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Head Coaching Candidate Profiles: Who Not to Hire

Don’t Let Emotions Cloud Your Better Judgement

NCAA Football: Alabama Spring Game Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Thus far in this series, we’ve discussed coaches who have demonstrated success in ways that are statistically apparent. These aren’t the only names who have come up surrounding the coaching search thus far, however. Many of these coaches have similar themes: coaches with little data available about their on-field impact, whose candidacies are based on conjecture about what they will be able to accomplish at Georgia Tech. Throughout this series our aim has been to stick to concrete evidence of coaching competence, and avoid allowing emotion to drive discourse as much as is possible in such situations. In that vein, let’s look at some coaches that should not be considered in our opinion.

Bill O’Brien, OC, Alabama

On the surface, this one seems to be in a similar vein with other coaches that have been profiled positively. He took on a terrible situation at Penn State and found success there that nobody expected. O’Brien’s success at Penn State was a fun, uplifting story that eventually got him the HC position with the Houston Texans.

Those 2 years at Penn State are O’Brien’s only years as the head coach of a college football program. At any level. At the start of next season, those 2 years will be a decade in the past. The brevity of the tenure combined with the unique situation make it difficult to draw conclusions about O’Brien’s ability to build a program. Can he weather a bad situation? Sure, he proved that. But can he build up a program to sustained success? He didn’t stick around long enough to prove that. During his tenure, his play by play impact metrics were just about average. Many of the candidates we have profiled have raised the net success rate of their programs by 10+ percentage points. For O’Brien, that number was 1% during his Penn State tenure. He was program stabilizing, not program building.

Many will point to his head coaching experience in the NFL as a reason to hire him. History has proven time and again that success does not often translate between the two levels. Some of college football’s best coaches have failed in the NFL, and NFL coaches have failed at the college level. It’s a different job teaching players at different ages, maturities, and levels of football acumen.

O’Brien’s offenses at Alabama can only be described as lackluster given the absolute wealth of talent that he accumulated. While the unique circumstances and the passage of time make it hard to glean much from his PSU tenure, that’s not true of his performance at Alabama. Let’s take a look at the results:

Offensive Success Rate +:

While O’Brien inherited an incredible offense that would be difficult to beat and his offense overall is good, this is not evidence of building anything at the college level. This is not evidence of doing more with less. There still is no evidence that Bill O’Brien can build a college program, especially one with more limited resources like Georgia Tech.

Dell McGee, RB/RGC, uga

McGee is a candidate that some readers may not be familiar with, so we’re going to explain his background and the thesis supporting his hire before delving deeper and explaining why this hire doesn’t make sense for Georgia Tech, as well as explaining some of the sales tactics on display during this part of the search process.

McGee was a long time high school coach within Georgia who moved into college coaching as a RB Coach/Associate Head Coach at Georgia Southern under Willie Fritz. When Kirby Smart was hired in Athens, McGee joined him there as his RB coach and run game coordinator. McGee is a former Auburn RB.

The thesis supporting McGee’s hire goes something like this: McGee is a well-respected and well-connected former HS coach within the state. He is an ace recruiter in Athens with a track record of recruiting wins. He is a fast riser who will be getting a HC job somewhere soon, and his connections will allow him to bring in other fast rising staff. He would bring respect to Georgia Tech within the HS ranks in the state and recruit successfully here. Got it? Good. Now let’s break down why this thesis doesn’t hold up point by point.

McGee is an ace recruiter in Athens, and he’d bring that acumen to Tech

We have discussed the three coaching attributes extensively throughout this series, and recruiting is certainly one of them. However, it’s the one that least translates from stop to stop. Player development is similar across various stops because it involves coaching kids of the same age playing the same sport. Deployment translates because, well, it’s the same sport with the same rules. Recruiting is different. At each stop, coaches are selling a different product. Need an example? Look no further than Tech’s own Brent Key. Ranked the #2 recruiter in the country at Alabama, he has failed to sign blue-chip recruits during his time at Tech. The person was the same, but the product changed. Recruiting blue chips to Athens is a comparatively easy sell, especially in the heart of SEC country. They have superior resources and facilities to anyone in the country. Taking credit for being an ace recruiter at georgia is like the ghost runner taking credit for scoring the winning run in extra innings. Sure, he had to run the bases, but let’s be honest about who did the brunt of the work.

Let’s expand on this further, as McGee spent time at Georgia Southern under Fritz. It was in the same state where he has all of these HS connections, and he was the Associate Head Coach. McGee was at Southern for 2 years, from 2014-2015, so he would have had the biggest hand in recruiting the 2015 class, as he left before the 2016 class fully signed. That class was ranked 85th in the country with zero four-stars. What about the classes from others signed by Georgia Southern in that time period? They ranked 77th the year after he left. Is it McGee that recruits well? Or is it the logo on his shirt?

Could McGee succeed here? Maybe, but this hire carries considerable risk, as all of the promises of what McGee would provide are conjecture. There is no demonstrated, numbers-backed success here. We’re going to discuss how some of the (likely agent-driven) sales pitches put forth about McGee thus far attempt to manipulate your emotions into ignoring this risk.

