The University of Georgia's athletic association has seen its share of changes during Michael Adams' 16-year tenure as president.
One of the most defining moves in that time span, however, was the decision to hire Mark Richt as head coach of Georgia’s football team. Since coming aboard in 2001, Richt has coached the Bulldogs to a 118-40 record, two conference championships and a level of national recognition not seen since Vince Dooley’s heyday.
“President Adams and Vince Dooley, the first time I met them both I was in the room with both of them at the same time. I got a chance to see the leadership of Georgia side by side, and ask them any questions I wanted to ask,” Richt said. “They collectively chose to hire me at Georgia, and I'm thankful for that.”
At first, the move was met with pause. Adams had just fired former head coach Jim Donnan, whose 40-19 record at Georgia led some to believe the decision was unnecessary. Dooley, then the athletic director, had also disagreed with the firing.
“Part of being able to survive those crises is to be given the opportunity to survive them,” Dooley said. “Then, the individual [must] actually address the crisis and change the direction of a downward spin to an upward spin.”
Much to Adams’ delight, Richt found enough early success with the Bulldogs to lessen the anger aroused by Donnan’s departure. With two Southeastern Conference titles in his first five seasons, Richt’s future seemed brighter than ever.
Inevitably, Richt and the football team hit a stretch of rough patches marred by big-game defeats. That stretch included his first losing season as head coach in 2010, when the team lost its bowl game to the University of Central Florida and finished 6-7.
“I don't care who you are, if you stay in this business long enough you're going to go through such a crisis or series of crises,” Dooley said. “It's being able to address those crises, which if you're able to do it'll make you a stronger person and make the program stronger. Coach Richt actually lived a charm life for a good while, but a couple years ago he went through two tough years and the first losing season.”
After losing the first two games of 2011 to ranked Boise State and South Carolina squads, Richt’s future prospects in Athens were looking grim. But with his back against the wall, he orchestrated an impressive turnaround that saw the Bulldogs win 10 straight games and capture an Eastern Division championship.
“He's responded to that. He's addressed the problems, and now has won back-to-back eastern division championships,” Dooley said. “So that's a testimony to the greatest testimonial, which is the test of time, to be able to stay in a place for a long period of time, particularly in this day and time when the patience is thinner than ever.”
Richt would earn a multi-year extension from Adams, and the questions regarding his job status were quickly answered.
But Dooley admits that the landscape of collegiate athletics generally fails to allow any room for error, primarily because of the increased salaries for big-time coaches. Richt makes $3.2 million per year, while coaches such as Nick Saban and Mack Brown earn upwards of $5 million annually.
“The expectations have always been great, but the salaries have never been like they are today. So because of that, expectations are greater and patience very thin. In many ways, the colleges have been like pros as far as changing coaches,” Dooley said. “You take even at Tennessee with Phil Fulmer, who won championships at Tennessee, and he was fired after a couple of circling years. And then he ended up going in the college football hall of fame.”
As for Adams, his relationship with the athletic program has varied over time. As chair of the NCAA executive committee, he became one of the first presidents to advocate for a playoff system in college football.
But many also remember Adams’ public power struggle with Dooley, which ended in a premature exit for the longtime Georgia football coach. His replacement in Damon Evans, who was asked to resign following a DUI arrest in June of 2010, turned out to be an unfortunate hiring decision for Adams.
“I think the mistake was made more by Damon Evans than President Adams,” Dooley said. “I think Damon Evans had a lot of good things going for him. I think he's very capable based on his record. I thought the hire was good. But [Evans] made a very bad mistake.”
Following Evans’ resignation, however, many considered the hiring of athletic director Greg McGarity to be the right call in the wake of some bad publicity for Georgia’s athletic program.
“From that, good things have happened. Greg McGarity is a person that's a Georgia man. He's the right person at the right time,” Dooley said. “So it was an excellent replacement of Damon Evans.”
With president-elect Jere Morehead now set to succeed Adams as University president, perhaps the biggest positive in that type of inside hire is the familiarity that comes with continuity.
Those tied to Georgia athletics seem to have every bit of confidence that Morehead can successfully fill Adams’ shoes.
“I've known Dr. Morehead for a while now. He was our faculty rep for some time, so I got to know him on a more personal level as you're flying to games and spending time at different events. You get to know your faculty rep pretty good on probably a different level than you would the president,” Richt said. “Now that he's going to be the president, there's a comfort level there for me. I can't see it not continuing to be a good relationship.”
Dooley echoed Richt’s confidence, noting that “surprise” hires are far from the worst kind of hires.
“He was probably somewhat of a surprise to some people as a candidate. But I've also said he's not nearly as much of a surprise as I was a surprise when I was named the football coach at Georgia many years ago,” he said. “I'm very pleased to see that. I've known Dr. Morehead and he has got great ability. He's very bright. He's very committed to the University of Georgia. I'm confident he'll make the University a splendid president.”
As Adams sits through his final weeks presiding over the University, Richt reflected on the relationship the two have built over his time in Athens.
“I think the relationship I've had with President Adams has been very good. He would say whatever he wanted to say, and would allow me to voice anything I wanted to voice,” he said. “Mostly it was just good conversation.”