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A Retrospective Roundtable About Geoff Collins

The official word dropped yesterday, so let’s talk about Geoff Collins.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Central Florida Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Geoff Collins has officially been relieved of duties, the staff here at FTRS wanted to take an opportunity to offer a bit of a retrospective on the Geoff Collins era, so we came up with this list of questions (Mailbag style). We hope you enjoy!

After Paul Johnson stepped down and Georgia Tech was on the hunt, who were some of the folks you wanted to see Georgia Tech hire?

Ben: While I was upset to see Paul Johnson step away from Georgia Tech, it also felt like it was time. I think Johnson did some great things on the Flats. It was while he was coach that I really got into Georgia Tech football, and I’ll never forget some of those moments. But as he stepped away, I remember wanting someone who could run an offense that was still based around the option, even if it wasn’t in the flexbone. The first guy I had in mind was Tony Elliott, one of Clemson’s offensive coordinators at the time. I remember the one thing I didn’t want was someone Tech was interested in solely because of their connection to Georgia Tech (read Ken Whisenhunt).

Carter: I once wrote that Paul Johnson maybe should have retired after 2016. It would have been a great ending to his career, as opposed to the unsatisfying denouement we got in 2017 and 2018. I was hoping for either flexbone continuity (Brian Bohannon, Jeff Monken) or someone running a spread offense (Scott Satterfield), but instead Georgia Tech went with “total opposite of the last guy, who was successful”. We know how that worked out.

Chris: Agree with the names mentioned so far, in particular I remember thinking Tony Elliot and Brian Bohannon could be successful. Elliot had a ton of top-tier P5 experience while Bohannon had the “Tech guy” angle as well as an incredibly impressive resume at KSU.

Robert: I had a personal top three of Tony Elliott (current UVA head coach, massive defensive improvement and offensive regression so far in year 1, which is interesting), Neal Brown (current West Virginia head coach, whose tenure has been uninspiring so far), and Bill Clark (former UAB coach, currently not coaching but reportedly interested in another gig). I liked the offensive success that Elliot and Brown had enjoyed, and the overall program building acumen of Clark.

Jake: I agreed that it kind of felt like time then, but, nevertheless, I was pretty high on Bohannon, as were others. Seemed like a natural evolution out of where Tech was at the time. I think the real surprise is that it seemed like we never heard all that many names in general as having strong ties or interviews to the job, writ large.

Nishant: I think Scott Satterfield was my top nominal candidate in the time, in part because he likely would have retained Nate Woody and avoided saddling the defense with a third coordinator in three years. Really I just wanted to see Tech field a genuinely good defense for once, and I felt like it was entirely possible with the talent on the roster. But I don’t remember any defense-oriented candidates catching my eye early in the process—other than Bill Clark, who didn’t seem to be interested in leaving UAB, and honestly a part of me would’ve been sad to see him leave there.

Once Ken Whisenhunt confirmed that he was not interested in the job, Geoff Collins’ name started to get mentioned more. What were your first impressions about Collins pining for the Tech job?

Ben: I was certainly intrigued by Collins when his name was first mentioned. I didn’t know much about him, but saw that Temple had been pretty solid under him. I also knew that he had some recruiting prowess which could be very nice for Georgia Tech. That was one area that I (among others) always wished was more of a focus during the Paul Johnson years. I was particularly intrigued by how much Collins seemed to want this job. From reports, Collins was actively fighting to get an interview for this job, and personally, I thought that was the kind of guy Tech needed. Someone with the passion and fire to want to be here and to want to succeed here.

Carter: I was initially intrigued by the reports. I saw decent success at Temple, a school with not a lot of recent success, save the Rhule years, and thought it was promising. In hindsight, there were several red flags brought up by others I willfully ignored, because I thought it would work out. (Spoiler: It didn’t!)

Chris: I was totally fine with it. His Temple career was meh, but I liked his Mississippi State and Florida experience. His recruiting skills were obviously a huge deal given that we’d need to do some serious roster work to transition away from the option. And like Ben said, it was really interesting to see someone so openly passionate about a job and actively campaigning for it. That gave me confidence that he believed in the Institute and didn’t just think of the job as the next rung on his career ladder. Overall I think he was a good candidate at the time. It seems like we kinda just went with him early since he showed interest rather than taking our time, but it’s not like there were huge red flags or anything.

Robert: I was in! I bought the recruiting ties to GT’s lauded 2006 class, the experience under Saban, the SEC defensive coordinator roles, the Matt Rhule tutelage. He indicated that he understood the challenges that traditionally face GT, and I thought he had a plan to overcome them.

Jake: I was at his press conference, and I was hooked. The guy clearly wanted to be at Tech and was saying all the right things about vision and the things he wanted to see the program do. I thought he didn’t have much head coaching experience given how much he had inherited from his predecessor at Temple, but was willing to trade that in for his Power 5 DC experience and was interested to see what his assistant hires looked like.