It’s ok that McGee has no HC or even coordinator experience, since Sam Pittman did the same thing and has looked good at Arkansas

This argument is a great example of Survivorship Bias. Even if there are examples of this type of hire being successful, that does not mean that this type of hire does not carry considerable risk. For every Pittman, there are examples of coaches that failed to make the jump. Willie Taggart made the jump from position coach to HC, and he’s had a losing record at every stop except his one season at Oregon. Jeff Hafley was a one year co-DC and “strong recruiter” at Ohio State. After 2 6-win seasons at Boston College things are collapsing in year 3. Using survivorship bias allows the salesperson to distract the investor from the risk present in the investment.

McGee is a fast-riser, and he will get a P5 HC job soon, so this is Georgia Tech’s opportunity to get in on the ground floor

There are two emotions that are particularly meddlesome when it comes to sound decision-making: greed and fear. This sales tactic preys on the latter, the Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO. This sales tactic is one of the most effective ways to get someone to ignore the risks involved with any transaction.

McGee is well respected around the state, and he would bring respect and credibility to the program

This is another argument that appeals to emotion and involves a good deal of conjecture. “Don’t you want Georgia Tech program to be respected in the state?” “Don’t you want to feel respected when you put on the White and Gold?” Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Especially after years of embarrassment. These promises are just conjecture. It is possible to respect a man, but not his employer, is it not? The assertion that this would materially affect recruiting in a state that is completely in the SEC’s pocket is dubious at best.

Local HS Coaches and former Georgia Tech players recommend McGee, and want to see him at Georgia Tech

Sport Source Analytics recently tweeted out a guide about how to avoid a bad coaching hire, and this section was particularly poignant. Here is the first slide of their consulting deck:

Let’s take a look at the most relevant bit (emphasis mine):

Be especially careful when talking to and getting advice from former players, former and active coaches, and the media. These groups often know a whole lot less than you think, and they usually mask their bias in extreme confidence. Some of the worst hires we have seen made come from the recommendation.

Let’s remember that Geoff Collins was highly recommended by George O’Leary. A competent AD should not care what George O’Leary thinks. Nor should they care what Calvin Johnson, or Paul Johnson, or Bobby Ross, or George Godsey think. An AD surely shouldn’t care what a bunch of local SEC homer HS coaches think.

The irony of saying this in a persuasive article is not lost on us. The AD shouldn’t listen to us either. We’ll be the first to say that. What we have advocated for throughout this series is an evidence-based approach that is free from emotion to the greatest extent possible. We believe that such an approach is prudent and will draw similar conclusions.

McGee may end up being a great coach somewhere, but his lack of experience and focus on recruiting make the hire have an unacceptable risk profile for Georgia Tech compared to the potential upside. The media blitz surrounding this candidate has been persistent and feels manufactured by McGee’s representation. His agents are trying to sell you on taking on that risk by appealing to your emotions. Don’t buy it.

Deion Sanders, HC, Jackson State

The central thesis for a Deion Sanders hire is predicated on Sanders’ perceived ability to connect with the city of Atlanta, thus bringing support, resources, and recruits to Georgia Tech in a way no other coach could. There’s a lot of conjecture in this thesis, as there is not yet any data available to support it.

While Coach Prime has made national media splashes by recruiting highly-rated recruits to Jackson State, he has not yet completed 2 seasons as a college coach at the FCS level. Two years is not enough time to build anything sustainable, and thus far Sanders has simply bludgeoned his competition with his superior talent. Even if Sanders were to bring talent to Georgia Tech on a consistent basis, there is no reality in which he would have the kind of talent advantage over GT’s schedule that he does currently over Jackson State’s schedule. Further, there is not yet evidence he could develop what talent he did land in a way that leads to success on Saturdays. Even if Tech was in the top 15 of recruiting every year, that wouldn’t put them atop the conference in that regard. Coaching matters. We’re not trying to say that Sanders can’t coach, but anyone saying that he can is speculating at this point.

Talking heads around the country are pushing this hire. Ask yourself: why? It’s a recognizable name that drives clicks. These people do not have Tech’s best interests at heart and are most definitely the wrong people to listen to when making a hire.

Remember the discussion about greed and fear from the last section? The Sanders hype is a prime(heh) example of fan base greed clouding judgement. Tech fans are allowing the potential of Sanders as a recruiter to cause them to ignore the inherent risks of hiring a head coach with no track record whatsoever. There have been a lot of empty platitudes bandied about claiming that “scared money don’t make money.” This is simply another emotional appeal to trick you into accepting risk without further consideration. Ignore it. You didn’t listen to that Matt Damon Crypto dot com commercial...........right? Right? FOMO sales tactics at work again.

If Sanders could show hard evidence that he could get companies to sponsor the GTAA (as in a list of interested companies), get NIL deals for Tech athletes (with those companies), increase and sustain booster support, and hire assistants with a proven track record of statistically improving their sides of the ball, then this hire begins to look a lot more attractive. That’s a lot of evidence to ask for during the hiring process, and it likely won’t be provided. Even if it were, the hire would still carry considerable risk, but at least the hiring thesis would be supported by tangible evidence.

For further listening on Sanders, check out or former fearless leader Joey Weaver’s podcast about the Georgia Tech opening, in which he discusses Sanders at length.

When evaluating coaching hires, be sure to keep track of what matters and what doesn’t. Tune out the noise from those that don’t have Tech’s best interests at heart. Tune out the noise from those trying to feed you a sales pitch. Focus on evidence, not emotion, and you’ll find great candidates who have high both upside and reasonably manageable risk.