Innovative. Branding. Culture. Those were the buzz words that kept coming up during Georgia Tech’s introduction of Geoff Collins as its new head football coach.
“Innovation is the hallmark of a Georgia Tech degree,” Collins said as he sat next to his new boss, Athletic Director Todd Stansbury. “Innovation is the hallmark of what this place is. We will embrace that as a football program. We will find the best way to do everything. We will not confine ourselves, ‘This is how it’s been done for 80 years. This is how the college football world has worked for this amount of time.’ We will be innovative. We will be creative. We will find new ways to be the absolute best and be the elite in college football.”
Yeah, elite. That’s another word that Collins boldly tossed around.
Collings respectfully acknowledged the accomplishments of his predecessor Paul Johnson, who managed to beat Georgia three times, as well as Clemson and Florida State, and lead the Yellow Jackets to two Orange Bowls. But none of those wins came when those programs were at their peaks, and then there’s the fact that Tech has lost three of its last four games against Duke. Yeah, David Cutcliffe has done a great job. But still … Duke.
Without throwing anyone under the bus, Collins immediately ditched two things that have held the Jackets back from winning on a high level — Johnson’s high school offense being one, the excuse of Tech’s rigorous academics being the other.
Collins made it clear that the days of conceding all of the top recruits within a two-hour radius of downtown Atlanta — excuse me, Midtown — are over. And what fertile recruiting ground it is.
“Recruiting matters,” Collins said. “That is a huge priority for us.”
Having grown up in Dekalb County then graduating from Rockdale County High School in Conyers, Collins developed an affection for his home state’s sports teams. Yeah, that included his new rival, the Georgia Bulldogs, though he was quick to note that going forward, he was throwing out all of his red pens. After playing at Western Carolina, Collins worked two stints at Tech — the first as a graduate assistant under George O’Leary, and the second as a full-time coach under Chan Gailey.
That’s when he developed a love and allegiance for Georgia Tech, which endured even after coaching stops at Alabama, Mississippi State, Florida and finally Temple, his break-through as a head coach. If not for Johnson’s sudden retirement following the Georgia loss two weeks ago, Collins insists he would be content preparing the Owls for their Independence Bowl matchup against Duke.
But Georgia Tech was no ordinary job opening. Collins called it “my dream job.”
“This is where we’ve always wanted to be,” Collins said. “Every time we’ve left, we’ve always wanted to gravitate back here. This is the third time now, and we hope it’s the last because this is truly a special place. I truly believe in the vision of this place, both socially, academically, total person program, the thing obviously that’s close to my heart, the football program. I think we can be elite in college football here. The conversation about college football, I want it to run through Atlanta.”
Collins knows Georgia Tech will not be for everybody. Many high school players will be intimidated by the academic demands. But surely out of 300 of the top high school players in the country, Tech can find 20-25 players a year that will see the value in the degree.
“We are going to target the elite of the elite,” Collins said.
Credit to Stansbury for tuning out the noise of the media and alumni, some of whom supported former Tech player and NFL coach Ken Whisenhunt and hiring someone who loves Georgia Tech and won’t be lured by another program or the NFL if he has success.
“I needed somebody that would embrace Georgia Tech, somebody that would look at the challenge and the uniqueness of Georgia Tech, and that would actually be part of the lure,” Stansbury said.
The conversation came back time and time again to recruiting. Johnson was a solid coach. But his reliance on his option offense was often seen as an excuse to not spend every waking moment recruiting bigger, stronger, faster players.
“I just want to make sure that when we line up against whoever we line up against, that the guy standing on my sideline can go toe-to-toe with the guy standing on the other sideline,” Stansbury said. “We just happen to be in the toughest neighborhood in intercollegiate athletics, and so it’s really, really important that we have a coach that can look across the field at a Dabo Swinney and be up to that challenge and has the scheme and player development.”
It’s challenging, but it is possible to find blue chip players who will embrace Tech’s academic workload.
Brookstone graduate Derek Goshay was a sophomore tight end on the Yellow Jackets’ 1990 national championship team. He recalled players like Marco Coleman, Ken Swilling and Dorsey Levens, all of whom went on to play in the NFL. Goshay did not, but he is a vice president for Genuine Parts Company, the parent company of NAPA Automotive.
“Those kids are out there,” Goshay said. “It’s not an impossible feat. We have been competitive with any program in the country.”