Jun. 15, 2003: Some Unsolicited Advice For The President of UGA

Dear Dr. Adams:

I know you don’t need any more mail from know-it-all alumni, particularly one who writes a column, but I had hoped we might talk about your decision not to extend the contract of Athletic Director Vince Dooley. I have spent the past four decades dealing with crises – many of which would make this brouhaha look like a walk in the park. I believe I could have helped. I have expressed my concerns to some of your staff members, but I haven’t talked to you. As a matter of fact, a number of our mutual friends who also have dealt with external crises at the highest levels tell me they haven’t heard from you either. I can only assume you don’t want our advice. Anyway, it is a little too late for our counsel now. You have already rolled the dice.

Let me say this as dispassionately as I can: You may win this battle, but I believe you could end up losing the war. No one questions the fact that you can choose not to extend Dooley’s contract. That isn’t the issue. But I believe you have seriously underestimated the fallout. That surprises me, knowing of your extensive political experience. I hear some of your supporters saying this is a one or two month controversy that will burn itself out. Don’t believe it. This thing has legs and staying power and the potential to do you and the university real harm.

All I can figure is that you are looking at your decision from the inside out – where decisions always look logical and sensible – instead of from the outside in, where perceptions rule. I also think you are listening to a group of well-meaning alumni who wouldn’t understand this concept if it was finger-painted on a fence post.

I would take little comfort in statements of support from the Board of Regents. They don’t control your fate. You need to worry about your many constituencies – students, faculty, alumni, media, politicians (who are extremely sensitive to those first four groups), Foundation trustees, donors, parents, football fans, taxpayers, etc. If any or all of these groups turn against you, a vote of confidence from the Board of Regents isn’t worth squat.

You have chosen to do battle with someone who is extremely popular in Georgia. InsiderAdvantage, the government affairs and media company, has a reputation of being dead-on accurate in their polls across the country. They recently conducted a statewide poll and found that Vince Dooley has a 64 percent favorable rating among Georgians and an 82 percent favorable rating among UGA supporters. We both know that those are extraordinary numbers for someone who has been in the public eye for 40 years. Your numbers weren’t quite that good. Only 43 percent of the people in the state even know who you are, and 18 percent give you a favorable rating. If you had asked me, I’d say those numbers would suggest you should have thought long and hard before saying publicly that you would not extend Dooley’s contract. You don’t have a lot of political capital to expend.

The controversy has split the alumni – including some heavy hitters – at a time when the University of Georgia is trying to raise a half-billion dollars. Bad timing. One of the highest profile members of the campaign steering committee – Herschel Walker—has resigned, and a few others aren’t real happy with you. Unlike those with the misbegotten idea of giving our university 34 cents (Herschel’s old number) and who care only about the football team’s record, this crowd gives serious money, has influence in high places and cannot be ignored.

Had you asked, I would have suggested that you take a hard look at all these facts, assess the long-term impact to the university and then tell Vince Dooley you will extend his contract two more years. Have him (not you) say publicly that this will be the last extension. Shake hands. Make up. Move on. That would have been my advice – had you asked.

Your friend,