BIRMINGHAM — Garrick McGee has directed a makeover of UAB’s football offices, including fresh paint and carpet and a new players lounge.
The first-year Blazers coach has a much bigger job ahead in renovating a football program that has seen little success on the field, struggled to draw crowds and been spurned by University of Alabama system trustees in efforts to build an on-campus stadium. So McGee starts with the foundational things, even down to the decor.
“To run a real football program, a lot of that has to be in place, before you can consider running on the field and winning the game,” McGee said. “It’s a process. It’s changing the culture.
“You can only have a certain culture right now. It’s all you have. Changing the culture is changing the thinking. The way we see our program, ourselves, is important.”
The Blazers have had three winning seasons since the program moved up to Division I-A, now the Football Bowl Subdivision, in 1996 but none since 2004.
Their only bowl trip was the 2004 Hawaii Bowl.
Neil Callaway was fired after winning 18 games in five seasons. Fans haven’t exactly been filling the 71,000-plus seats at aging Legion Field either.
The Blazers ranked last in Conference USA in attendance last season, drawing 16,579 on average and about half that to one game with Central Florida.
McGee, a former Oklahoma quarterback and Arkansas offensive coordinator, faces an uphill battle to build the program and create what he calls “a culture of excellence.” He brings an abundance of confidence and a hint of defiance to the task.
“We’re a Division I-A football program,” he said. “That’s right, this is not junior varsity. This is Division I.”
McGee’s hiring has already generated some interest after making “too many to count” speaking engagements since his hiring.
UAB said Monday that season ticket purchases are up 54 percent from last year, and club level ticket sales have jumped 42 percent.
“There’s a buzz that is evident and we have seen increased support from our fans,” athletics director Brian Mackin said.
McGee has implemented new rules at UAB covering everything from how staffers answer the phones to a dress code. Football operations guys have to wear ties to work when school’s in session, and his assistants must wear collared shirts.
He also imported his checklist of rules governing players. Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, a former pupil, easily rattles off some of them.
“You always write with a colored utensil,” Wilson said. “It’s never black ink. That’s one thing he always stresses. You never go in there and eat. You’re focused. If you’re doing all that extracurricular stuff while you’re trying to learn at a high level, it’s impossible. Don’t use a chair as a footstool. You’re on time. You’re dressed and ready; you’re not putting on your socks or getting dressed in the meeting room. You’re 100 percent ready to learn. You’ve got a backpack with your writing utensils, your notebook. You have to take pretty specific notes while you’re there.”
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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