Symbols: Who to Watch in 2017
During the season the "Symbols" section is reserved for certain traditions or defining characteristics of rivalries or opposing teams. For this year's Preseason Edition, here is a list of the UGA-centered storylines we are keeping an eye on as the year develops:
1. Kirby Smart
This guy is making (and spending) more than any UGA football coach in history, but is 0-1 against Tech, Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Vandy, respectively.
He came into this job with an unbelievable amount of goodwill. If he wins an SEC Championship and gets UGA into the playoff, he will be able to yield more influence than any figure in UGA Athletics history. If he drops this year's game to Tech, he is just Ray Goff 2.0. This is the highest high-wire act of 2017.
2. President Morehead
Since ascending to the presidency at UGA, Morehead has been laser-focused on uniting UGA's community (which was badly fractured after the Adams years), building UGA's endowment, improving UGA's infrastructure, and raising UGA's status to that of a premier comprehensive state university such as Michigan or Virginia.
Morehead has been doing a fantastic job. FY 2017 fundraising results are in and UGA raised a record $227.8 Million for the University. Interestingly enough, after two record-setting fundraising years for the university, we have found that UGA's athletic success (or lack thereof) doesn't really move the needle one way or another in relation to his above-stated mission. The Dawgs may lose the homecoming football game, but the endowment is still swelling, the cranes are still swiveling, and the campus is now in such high-demand that UGA is literally paying students to stay off the property.
In years past UGA Athletics was a much more integral part of the University's overall success than it is today. There was a time when the goodwill generated among alums by the football program fed needed multi-generational students to apply to UGA.
But with today's fundraising results and applicant pool for a UGA education, if a big group of alums are mad about the football team's struggles or the Athletic Department's ineptitude...well, who really cares, and what does it matter?
We may find out sooner rather than later...which leads me to the next storyline....
3. Greg McGarity
I will go so far as to say Tim Tebow was more popular among UGA fans when he was at Florida than our AD is among Georgia fans today. At least when Tebow was kicking our ass, you would have an occasional Bulldawg say something nice about his faith or sportsmanship. In contrast, I have not heard one positive thing said about McGarity in about 3 years.
In his defense, a lot of criticism headed McGarity's way is unwarranted. It's not like he is a CEO who gets a bonus if the Athletic Department reserve stays at a certain level, or if net income goes up from year-to-year. He is not an evil or nefarious figure. He does not benefit in any way from UGA Athletics struggling. He is a Georgia person just like us, and I truly believe he wants nothing more than to see UGA Athletics excel.
McGarity's M.O. seems to be eliminating any possibility of financial insolvency, personnel scandal (mixed results there), or academic scandal. It would not be crazy to think that is his directive from his boss, President Morehead.
For those of us who have invested time, money, and an unreasonable dose of emotion into the success of UGA Athletics, living solely to protect the downside is an insufficient way of doing business. UGA Athletics' decline under McGarity is well-documented and well-publicized.
This story has three probable outcomes: 1. Athletics continues operating in mediocrity without consequence until McGarity is eligible for a retirement pension from UGA (2019) and is replaced; 2. Kirby Smart leverages some influence from a successful football season to get a new AD installed (these guys are not buddies and communicate through an intermediary); or 3. Morehead gets interested in Athletics and replaces McGarity with his own guy.
And watch for an alternate storyline, which is already being whispered about around Atlanta: McGarity stays in place while the University de-emphasizes athletics, and President Morehead (who is also the chairman of the Athletic Board) pares down Athletics' spending and begins taking more of Athletics' net profits and putting them towards the UGA endowment.
Cash can flow freely from Athletics to the University, but not the other way around. Get your popcorn ready.
4. Jacob Eason
The kid has incredible talent, great size, unlimited marketability, and plenty of ambition. What he does not have is the proven ability to lead a football team to a big season. The sky is the limit for Eason's earning and celebrity status potential. Hopefully, come September 9 we see a star born before a network TV audience under the lights at Notre Dame.
5. Nick Chubb
This one is self-explanatory. After a killer 1.5 seasons, Chubb was back with a vengeance for the opener last year but then slowly regressed to the mean as the season wore on. Here is hoping for a big senior season, a few rushing records and a massive April pay day for everyone's favorite West-Georgian.