Nishant: Hoo boy. I volunteered to write the candidate review piece on Collins, which went live the day after two things happened: 1) reports emerged that Collins was actually confirmed to be interviewing for the job, and 2) Cade Lawson dug up the famous (maybe now infamous) Waffle House video from the Temple athletics marketing team. I dove into his background, and I was sold. The links to Tech’s 2007 recruiting class were a good start, but I saw what I wanted to see: a clear upward trajectory in Mississippi State’s defensive rankings while he was there, sustained success during his tenure at Florida, and a great recruiting track record at both stops. The small sample size at Temple was a yellow flag, but I was willing to write off the drop-off in his first season given how much talent Temple had lost to the draft that offseason. The Waffle House clip was just the cherry on top and an excuse to have some fun. I was on board.

Following his hire and introductory press conference, what were your initial expectations for Geoff Collins?

Ben: The introductory press conference sold me. Collins seemed to have the drive and fire to be successful at Georgia Tech. As far as expectations, I knew that since Collins wanted to transition to a pro-style spread it would take a few years. I expected a rough first year as Georgia Tech transitioned away from the option. In spite of that, though, I expected a better recruiting class to help offset that. And I was pretty spot on with that. Expectations after Year 1, however, were that Collins would continue to improve the offense and be competing for a bowl game by Year 3 (preferably Year 2, but I was willing to give a pass). More than that, with Collins’ defensive reputation, I expected the Yellow Jackets to have a good defense, or at least one in the top half of the league.

Jack: I was at said introductory press conference. I told people I was willing to run through a brick wall for that man after it. He had so much charisma and gave off the feeling he wouldn’t let himself fail in the job. Just having a sense of energy coming from a head coach was so refreshing after Paul. Even if it took a year or two to get things right to get the players he wanted as Paul’s guys graduated, I was sold. Between a highly energetic guy and the disposal of the triple option, my 19 year old naivete had me seeing winning seasons, or at least a team full of fight.

Carter: Going to be completely honest: I don’t remember tuning in to his introductory press conference at all. It was very early (but not that early) when Collins took some potshots at the Paul Johnson era (saying things like “we’re not going to be doing things that way anymore”) and talking about how Tech was constantly in the top 25 when he was growing up (an assertion that does not align with recorded history) that made me start to wonder, though.

Chris: I was very excited at that point. He brought a fire and energy that just wasn’t present during the CPJ years (certainly not the last few) and that was refreshing to feel. Like Carter I was somewhat put off by his initial insistence on thinly-veiled shots at the CPJ era, but I tried to chalk it up to him just trying to distance himself and making sure people knew how hard his job would be. I think everyone expected that the first year would be incredibly difficult, but he was saying all the right things early on that gave me confidence he was the right guy to lead us through it.

Robert: Like Carter, I got skeptical when it got to the particulars. It seemed that his historical references oversold time periods when he had been involved with GT and completely undersold anything from the CPJ era. Personally, I really don’t enjoy exaggeration and data manipulation, so I became wary of what he was promising pretty early on.

Jake: Oops, I feel like I accidentally answered this with my previous answer.

Nishant: The opening presser was great. Buzzwordy, certainly, but his enthusiasm was infectious and there were a lot of cute moments even in that 30-40 minute presser. As someone who was born into Tech fandom a few months after Paul Johnson was hired, this was my first experience with Tech hiring a new football coach, and part of me just wanted to enjoy it. So I did. It was over the next few months, with the constant talk of breaking with how “the last coaching staff” did things, that I started to become a little wary.

What are the highs of the Geoff Collins era for you?

Ben: My favorite moment of the Geoff Collins era is probably still the Miami game from his first year. It was a game that Collins and the Yellow Jackets had no business winning. On top of winning, we also got this gem:

Second-favorite moment would be the UNC game where Tech had something like eight sacks. It always felt like that was the potential of a Geoff Collins-led defense, though it never really came to fruition.

Carter: I will never stop posting that clip of Harvin’s touchdown pass given the opportunity. Since Ben already mentioned the UNC game in Mercedes-Benz, lighting up Louisville on a Friday night in 2020 was a good time. I think between us we’ve exhausted the list of high points of Geoff Collins’ tenure as Georgia Tech’s head football coach.

Chris: I think 2020 FSU, 2020 Louisville, and 2021 UNC. FSU was one of those heart attack games where winning makes you feel like the team can handle anything (and it was a solid, gutsy debut from Sims). Louisville was fun because it was the first time we were really in charge of a game and ran up the score a bit at the end. UNC felt like that next step; coming off a super close loss to #6 Clemson, blowing away the #21 team made me feel like we had reached the turn-it-around point.

