Guerry Clegg commentary: Yellow Jackets must improve on the field

December 31, 2013 

If college football were all about the things it should be about -- educating young men, developing future leaders and being reasonably competitive -- Georgia Tech would have an exemplary program.

But if that were the case, Mack Brown would still be the coach at Texas, and Stanford's David Shaw and Alabama's Nick Saban would be paid the same.

Winning, at least to some high degree, is a prerequisite to excellence. So as long as the Yellow Jackets choose to play in a major conference, simply being competitive while adhering to stringent academics is insufficient. Since capturing the 1990 UPI national championship, Georgia Tech football has come to define mediocrity. The Jacket are 163-124 since 1990.

With their loss Monday to Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl, the Yellow Jackets finished 7-6. It was the ninth time in the last 12 years that they won eight or fewer games. Chan Gailey was fired after the 2007 season because his teams won seven games five of his six seasons. Since winning 20 games his first two seasons at Tech -- with Gailey's players -- Paul Johnson has averaged seven wins a season. No different than Gailey.

Since George O'Leary beat Georgia three straight seasons, 1998-2000, the Jackets are 1-12 against the Bulldogs. They have lost eight of their last nine bowl games. The lone win came last year over a divided and disengaged Southern Cal team in the Sun Bowl.

Some Tech fans might take offense at my bringing this up. But what's really insulting -- or at least what should be -- is the notion that Georgia Tech is not capable of better. You know, restricted and intimidating academic curriculum, inferior facilities, relatively small fan base.

There was a time I might have bought that excuse as well. But in an age when Vanderbilt can sweep Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, and Stanford is regularly a top-ten team, Duke can reach the ACC championship game, the bar has been raised for the academic elite.

It starts with recruiting better players. Georgia's current recruiting class is ranked No. 10 in the country by Rivals.com. Tech's is ranked No. 9 in the ACC. The Jackets have one commitment from a four-star player, Step Durham. Last year, they signed none. The year before it was two, and the year before that it was one. They have not signed a five-star player, as rated by Rivals, since 2002, which is as far back as their website goes.

Johnson scoffs at the star system of rating players. And anecdotally, there are scores of examples that the recruiting analysts misjudged. But they are right more often than they are wrong. So to have a roster next season with four four-star players and no five stars within your last four recruiting classes is telling.

Somehow, the Yellow Jackets must find a way to improve the talent base.

Whether that means Johnson changing his approach, or the administration changing head coaches, is a question that can only be accurately weighed within the walls of Georgia Tech's athletic department. I think Johnson is a good coach but is too reliant on his quirky offense to overcome talent shortcomings.

It's time for Johnson, or perhaps someone above him, to acknowledge that and make changes. The spread formation offense that so many schools run would be more practical because it would attract more quality skill players from high school.

Whatever it takes, the bottom line is Georgia Tech should not settle for mediocrity. The alumni and loyal fans deserve so much more.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. He can be reached at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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