Adams is expected to make a formal announcement Thursday at UGA's main campus in Athens. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because Adams' retirement was not yet public.
UGA spokesman Tom Jackson declined to comment on Wednesday. Board of Regents chairman Ben Tarbutton also declined comment.
Under Adams' leadership, UGA has climbed in college rankings and national profile. The university's enrollment has swelled to 35,000, including the most selective freshman class in its history.
He brought in more than $1 billion in new construction since he took office in 1997 and hired nationally prominent researchers to build UGA's federal grant coffers.
Adams navigated rough waters as head of UGA.
After he forced beloved Athletic Director Vince Dooley into retirement in 2004, Adams was nearly ousted by a group of powerful boosters who were unhappy with the decision. He survived the controversy with the support of the university system's leadership and key state leaders.
Adams also was in charge in 2010 when Dooley's successor, Damon Evans resigned after a late night DUI arrest.
In 2008, he appointed a committee to handle sexual harassment complaints at the university after a rash of highly publicized allegations against faculty members.
Prior to serving at UGA, Adams held a top administrative job at Pepperdine University in California and was president at Centre College in Kentucky.
Before his higher education career, Adams was the chief of staff for former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker and was an adviser to former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who now is a U.S. senator.