Apr. 23, 2001: This is a column I wish I didn’t have to write.

I consider the University of Georgia as family. I have served as president of the national alumni society. UGA has named me their outstanding alumnus. I have a facility named for me in the College of Journalism. I give my time and my dollars to the institution. I bleed red and black. But today I am not happy with my university.

Bill Shipp, Georgia’s veteran political observer, recently reported that in the summer of 1998, Mike Adams, president of the University of Georgia made a secret deal to pay head football coach Jim Donnan an additional $255,250 if he was terminated before his contract expired. It seems that Donnan’s agent, Richard Howell, wasn’t getting anywhere in his negotiations with the coach’s boss, Athletic Director Vince Dooley, so he decided to bypass everybody and go to the top. The top is Adams, the CEO.

Somehow Jim Nalley, who was chairman of the UGA Foundation board of trustees (of which I am a member) at the time and who to my knowledge had no reason to be dealing with athletic department matters, got involved and a deal was made with Howell. The three of them then decided that neither Dooley nor the athletic board, which has governance on such issues, should know of the agreement.

Had Wayne Clough, Georgia Tech’s president, done what Adams did, I would have nailed my friends at North Avenue before the ink was dry on Shipp’s column. Because it was my beloved UGA and because Adams, Nalley, Dooley and Shipp are my friends, I tried to ignore the episode but I couldn’t. Frankly, I didn’t like what was done and I didn’t like the way it was done.

I don’t know a lot about a lot of things but I know a good bit about working with CEO’s because I spent most of my past life doing just that. CEO’s get their jobs because are smarter than everybody else. They are also decisive. CEO’s must make decisions that no one else is empowered to make. Because they are smart and decisive, they can be intimidating. They are prone to think themselves invincible and they are not. That is whey they need good people around them giving them sound advice, whether they want to hear it or not. Good advice begets good decisions. Bad advice begets bad decisions. No advice begets secret deals with sports agents.

Mike Adams either did not share with his staff what was going on or they were reluctant to tell him this was a very bad idea or maybe Jim Nalley, a prominent alumnus, pushed him to make the deal. Whatever the reason, any student in Public Relations 101 would have counseled Dr. Adams not to do what he did. You don’t make secret deals at public institutions like the University of Georgia. In the first place, it is not right. In the second place, these things always have a way of becoming public and careening out of control. You also don’t bypass your chain of command, in this case Vince Dooley. That is bad for morale.

A couple of years ago, Dr. Adams announced suddenly that he was planning on changing the structure of the journalism college. The reaction from alumni and faculty was so severe he had to back down. “Why,” I asked one of his staffers, “didn’t he talk to some influential alumni ahead of time? He might have gotten their support had he done so.” The response was that “he was just exercising his power as president.”

None of his advisors seems willing to tell him, so let me bite the bullet. The only power President Adams has is what is bestowed on him by the constituencies he serves: students, faculty, alumni, donors, the Board of Regents, the General Assembly, the Governor, taxpayers and so on. The University of Georgia belongs to all of the above. We have entrusted the institution to him to operate on our behalf and in the open.

I am a strong supporter of Mike Adams and appreciate his willingness to take on the tough issues that pop up in academia like kudzu. He has one of the toughest jobs in the state but he made it much harder than it should be by his clandestine agreement with the agent of a football coach he would later fire.

That was dumb as dirt and somebody should have told him that before now.