Greg McGarity watched the Georgia-Florida game the past 18 seasons in the same spot: right next to Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley. McGarity no longer will sit in the operations booth in the Jacksonville stadium alongside his good friend and former boss.
On the job now for about two months as Georgia’s athletic director, McGarity will have a different perspective Saturday in the rivalry game.
“Greg obviously is the AD of the school we compete against and everything, but more than that, he’s my friend, a dear friend,” Foley said Wednesday.
“It will be strange. He’ll show up I’m sure with a red shirt on and a black jacket and that will be strange. I’m looking forward to seeing him more than anything else. I haven’t seen him since he left. Obviously we’ve talked a lot, but looking forward to seeing him.”
McGarity was executive associate athletic director at Florida, where he worked since 1992 under Foley. He was there when the football team won national titles in 1996, 2006 and 2008.
Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC) and Georgia (4-4, 3-3) have the Southeastern Conference’s second- and third-best records in the past 10 seasons, but they’ve combined for seven losses this year.
“We’re sort of texting back and forth, ‘Keep your head up,’ ” McGarity said.
Foley and McGarity speak about two or three times a week – usually early in the morning – and send the occasional text.
“Certainly Georgia’s season started out on a down note and obviously we went through a rough stretch here,” Foley said. “I’ll get a text from him after a difficult loss. He’ll get a text from me after a difficult loss. Really not much different than when we were down here together. We went through a tough stretch, he and I would always try to prop each other up. He’s a pro and he’s a big boy. Obviously I’d like to think both of us know how to deal with adversity.”
McGarity, who was assistant athletic director at Georgia before going to Florida, has been to every Georgia-Florida game since 1989. McGarity stayed back in Athens with his wife Sheryl in 1988 because their son Alex was due. He arrived a week later. He’s now a senior at Florida.
“We have always had a great time going to Jackonsville, whether it’s the last 18 years in Gainesville and previously in Athens,” McGarity said. “It was kind of a day trip for Florida, but it was a weekend trip for the Georgia fans.”
Florida has won 17 of the last 20 games.
The last Georgia win came in 2007, when the Bulldogs rubbed the Gators the wrong way when most of the team danced in the end zone after their touchdown, drawing two unsportsmanlike celebration penalties.
Georgia coach Mark Richt ordered players to draw a penalty for celebrating after the first touchdown to bring more energy, but he said he meant only those on the field, not the entire team.
McGarity’s reaction then?
“I would say probably more than anything disappointing,” he said. “I think when you see that, it was basically disrespectful of the game. … You know that’s a penalty. There was some taunting going on while all that was going on. That probably what was more disappointing than anything. It left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
“I can promise you this: there were several copies of that DVD of that incident floating around for years to come. I kept a copy of it on my mantel because it sent the wrong message to everyone that it’s OK to be in blatant violation of a rule.”
The Bulldogs’ season this year has taken an upward turn, with three straight wins after their 1-4 start. Georgia, along with Florida, is now in the hunt for the SEC East title.
The change came after an Oct. 2 loss at Colorado.
Richt required his team to practice in full pads on a Monday during a gameweek for the first time. He has ramped up physical practices and spent more time working on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling.
“Mark could have sat there and been a hard head and said, ‘I’m not changing anything. Hey, this is what we’ve done and we’ve had success,’ ” McGarity said. “But you know what, he didn’t say that. … For him to say he might have made a mistake, that’s hard for some people to do. I think the true leaders, they come out and there’s nothing wrong with saying that’s my fault or I made a mistake. The big thing about it is what do you do about it then and what Mark did, he changed.”
Not many – if any – games hold more importance to Georgia fans than beating Florida, but McGarity doesn’t want it to be the end-all, be-all.
“Heck, they’re all important,” he said. “If I was going to say it’s a normal game, when our players go over the bridge on the buses and they see 40,000 Georgia fans and 40,000 Florida fans, they realize, ‘Wow this is not your typical road game.’ ”
McGarity sees a “Florida fixation” for some Georgia fans.
“People are just all the time talking about how important it is to beat Florida,” he said. “I mean I know it’s important, but at the end of the day, every game is important. I don’t understand maybe the stance that people say, ‘Well you’ve got to beat Florida every year.’ What does that tell me? I can go 1-7 in the conference and it’s OK if I beat Florida. I think that’s unhealthy.
“I think when people put so much pressure on the program to beat another school, these coaches and players, they know what’s at stake,” he continued. “They’ve got it figured out. I think the less that we pay extra special attention and do things differently, I think those to me are not necessary. The coaches and the players, they’re going to get pysched up for it enough.”