With the 2022 season mercifully coming to an end, it’s time for the announcement that we’ve all been waiting for since Geoff Collins’ firing in late September.
It’s time for J Batt to make it official, remove the interim tag, and announce Brent Key as Georgia Tech’s next head football coach.
It’s Occam’s Razor – the easiest decision, and the right one. Here’s why:
Consistency, Familiarity, and Retention
Retaining Brent Key as head coach on the Flats is the surest way to avoid a “gap year” and gives the team the best chance at success in 2023. Key has been with the program since early 2019, helped to recruit the roster, and is intimately familiar with the players – not only their skillsets, but also things that are much more difficult for a new coach to get a read on like what motivates them, their family dynamics, the team’s chemistry and culture, and so forth. He’s seen what works and what doesn’t with different players. He knows their history with the Georgia Tech program, and what was (or wasn’t) promised to them. He knows what they have been taught by their coaches over the last few years, and will ensure minimal transition in translating things like scheme and terminology.
The players are also familiar with Key and any assistants that he would retain, and really know what they would be “getting into” by remaining a part of this program. There’s a major aspect of the unknown when a new coaching staff comes in, and fear of that unknown would be expected to lead players to let their eyes wander towards the transfer portal. (Sure, moving to a different program brings its own set of unknowns, but the players also have some familiarity with coaching staffs at other schools from their high school recruitment. Georgia Tech bringing in a totally new coaching staff likely would mean that players had little to no familiarity with anyone on that new staff.) Retaining the current coaching staff is the best way to minimize the losses that the team will inevitably see to the transfer portal. (More on that later.)
When Key took over following the dismissal of Geoff Collins, there was an immediate improvement in the way that the Yellow Jackets looked on the field. I’m not sure that the advanced metrics show a significant improvement, but my eyes saw a more confident, tougher, higher-performing team than the one that we had seen in prior weeks and years. That increased level of confidence and competence was in all three phases of the game:
- We immediately saw a team that was previously defined by special teams gaffes look buttoned-up and effective in almost every situation.
- We saw immediate improvement and a new sense of toughness from a defense that often looked soft, was consistently inconsistent, and generally was ineffective.
- We saw improvement in the defensive scheme, game planning, and play calling from its coordinator who was inexplicably retained after the 2021 season. (It turns out that Thacker may not have been the problem with the defense, after all.)
- We saw an offense that has shown cohesive, sensible game plans each week and has continued to evolve as injuries have required personnel changes (including both of the top two quarterbacks going down with injuries).
The difference that I saw in the same players and the same coaching staff, after only four days of practice between Collins’ dismissal and the Pittsburgh game, was striking. It is not the kind of difference that I would expect anyone to be able to make in less than a week.
Perhaps this level of improvement is mostly (or totally) driven by emotion, and players wanting to win for Brent Key. If so, it would not be something that could sustain a team or coaching staff over a full offseason, much less the next several seasons. On the other hand, I would argue that it speaks to a level of organization and accountability that Key has used in leading the program, and which was lacking from its head coach over the last few years.
Pedigree Translates to Buy-In
Brent Key brings a strong pedigree that has primed him for a head coaching role. He previously spent time in his career as an assistant for two of the sport’s most accomplished head coaches over the last quarter-century, George O’Leary and Nick Saban. Key’s experience watching and participating in the operations of O’Leary and Saban is no doubt part of the reason that he is able to effectively command respect from players and cultivate belief in his team.
Over the past few weeks, there has been an outpouring of support for Key as Georgia Tech’s next head coach from numerous individuals whose direct contributions are critical to this team and program’s success. Players and their parents have been active on social media, campaigning for Key to be made the full-time head coach. High school coaches from around the state are supportive of Key and his vision, which makes a major difference in ability to recruit. Opposing coaches around the ACC have spoken highly about the impact that Key has made over the last two months. Hell, even Kirby Smart expressed his admiration for the job that Key has done.
Key’s ability to generate buy-in and belief is significant, and not in small part because there have been results to back up that buy-in.
It would be remiss to discuss the benefits of Georgia Tech hiring Brent Key full-time without discussing the financial benefit to doing so. It is widely believed that Key would be hired at a “below market” rate, offering some savings to Georgia Tech’s financially strained athletic department while new AD J Batt gets various fundraising operations in place and producing. Key’s contract would likely be favorable to Georgia Tech, limiting the financial burden on the program if Batt were to elect to move on after the next few seasons. Retaining Key would also likely involve retention of at least some of the current staff members, which would save additional money that would almost certainly be spent on buyouts if a new staff were brought in.
The savings on Key’s contract and limiting assistant buyouts could be reinvested into the program, either in terms of hiring somewhat more “premium” coordinators (early 2010’s Clemson is the first example that comes to anyone’s mind here, but a more recent example would be Arkansas under Sam Pittman) or in continuing to build out a recruiting/NIL infrastructure that sets the football program up for long-term success. Either way, it would be a more sensible investment to spend the money on people and programs that are actively bringing value to the football program, as opposed to spending that money for people to take their talents elsewhere.
Don’t Overthink This
It’s been a fun ride and a true joy watching Brent Key live his dream as Georgia Tech’s head coach over the last couple of months, and the team has undoubtedly played hard for him. The wins that his team has been able to achieve have impressed throughout the fanbase as well as the entire college football landscape.
At this point, it’s time to think about setting this program up for success over the next several years, and spending heavily to put the program’s future in the hands of someone lacks familiarity with the school and roster, and who has never coached a game at the Power-5 level is shortsighted, risky, and dangerous.
Georgia Tech’s next head coach needs to be someone who commands respect, has the love of his players, has worked under high-performing head coaches in the past, and who would make the most financial sense for the athletic department. Brent Key checks every box, and the best path forward is obvious:
Georgia Tech needs Brent Key as its next head coach.