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Despite a Lack of Involvement, the 2021 “Coaching Carousel” is Teaching Us Something About Georgia Tech

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There’s a lot to be learned by watching the actions of other athletic programs.

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NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Clemson Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

While we can never truly say “never” as it relates to college football coach hiring and firing, at this point in the process, it seems as though Georgia Tech will not be moving on from Geoff Collins and participating in this year’s college football coaching carousel (at least as it relates to head coaches).

Though, if Tech somehow were to fire Collins in the next few days, it would hardly be the most surprising aspect of this year’s coaching carousel rendition. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be somewhere between surprising and shocking — it’s more to say that this year’s carousel has been downright bonkers.

If you haven’t been keeping up over the past 2-3 weeks, it means two things:

  1. Your phone battery and data plan are probably in better shape than mine after all of the constant Twitter refreshing I’ve been doing.
  2. You may not realize that we’re learning something significant about Georgia Tech, even amidst the relative quiet surrounding the Flats as it relates to a head coaching search.

A considerable part of what has made the past few weeks so crazy are the levels of jobs that coaches are leaving to go to other jobs.

  • Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma, easily one of the top-10 jobs in the country and a four-time College Football Playoff participant, for USC.
  • Brian Kelly left Notre Dame, roughly a top-10 job and a two-time College Football Playoff participant where he just recently became the all-time winningest coach, for LSU.
  • Mario Cristobal left Oregon, roughly a top-15 job where he’d built them into a perennial Pac-12 powerhouse and narrowly missed a Playoff berth in two of the past three seasons, for Miami.

Those moves, of course, all had one thing in common: those coaches received downright absurd contracts at their landing spots. What exactly makes them “absurd”, you ask? Of those three, Cristobal appears to be getting the smallest, least lucrative deal — he’ll reportedly be making a mere $8 million per year. Meanwhile, Brian Kelly is set to make $9.5 million annually, plus incentives. The cash involved in these contracts is only part of what’s in play, too:

But it’s not just what we’re learning from coaches leaving for new jobs — some of it is from coaches specifically remaining in place:

  • Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher had his contract extended through the 2031 season, resulting in an annual salary that will start at $9 million per year this coming January before annual increases follow.
  • Penn State’s James Franklin likewise had his contract extended through the 2031 season, where he’ll be paid a starting salary of $7 million annually before any incentives are incorporated.
  • Michigan State’s Mel Tucker just finished his third season as a head coach since leaving Kirby Smart’s staff following the 2018 season, and received a contract extension through the 2031 season that will effectively pay him $9.5 million per year in salary before any incentives are added.

The point is, that’s six coaches at six different schools who received contracts (or contract extensions) that would have been considered pretty unthinkable in terms of years and committed dollars just 3-4 years ago.

Hell, we’ve even seen a coordinator change employers with a staggering dollar figure involved. Oklahoma State DC Jim Knowles (who you may remember as the long-time architect of David Cutcliffe’s overperforming defenses at Duke) spurned a 5-year, $1.3 million-per-year contract extension in Stillwater to become Ohio State’s new defensive coordinator for roughly $2 million per year.

(Speaking of coordinators, long-time Clemson DC Brent Venables also left his position to take the Oklahoma HC job vacated by Riley, where he’ll make significantly more than the $2.5 million per year that he was set to make through 2026 following a contract extension this past summer. Clemson figures to be able to pay his replacement at least $2 million per year.)

You may also notice that none of the schools I’ve mentioned are the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Michigan, Texas, or even our most hated rivals in Athens — all of whom we can agree have budgets that exceed that of Georgia Tech’s.

Which brings me to my point — for better or worse, Georgia Tech hasn’t participated in this year’s coaching carousel, but we’ve still learned something about the Yellow Jackets by watching the moves being made by others. Put simply, while there have long been programs that Georgia Tech has been unable to keep up with resource-wise, it’s becoming painfully obvious that the number of programs who fit that bill is increasing drastically.

