle, but the power of the media in these decisions today is much greater than it was 15 or 16 years ago," Adams said. "I think that's one of the things that the next generation of presidents may have to rein in a bit. I've refused to play on Thursday nights or Friday nights. We won't do it home or away.

"We double the size of Athens when almost 95,000 people show up, and there is a lot of balancing that has to be done to host that many people. We may have given away, in my opinion, too much control in certain areas."

That will be an issue for president-elect Jere Moorehead, who came to Georgia in 1986 as a business professor and serves as provost and vice chair of UGA's athletic association board of directors. Moorehead has a quiet demeanor and is expected to keep a lower profile than Adams, who openly lobbied for a national playoff in college football after the Bulldogs finished second in the 2007 season.

"Dr. Adams is very passionate about athletics, but he is passionate about everything that touches the university," McGarity said. "I see him just as passionate about the honors program or going through the search process for deans. I just see a level of passion there, and athletics is obviously one of those.

"Athletics gets more notoriety among the public because it's so popular, but what most people don't see is the passion he has for every facet of the university."

Even if that has resulted in his coming across more meddlesome than most.

"I think if you talk to the vice presidents and deans, they will tell you that I hire good people and then I get out of their way," Adams said. "I may provide a little encouragement or advice every now and then, but people forget that the AD is a direct report to the president, and I think that's as it should be."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.