ATHENS — You don’t really have to ask Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity about his management philosophy. It’s posted all over his office.
Behind his desk in his fourth-floor office at Georgia’s Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall is a framed printout of a simple phrase: “Enjoy life. There are no reruns.” Underneath the glass that protects his desktop is another: “I wish I had … I’m glad I did,” meaning replace the former with the latter.
If you have time, McGarity can pull a file folder from his desk drawer that is stuffed full of articles and commentary that generally lambastes any “coulda, woulda, shoulda” rationalizations. Therein you might find a column written by Gary Shelton in October 2004 with a headline that reads, “Close is not close enough when a team is losing.” It’s about the beleaguered, Jon Gruden-coached Tampa Bay Bucs team of that season.
So don’t bother bringing up injuries and tipped balls and close calls when it comes to discussing the Bulldogs’ 2013 football season.
“We can’t play the ‘if-only game,’” said McGarity, who is in his fourth year as UGA’s AD. “It’s a waste of time. I have constant reminders about that around my office. ‘Coulda, shoulda, woulda; if only.’ I hate those words. You might as well say, ‘If only I had won the lottery yesterday.’
“Those words drive me crazy. I talk to our coaches about that all the time. I just don’t think it’s healthy to play the if-only game because the reality is it never happened.”
On Saturday, Georgia completed its regular season, its 13th under coach Mark Richt. It was a drama-filled journey, filled with great triumphs, bitter defeats, bizarre twists and way more injuries than normal. The Bulldogs are 8-4, respectable in the grand scheme of things, but mediocre in terms of the expectations of the program and its fan base, particularly this season.
The Bulldogs opened the season ranked No. 5 in the nation and were the consensus pick to win the SEC East. As it turned out, it was a wholly average season. More than half of the SEC — eight teams — have eight or more wins. Georgia, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt are at the bottom of that spectrum. Auburn, Alabama and Missouri (11-1) are at the top.
Georgia finished ranked 22nd and on the outside looking in at the Georgia Dome during this week’s SEC Championship game festivities. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to consider what might have been for the Bulldogs.
They lost wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell to a torn ACL during an end-zone celebration in the first quarter of the first game, and that seemed to set a tone for the season. Tailback Todd Gurley was injured on the same play — he missed two full quarters of play against Clemson — and, by the end of it, eight of Georgia’s top offensive playmakers missed a game or more with injuries. Quarterback Aaron Murray, receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, tailback Keith Marshall and Mitchell all suffered season-ending knee injuries.
Throw in special teams’ catastrophes, wickedly-timed targeting penalties, an anemic defense and passes batted up rather than down, and you arrive at a four-loss season and a second-tier bowl bid.
“I do look back and think about one play here or one play there and who knows we might have won one, two, three more,” Richt said earlier this week. “But we certainly could have lost one or two more, too. To me it was a season of a lot of close games, and I think we learned a lot about ourselves. I think we gained some tremendous experience that will help us down the road and in the bowl and help the guys coming back. I think there are a lot of good things that have happened this year, but it’s also been heartbreaking at times.”
McGarity is not close-minded to circumstances that conspired to make the season what it was, but he deals only in absolutes.
“I understand being close; I’m not discounting that,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the bottom line. Close is not close enough.”
Consider the Auburn game. McGarity focuses less on the deflected ball that resulted in the Tigers’ game-winning pass with 25 seconds remaining than on the 37 points Georgia allowed to fall behind by 20 early in the fourth quarter.
McGarity and Richt discussed what transpired the past three months and what needs to transpire the next nine.
“I echo Mark’s sentiments in that we need to improve in several areas within our football program,” said McGarity, who met with Richt for about a half-hour Monday morning. “I’m all about self-evaluation and reflection. I think it’s an important part of the process. Figure out what you need to do better and tell me what you need.
“You’re always looking for ways to improve. What do we need to do to compete for championships and what roadblocks are in the way? My job is to remove roadblocks.”
And any notion of what might have been.