With the news that University of Georgia AD Greg McGarity will be stepping down after ten years on the job, speculation has already turned to who might replace him as the head of one of the nation’s largest and most successful collegiate athletic operations.
The job is a tough one, but it’s certainly also prestigious. McGarity’s contract, which was just extended in June, pays $700,000 per year plus certain longevity bonuses. That sounds generous, but it’s actually in the bottom third of SEC Athletic Directors.
That salary may figure prominently in who replaces him. If the University wishes to stay in that salary range they’ll need to either select someone coming from a smaller school, or perhaps someone already in Athens and looking to move up. They might also lean on any of several UGA alumni and friends of the program. This is an early, by no means exhaustive list of some of the folks whose names you may hear as part of that process.
Mark Richt, Former head football coach. The name has been bandied around half-jokingly and half-seriously on the Internet and social media since news of McGarity’s retirement broke. I think it’s exceptionally unlikely. Richt doesn’t really have any experience as an administrator, and the days of having former football coaches serve as figureheads to gladhand the alums and donors have long passed. Running an athletic department like Georgia’s is a full time job plus some, requiring subject matter knowledge which you don’t get on a football field. That’s to say nothing of the unparalleled awkwardness of putting Richt in charge of the guy who replaced him after he was fired. No one in Athens has a taste for reheated Phil Fulmer jokes.
Carla Williams, Athletic Director, University of Virginia. When she was hired in 2017 Williams became the first female African-American athletic director at a Power Five school. Under her tenure Virginia football has returned to respectability and the men’s basketball team won a national title. But her roots are squarely in the Peach State, and Athens specifically. The LaGrange native lettered three years at Georgia in basketball, then served five years as an assistant to Andy Landers from 1991 through 1996, including coaching two Final Four teams. She then moved into administration, serving as Georgia’s director of compliance before making stops at Vanderbilt and Florida State, finally coming back to Athens in 2004. She then rose to the title of deputy director of athletics, essentially serving as McGarity’s right hand, surrogate, and sounding board on a variety of major decisions. Williams helped set up Georgia’s NFL alumni program, and even served on the Terry College of Business board of directors.
In addition to her deep ties to Athens and the University of Georgia, Williams is also well-respected nationally. She’s served on the SEC executive committee, the executive committee of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, and most recently on the NCAA’s committee addressing NIL (name, image, likeness) issues for student athletes.
Williams’ base salary at UVA is $566,500, which Georgia would almost certainly increase substantially. Williams was also among the senior athletic officials who took voluntary pay cuts this year in the wake of the pandemic. Her resume isn’t just impressive among those candidates with ties to Athens, it’s among the most impressive among sitting athletic directors at any program in America. It’s inconceivable to me that she doesn’t get at least a call to gage her interest. The question will be whether Williams is interested in moving from the top job at a respected ACC institution to “come home.”
Josh Brooks, senior deputy athletic director, University of Georgia. Brooks wears a variety of hats within the athletic association, and in many respects shoulders the responsibilities Williams did before leaving for Charlottesville. Brooks oversees Internal Operations & External Operations. Brooks leads the athletic facility expansion and construction program, including serving as the point on the big West End Zone update project in Sanford Stadium. Brooks currently has direct oversight of football game-day operations and also serves as the sports supervisor for football, track & field, and cross country. At various times he’s also handled scheduling, contracts, and special events (including quarterbacking the 2013 Jason Aldean concert in Sanford Stadium).
While Brooks earned his bachelor’s at LSU, he earned a masters at UGA in Sports Management. He’s actually in his second stint in Athens, having left to take on the job of Athletic Director at Millsaps College in Mississippi and to serve as Director of Football Operations at Louisiana-Monroe.
Brooks, like Williams, has years of experience in the UGA athletic department and years of experience in college athletics generally. He’s very well-liked in the University community and around Athens generally. He will actually serve as the interim Director of Athletics while the search process is underway.
Tanner Stines, senior associate athletic director, McNeese State. Another administrator with UGA ties, Stines currently handles everything from financial affairs, to team travel and scheduling, human resources, marketing & ticketing, and game day operations for McNeese State in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Before coming to McNeese, Stines served in internal operation at UGA, playing a role in construction planning and capital projects. As an undergrad he served as a football equipment manager and later football operations intern on Mark Richt’s staff.
Stines graduated from Georgia in 2010 and has the least experience of the professional athletic administrators on this list. But he’s taken on significant responsibility in a short time at McNeese. While he probably doesn’t have the experience the search committee is looking for, keep your eye on Stines. I think he’s a rising star in collegiate athletic circles and could be a name to know in the not-too-distant future.
Darrice Griffin, Deputy athletic director, administration. Griffin joined the UGA athletic department in 2017 after working at UMass. During her time in the Classic City Griffin has taken charge of the Human Resources team within the athletic department, managed Title IX compliance, and served as the chief liaison for several sports. Griffin was a standout basketball player at Texas Tech, and served as Director of Women’s Basketball Operations at Columbia, then eventually managing the Lions’ men’s program, as well as men’s and women’s soccer and baseball.
Chris Welton, Former Atlanta Olympic official, businessman. Welton would be a bit of an unorthodox choice in some ways, but makes a lot of sense in others. Old timers will remember Welton as the starting rover on the 1980 UGA national title team. After graduating from law school at Georgia Welton went on to practice at prestigious Atlanta-based firm King & Spalding. He was then tapped by fellow UGA letterman Billy Payne to oversee marketing and fundraising efforts for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Welton’s efforts to gain corporate support made the Atlanta Games one of the only Olympiads to be 100% funded without government help.
Since his Olympic service Welton has had a hand in a variety of private business ventures, including a pair of sports marketing firms. Welton also has substantial experience in real estate, and is well-known in UGA athletic circles (his son Conor also lettered in baseball for the Red and Black).
Jared Benko, Athletic Director, Georgia Southern. Benko, a Watkinsville native, earned a bachelors from UGA in 2005 and a master’s in 2007. While in Athens he worked in various capacities in the athletic department, including the sports information department.
The job will likely also attract interest from athletic administrators with no clear ties to UGA. After stops at Auburn and Arkansas Benko moved onto Mississippi State where he served as Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Financial Officer. Benko handled scheduling, fundraising, and marketing among other duties. But he also filled a major strategic role, even serving on the three person search committee that ultimately recommended Mike Leach for the MSU football job. Benko’s been on the job less than a year but has already hired a basketball coach and women’s soccer coach, as well as steering the Eagles through the unfurling Covid-19 pandemic.
At 39 years old Benko is among the younger candidates on this list, but he’s packed a lot of experience in his career already, and he’s another rising star in college athletics.
Who are the favorites? I’d take Williams and Brooks over the field of outstanding candidates. But it’s hard to say who ultimately gets the job. There will be a lot of stakeholders with a voice in this process, and there’s really no way of knowing which will coalesce around which candidates. I wouldn’t look for a hasty decision, especially with talented deputies already in place like Brooks and Griffin who can manage things on an interim basis. Until later…