BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — New UAB coach Garrick McGee promises to forge a connection between the city and the oft-overlooked program, and win games.
The former Arkansas offensive coordinator was introduced as the Blazers coach Monday in a room packed with UAB fans. He said he will begin work in Birmingham on Wednesday and won't coach with the Razorbacks in the Cotton Bowl against Kansas State.
McGee, 38, takes over a program desperate for success and attention in a state where the Blazers are often overshadowed by Auburn and Alabama from his old league, the Southeastern Conference.
"I want this football program to be a part of this university," McGee said. "I want the students to understand that they're a part of it, the faculty and staff to understand they're a part of it, and I want this city to be a part of this football program.
"We're going to connect this football program with the city. We're going to eventually, sooner than you think, produce a winning football team."
All those are tall tasks. The Blazers, who play home games off-campus at aging Legion Field, were last in Conference USA in attendance, averaging 16,579 fans per game
Coach Neil Callaway went 18-42 and couldn't produce a winning record in five seasons. The Blazers went 3-9 in 2011.
Athletic director Brian Mackin said McGee has signed a letter of agreement for a 5-year deal worth more than the $360,000 Neil Callaway was receiving. He said details will be released once the University of Alabama System board trustees compensation committee approves the contract.
It didn't take Mackin long to settle on McGee, hiring the former Oklahoma quarterback a week after Callaway's ouster.
The new coach met with the Blazers players early Monday morning.
"He met with the team for about 30 minutes and everybody has already bought into everything that he stands for," quarterback Jonathan Perry said. "He expects a lot from us, and he told us what we could expect from him."
McGee was Arkansas' offensive coordinator the past two seasons. The Razorbacks are leading the SEC in total and passing offense, and were still in the mix for a league and national title shot before losing the regular season finale against No. 1 LSU.
McGee flew back to Arkansas shortly after his introductory news conference to attend the festivities for the Broyles Award given to the nation's top assistant coach. He's one of the five finalists.
McGee said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino was supportive of his decision not to stay on through the bowl game with Kansas State.
"Coach Petrino was all for me coming down and getting started, getting to recruiting, evaluating our personnel. Just get started and get to work," said McGee, who expects to have begun hiring a staff by week's end.
Petrino even released a congratulatory statement for his assistant Saturday, more than 24 hours before UAB made it official.
"There was a lot of speculation over the weekend, but (Sunday) night was the first time it was official," McGee said.
He becomes the first black head football coach at an FBS school in the state, a fact McGee said he wasn't aware of until a reporter mentioned it Monday.
"Hopefully I'm an example for young kids in the state and throughout the country that if you continue with your goals, you concentrate, you work day to day to get to where you want to be in your life, that you can get there," McGee said. "There are no barriers in America anymore."
Now, he has to remove some for the UAB football program.
Trustees rejected a proposal to build an on-campus football stadium. McGee toured UAB's facilities and said he told wife Tiffany at the hotel afterward that the foundation is in place for success even without one.
I said, 'You know what everything we need to win a Conference USA championship is in place right now. We've got what we need to win,'" McGee said. "When we put a championship team on the field, at that point I'll come back and ask for more."
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