It’s a new year, and there’s a new man leading the UGA athletic department. Back on Jan. 6, Josh Brooks was named the new athletics director, succeeding the recently retired Greg McGarity. It’s a promotion to the big chair for Brooks, who had been serving as senior deputy athletic director, as well as interim athletic director for the six short days between McGarity’s retirement at the end of 2020 and Brooks’ official coronation.
At 41, Brooks becomes the youngest athletic director for a Power Five program. Despite his age, his promotion was not a surprise. Brooks is a well-liked figure in Athens, and he’s worked in UGA’s athletic department for most of the last 12 years, aside from short stints as AD at Division III Millsaps College and deputy AD at Louisiana-Monroe from 2014–2016. Georgia loves nothing more than to hire from within for big jobs. UGA hasn’t hired an athletic director with no connection to the school since Joel Eaves in 1967.
Which isn’t to say Brooks isn’t qualified. Aside from what he’s done internally that the public never sees, he’s spearheaded a number of popular public-facing projects during his time in Athens. Remember the Jason Aldean concert at Sanford Stadium in 2013? That was Brooks’ brainchild. Scheduling the home-and-home against Notre Dame, which wound up being two of the football team’s biggest games of the last decade? Brooks. The LED lights that blanket Sanford in red for night games? Yeah, that was Brooks, too.
But for all Brooks has done, his promotion still comes with a small bit of concern, through no fault of his own. After McGarity announced his retirement in late November, UGA President Jere Morehead convened an 11-person advisory council to find a new AD. A little over a month later—and less than a week after McGarity’s official retirement—the No. 2 administrator in the athletic department was promoted. That suddenness belies the idea that there was ever much of a search in the first place. A month and change isn’t enough time to do your due diligence in a truly national search.
In many ways, it smells like the Mark Richt-to-Kirby Smart transition we saw back in 2015. If you can remember back five years—which seems like half a lifetime ago—it wasn’t just Richt’s underperformance that paved the way for his axing. It was also that Smart, who had spent nine wildly successful years running Alabama’s defense under Nick Saban, was tired of waiting for the job at his alma mater to open up. Rumors were swirling that he was being lined up to replace the recently retired Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. (There’s an alternative universe not worth thinking about.) Smart was a rising star, and the idea of his leading the program was too enticing to pass up. So in one of his few shrewd moves, McGarity fired Richt to pave the way for Smart to return home.
Like Smart, Brooks is a young rising star. If he didn’t get promoted to athletic director soon, someone else would have swooped in and hired him. And if Morehead and his search committee had picked someone from outside the program, it’s doubtful Brooks would’ve been happy to go back to his old job. So the time was right for McGarity—who, like Richt, was an old dog who hadn’t learned any new tricks—to step aside and make way for the next thing.
That isn’t to say McGarity was fired or forced out like Richt. In fact, Morehead has gone on record saying that he was happy for McGarity to keep the gig for however long he wanted it. Which is why it makes sense that Morehead wanted more of the same, so he went with McGarity’s understudy. After all, Brooks heaped praise on Morehead and McGarity after being named interim AD in December. “I don’t think this is a time for change,” he said.
Brooks may well be an upgrade on McGarity, which shouldn’t be hard. He could even wind up being an outstanding athletic director, and I hope he does. But the process that landed him in the position leaves a lot to be desired.
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