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Opinion Week: Identity Above All Else

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who are we?

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Today we’re going to harp on a subject I’ve discussed many times on this site: identity.

To me identity is one of the most important things in college football (and a lot of other sports as well). When you think of any particular program off the top of your head, the first thing that comes to mind is their identity. Wisconsin? Burly corn-fed dudes pounding the ball for 60 minutes, 4 yards at a time. Clemson? Skill-position talent and the cult of Dabo. Rutgers? Bad. Notre Dame? Prepsters steeped in tradition and history. Auburn? Pure unfiltered chaos.

Many things can constitute a program’s identity: play style, history, fan stereotypes, particular star players, coach idiosyncrasies, results, etc. All of these come together to form the split-second image in your head of what a program is when you boil it down. We’ve all played the “what’s the first word that comes in your mind when you hear ______?” game.

There are two main influencers of a program’s identity: the official branding the program actively promotes and the more organic real-time events that shape it as time passes. What’s neat about this is that both components allow us to follow and consume a highly regionalized sport at a national level. There are simply way too many teams out there to individually keep up with; we rely on these identities to help us put together the puzzle. Narratives are built on them.

As a program I think we’re at a critical inflexion point for our identity. Say what you want about the Johnson years, but a central truth is that they had a strong identity. That’s one of the biggest things we’re lacking right now, and one of the biggest challenges for Collins and the rest of the program. When I talk about Tech football, I still get people saying “oh the triple option huh” and to me that is a huge failure on our part to properly create and market our new identity. We have to forge ahead and show people who we’ve become and where we’re going. So let’s talk about it.

What makes an identity good? First of all, it has to make sense. It has to organically flow from the program. We can’t just make something up because we like it; we need something that others outside of the program understand and agree with. Remember when UGA tried to be from Atlanta and everyone roasted them? Next, it has to be unique. We are a unique program (not necessarily in a “wow we’re more special than anyone” way - every program is unique), and our identity should reflect what sets us apart.

A good identity also has to be desirable (at least the one the program itself cultivates should be). The fanbase has to rally around it and personify it. Whatever our identity becomes, the fanbase is a huge part of it. Similarly, it has to attract talent. Recruits around the country have to know who we are and what we’re about; that’s how we get “our guys”.

So what should our identity be? I’ve got some ideas based on four central tenets.

A T L A N T A

Are the hashtags cheesy? Yes. IS THE ALL CAPS KINDA WEIRD? Yes. Is it a net-positive for the program? Also yes. It may come off as goofy in this beginning period, but I think Collins is an extremely savvy brand creator. It feels like a lot right now but that’s because we’ve never really had something like this. Anyways - we are from Atlanta, plain and simple; let’s embrace it. Get local celebrities to the games. Invite them to practice. Have the band play arrangements of songs by local artists. Get a peach sticker on the helmets or some cool city-inspired alternates. Show the city love and it’ll show it back. People should be associating us and Atlanta whenever they think of either.

Tradition

I’ve found that there are very few people out there that know Tech has even won a single National Championship. Tell someone we’ve won multiple and they might not believe you. I bet most people would also incorrectly leave us off the list of winningest Division I programs. To put it simply, not enough people understand our tradition and heritage (ever heard of John Heisman? Hmmm why does that name ring a bell?). We are a very historic program (cc @JakeGrant - read any of his stuff and you’ll be amazed at what we’ve accomplished in our past), and our identity should reflect that fact. Gameday videos should be showing old clips. Old stars should be invited to games and practices. Past teams and coaches and accomplishments should be publicly celebrated. Trophies should be displayed prominently (in real life and on the internet). The country needs to know just how important we are to the historic landscape of college football.

Innovation

At the same time that it is steeped in tradition, the Institute has always been about innovation. It’s right there in the motto: Progress and Service. Luckily for us there is plenty of innovation to be done in football as well as technology. I would like to see us be on the cutting edge of ideas and techniques in the college football world. This could be everything from training technology to offensive scheme design. No matter what it is, we need to be innovators. Fans unhappy with their own program should say “well why can’t we do it how Tech is doing it”.

Speed

I don’t think we’re a power team, I think we’re a speed team. I’d like to make both our offensive and defensive identities all about speed. I want us to build our philosophies around fast players and fast play. Ahmarean Brown is a great ambassador for the player-side of this. Remember when Chip Kelly and Oregon were blowing people away with how fast they were playing? That’s what I want for us. It sounds silly, but I think Adidas is a great asset here; we legitimately look faster in these uniforms than we did in Russell ones.

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To me these four ideas are what we should build our identity on. To sum it up, I think we need to flaunt our heritage but strive for continuous growth. We’re a unique program and I want the outside world to understand that as well. This is a special place and everyone should know it.