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University of Georgia photo / Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity is stepping down at the end of this month following more than 10 years in the role.

Greg McGarity's legacy as Georgia's athletic director will include more than $210 million in facility enhancements and a conservative fiscal approach that has served the university well amid the coronavirus pandemic.

McGarity also will be forever remembered for firing football coach Mark Richt on Nov. 29, 2015, mere hours after Richt had improved to 13-2 against rival Georgia Tech.

"Those are the worst parts of our job, because it not only affects one person but an entire network of people," McGarity said Tuesday. "I remember sitting in this office right here with Mark at 8 o'clock on a Sunday morning. Hell, I was very emotional. I'm sitting across from someone who is maybe, without question, the greatest person you will ever meet.

"He was a person who was selfless. You think about the adoption of his children. I really struggled with that, and it wasn't easy to do, but at that time, I thought it was the best thing for us. It's no fun doing that. Trust me. You don't sleep the night before. You just dread it."

Richt was pushed out with a 145-51 record that included two Southeastern Conference titles and five trips to the league championship.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was a scorching hot commodity at that time and was coveted by South Carolina, so McGarity made the switch. Smart has led the Bulldogs to three consecutive SEC East titles for the first time in program history and lost the national championship game of the 2017 season to Alabama 26-23 in overtime.

"The jury will be out forever on those type of things," McGarity said.

The 66-year-old McGarity will finish out this month before retiring and relocating to Ponte Vedra Beach with Sheryl, his wife of 42 years. He said he has no idea about future plans.

McGarity was criticized early in his tenure for not keeping up financially with Alabama and Clemson and other schools that were enhancing their facilities at a rapid rate. Such criticism dwindled with the $63 million west end addition at Sanford Stadium, the $30 million indoor football practice facility and the ongoing $40 million expansion to the Butts-Mehre athletic building.

"In my view, the last 10 years under Greg's leadership have been extraordinary," Georgia president Jere Morehead said. "Greg over the years took some criticism for the fact we had reserves for a rainy day. Well, it's been pouring these last eight or nine months. Having those reserves has put us in a much better position than many other athletic programs in the country that chose to go deeply in debt and not have anything in reserves.

"I appreciate the fiscal responsibility that Greg provided, along with many other things, of course."

Morehead has no timetable for naming McGarity's successor, with Georgia senior deputy AD Josh Brooks assuming the role on an interim basis. Brooks is expected to be a candidate along with Carla Williams, a former All-SEC women's basketball performer for the legendary Andy Landers who wound up working 13 years in Georgia's athletic department and is now the AD at Virginia.

McGarity took over in 2010 after the firing of predecessor Damon Evans for a DUI arrest, a time McGarity described Tuesday as "messy." Georgia has won seven national championships during his tenure, with three of those in women's swimming and diving.

Though football is Georgia's driving financial force, McGarity also was hoping to upgrade a men's basketball program that had success under Hugh Durham with a 1983 SEC tournament championship and Final Four run and a 1990 SEC regular-season title but with little else in which to boast. That never occurred, with the Bulldogs just 65-67 since the start of the 2016-17 season and with McGarity having fired Mark Fox and hired Tom Crean after the 2017-18 campaign.

"In my tenure, we've been to the NCAA tournament twice, and we're 0-2," McGarity said. "You may not need to be in it every year, but you certainly need to be in the discussion, and that's never been a consistent part about Georgia basketball, ever. Coach Durham was awesome, but we weren't consistently a top-flight team. We've had periods of being a really good team, but it's been like a yo-yo.

"When I came in, Coach Fox told me he had a long, long runway, but after a time we reached certain points, and we weren't getting there. It was time for a change. Some sports are so much more difficult when there is nothing to fall back on historically, and I think that's a challenge in basketball."

McGarity said his favorite moments as AD were last season's football triumph over Notre Dame, which contained the first spectacular LED display inside Sanford Stadium, and the football run in 2017, which included a victory at Notre Dame — when Bulldogs fans comprised roughly 40% of the crowd — and the double-overtime outlasting of Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.

"Ten years is a long time for any athletic director to be at one place at one time," he said, "but I've appreciated the opportunity to serve. It's been a great ride."

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

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