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The Georgia Tech Head Coaching Job Probably Isn’t What You Think It Is

Let's clear up a couple of misconceptions about how difficult the job is, and why Geoff Collins failed on the Flats.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Collins’ tenure as Georgia Tech’s head coach recently came to an end following a 27-10 loss to a flawed UCF team, leaving his final record as head coach on the Flats at 10-28.

As with any coach being fired, there’s been some resulting discourse about the job that is now open and how attractive it will be to potential candidates who may be targeted to fill the opening. A significant amount of this discourse from the national media has seemed to paint Collins as something of a victim – someone who didn’t understand “what he was getting into”, who suffered from a “lack of institutional alignment”, and who just wasn’t able to “connect to the city and its culture”. The implication of all of this is to suggest that Collins’ failure in Atlanta isn’t uniquely his, and should/will serve as a cautionary tale to any candidates who may consider taking the job next.

Looking at the Georgia Tech job at this moment in time and calling it one where most coaches would be unable to win is a misinformed view at best, and downright misleading at worst.

To be clear, we should make sure to define the term “win” in this context. In some places, to “win” means to win conference or national championships with some level of consistency. If that’s your definition, then the analysis from the national media is correct – Georgia Tech is not a place in 2022 (or the foreseeable future) where a coach would reasonably be able to “win”.

On the other hand, what does the base of Georgia Tech alumni, boosters, and fans think it means to “win”? Your mileage may vary as someone in that grouping of personally invested individuals, but my guess would be that a majority of the fan base would be fully content with winning 7-9 games most years, never missing a bowl game, and legitimately competing for ACC Championships and Orange Bowl berths once or twice per decade.

(Need proof? Go look back at the Paul Johnson tenure that directly preceded Collins’, and recall that there was still a considerable portion of the fanbase that was content with keeping Johnson at the time that he announced his retirement.)

(No, I’m not here to re-litigate the whole Paul Johnson saga. I’m just saying that the results he produced were good enough to avoid overwhelming calls for his job for a long time.)

So, when we make sure that expectations are calibrated to what the Georgia Tech job is at this point and will likely be for the foreseeable future, and when we avoid falling into the trap of thinking that Georgia Tech should have similar expectations to the other very different P5 programs in the surrounding areas, yes, this is a job where a decent hire can reasonably be expected to come in and “win”.

Georgia Tech is not a “sleeping giant” program at this point for a number of reasons, many of which no head football coach would be able to change. Is there “institutional misalignment” and are there issues with the Georgia Tech administration “deciding what it wants to be”? Sure. Those issues have been present for at least 15 years, and are unlikely to be completely resolved in the foreseeable future. Are there perception issues for Georgia Tech (both as a football program and as a school in general) within the Atlanta area and the state of Georgia? Absolutely. Those issues have been present for a long, long time and will probably never be totally eliminated.

Those issues are the types of things that limit Georgia Tech’s ceiling as a program. They’re the reason that Georgia Tech will likely never win another national championship. They’re the reason that Georgia Tech will likely never consistently beat their biggest in-state rival again.

Those issues are not the reason that Geoff Collins failed at Georgia Tech.

Collins’ failure resulted from unforced errors off the field, where over-promotion and over-promising was effectively writing huge checks that his program was going to struggle to ever be able to cash. (Spoiler: those checks bounced early and often on-the-field.)

Collins’ failure resulted from hiring and retaining a coaching staff for three full years, half of whom were holdovers from his 2018 staff at Temple, and most of whom had minimal or no experience coaching at the Power-5 level. He hired an offensive coordinator who was previously an OC at the FCS level before two years as OC for underwhelming Temple offenses. He hired a defensive coordinator who had one year of experience as a DC at Temple, following 4 years as a position coach at the G5/FCS levels. There has been minimal (if any) indication that these hires were just the “best we could do” with the resources available. (He waited three years to fire the OC. He never fired the DC.)

Collins’ failure resulted from his inexperienced, underqualified, yet hand-picked coaching staff being unable to show any meaningful amount of player development (especially at QB) and regularly getting out-schemed. His teams were characterized by major inconsistency, a lack of accountability, and countless mental mistakes that never got fixed. For all of his talk of “putting the ball down” and “competing”, Collins’ teams have been mentally and emotionally fragile, often folding early in games when things go wrong and resulting in some cartoonish blowouts.

The issues that exist with Georgia Tech as an institution and athletic program limit its ceiling as a program. The issues that resulted in Geoff Collins’ firing were of his own making. The school’s administration and athletic association being “misaligned” aren’t the reason that Georgia Tech has allowed 4 punts to be blocked already this year. The styrofoam Waffle House cups and promotion of the area code not being enough to “connect with the city” aren’t the reason a seasoned, talented secondary was inexplicably dysfunctional in 2021. Whatever “lack of modernization” is present within the program is certainly not the reason that one of Georgia Tech’s most prominent donors was left wondering “Why is [Defensive Coordinator Andrew] Thacker still here?” at the end of last season.

Winning big as the head coach at Georgia Tech is significantly tougher than numerous folks seem to realize, nationally. It’s not as simple as, “they’re in Atlanta, look at all the talent nearby, they should have one of the best rosters in the country”.

Winning to a degree that meets expectations of the alumni, boosters, and fans? That’s much more attainable. Any middle-of-the-road recruiting staff can build a solid Power-5 roster by leveraging the depth of talent in the state and region, even without being able to compete for many of the top-end players on the recruiting trail. Developing that talent to play within an effective scheme is what’s required to be successful at Georgia Tech, and so much of that can be done by the next coaching staff that enters the program in the coming months.

Georgia Tech isn’t damaged goods, and Geoff Collins’ failure should not be considered some sort of warning sign to others out there. It’s a program with a blueprint for being successful in the context of its own modern expectations – a blueprint that can be seen in Collins’ predecessor, in many ways. The success of the program moving forward will not be a result of its limitations, but by the ability of the next staff to do the most fundamental thing that Collins’ regime was unable to do, and the thing that they will be asked to do by their most basic job titles – COACH.

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