As Yellow Jacket fans are well aware by now, while the schools above are giving out the contracts listed above, Georgia Tech’s ability to fire Geoff Collins and move on has been somewhat tied to the inability (or unwillingness) to pay a $12 million buyout. While healthy, that buyout pales in comparison to some of those that have been paid by other programs in recent years.

Again, in not making the move after this season’s results, Georgia Tech is telling us that they doesn’t have those levels of resources available. Maybe that’s from a lack of a mega-donor like Oregon’s Phil Knight or the late T. Boone Pickens for Oklahoma State. Maybe it’s related to the ACC’s underwhelming TV deal. Maybe it stems from issues surrounding ticket sales. It likely is related to the incredible amount of Georgia Tech’s annual athletics’ budget that goes to paying off debt. Whatever the reason, Yellow Jackets fans everywhere get to watch more and more teams and programs every year throw around crazy dollar figures on coaching contracts that we know Georgia Tech cannot match.

Instead, they’ll continue to pay Collins’ salary into 2022, where he figures to be paid around $3.3 million. The real concern becomes what happens afterwards. When looking for a new coach, the Yellow Jackets won’t be able to afford contracts anywhere near what numerous programs are now giving out. We’ve long known that Georgia Tech wasn’t the richest Athletic Department around, but the size of the contracts being given out mentioned above are likely at least double what the next coach on the Flats is able to make — that’s an enormous gap that will almost certainly never close, and which will significantly impact the level of head coach, coordinators, and other staff that the Yellow Jackets are able to hire and retain.

Unless something drastically changes, Georgia Tech will continue falling farther behind more programs in terms of financial resources they’re able to commit to football. As that happens, they’ll continue to fall farther behind on the field from those same programs.

So, what might something drastically changing look like?

  • The ACC improves its TV deal substantially. As currently constituted, the ACC’s television deal (mainly with ESPN) isn’t terrible, but isn’t great either. The ACC Network has been somewhat helpful, but not entirely. Having the ACC Network now included with Comcast should be a noticeable bump, but to truly make a difference would require a much larger change. Something like....Notre Dame joining the conference, perhaps?
  • The GTAA’s debt is paid off. Again, Georgia Tech is currently spending upwards of $13 million annually purely on debt payments, good for around 14% of its entire operating budget. It’s more than they spend on scholarships, and is roughly 70% of what is spent on coaching salaries. That’s an ENORMOUS chunk of money that’s not accomplishing anything besides keeping the GTAA out of bankruptcy. That debt going away would instantly add over $13 million per year to the bottom line and could be used on coaching salaries, facilities upgrades, or other useful purposes. It wouldn’t all be allocated towards football, but it’s not crazy to think that a healthy chunk would be.
  • Georgia Tech’s Athletic Scholarships are fully endowed. As it currently stands, the GTAA does not have athletic scholarships fully endowed across the entire athletic portfolio, meaning there is operational expenditure each year (in an amount similar to the debt payments mentioned above) that is going towards making sure that Georgia Tech can offer the full allotment of scholarships for each of its 17 varsity athletics programs. This expenditure is shrinking after some progress was made during the AI2020 fundraiser, but the problem has not been fully solved. Those scholarships being fully endowed would free up millions of dollars that could be allocated towards keeping up with others.
  • Georgia Tech finds a mega-donor. Depending on who you ask, somewhere between 15-40% of Georgia Tech grads are “millionaires”. (I’ve seen 1 out of 6. I’ve seen 2 out of 5. So....who knows?) How many of those millionaires have to exist before one becomes a billionaire, and how many billionaires have to exist before one cares a lot about the Institute’s athletic performance? I’m just asking questions here.

None of the above are impossible, but they also haven’t happened yet. Georgia Tech will continue feeling negative impacts to on-field results against those programs that are out-pacing them resource-wise until something changes. Here’s to hoping that change comes before it’s too late.