Robert: 2020 FSU no doubt. My wife’s an FSU fan, so that might play a part in the enjoyment of that one. But overall, I thought we had a quarterback who won a tough road game in his first start after battling back from two early picks. I loved the zip he put on the ball throwing over the middle, the escapability behind a porous offensive line, and the potential pairing with Gibbs for years to come. I loved that the defense got pressure when it counted and essentially ended the game with a sack. That was the high point of my expectations of what the team could become under Collins.

Jake: That Louisville game was so much fun. Tech scored a ton of points, it was one of my last games in the student section, and it was a nice notch over family who attend the school. The Jahmyr Gibbs handoff that Jeff Sims had his hands raised before Gibbs even hit the endzone I thought would stand as the true start of a new era. That and vaulting a dude. The UNC game was a close second, though.

Nishant: It’s gotta be the FSU game. It was the first, and maybe only, time that I felt genuine and serious hope for where this program was headed. We didn’t even know that Jeff Sims would be the starter until like an hour before kickoff, and then for three hours we got to watch him seemingly grow into the job, turning it around after a shaky first half to lead three second-half scoring drives in a tough road environment. The defense very nearly pitched a shutout in the second half, allowing one long field goal and nothing else. It felt like we were seeing the first signs of the bright future we had been promised.

At what point did you begin to question if Geoff Collins was the man for the job?

Ben: I think the easy answer is The Citadel game. Even in Year 1, you shouldn’t be losing to FCS teams. I don’t really have another answer. Syracuse 2020 was pretty bad too, but honestly, that whole year is kind of a blur for me, so I can’t state definitively that I began to question at that point.

Carter: The early comments I mentioned above were eyebrow-raisers for me, but it wasn’t until the on-field results started coming in that I started to become concerned. The Citadel loss was unacceptable, but losing 45-0 at home to Virginia Tech — a team that should be a peer, and whose coach never beat Paul Johnson — was when the alarm bells really started going off.

Chris: Full agree with Carter, 2019 VT was my first big “I’m mad”. We hadn’t been shut out at home since 1957 (or at all since 1997) and getting stomped so hard by such a just-okay opponent gave me the “oh man, are we doing the right things here” feeling.

Robert: I probably shouldn’t have, but I discounted all of the 2019 results because it was so clear that the team didn’t have a competent quarterback and hadn’t had a chance to turn over the roster much at all. The 2020 Syracuse game was the first time I really began to question whether there was any real player development happening. Sims looked as bad as a quarterback could look in that game, and the defense was getting steamrolled by what had been a listless team. Skepticism started growing for me then.

Jake: Syracuse 2020 was a big one. That team was decidedly not good, and Tech made such a drastic turn from an FSU showing a couple weeks before that had felt like a great momentum boost to start the season.

Nishant: Losing to an FCS team running a very familiar offensive system made wonder—mostly as a joke, but not entirely—whether they had refused to let the scout team (excuse me, “developmental team”) run the flexbone option in practice because We Don’t Do Things That Way Anymore. It was compounded when Geoff got smarmy in the postgame presser after a question about his QB roulette approach, asking why they never face similar questions about the safety rotation. I kept the faith for a while longer, but that’s where the seeds of discontent were planted—just as they were for many others, I’m sure.

What was the breaking point for you?

Ben: Year 3 was big for me. I was willing to give him a pass for the first two years, especially given Covid. But by Year 3, you should be past making the same fundamental mistakes over and over again. The team in 2021 had somehow gotten worse than it was in 2020. Even during the Covid year, I was pretty hopeful, knowing that it was a bit of a weird year, so things were weird. But there was at least some progression there. Year 3 sucked all that progression dry. And at that point, I knew it was over. Final straw for me was 100-0 in the last two games. It was abundantly clear that Geoff Collins and this coaching staff were completely in over their heads.

Jack: I went to the Notre Dame game last season. I knew winning was not a thing to be expected in either game, but the frailty we showed on the field was extremely demoralizing. Lots of Tech people left Notre Dame Stadium early. I did too for non-football reasons, but otherwise I would never leave a game at a cathedral of football early. In hindsight, the moment for me was when Tech had the ball deep in Notre Dame’s territory the one time in that game. I instinctively knew there was no way we were scoring. What happened? After Jordan Yates’ 54 yard run to get us there, we fumble at ND’s 11 yard line for a scoop n’ score. I never had hope again.

Carter: The loss to an otherwise winless Syracuse team (happy 2 year anniversary to that as I write this, by the way), followed by the aforementioned, unexpected blowout of Louisville, followed by giving up 70+ points in a football game was when Collins started to go downhill for me. The breaking point was last year’s game vs. NIU. I left DragonCon to tailgate for most of that afternoon. I left at halftime and called a Lyft to take me back downtown.

Chris: 2021, especially the way we ended the season (starting with BC I was done with the shtick). After the high of feeling like UNC was the turning point, barely beating Duke and finishing 1-7 was emotionally draining. It felt like everything was coming off the rails. The offense was stagnant, and the defense was getting worse in nearly every category year over year. My season summary from 2021 is probably the angriest I’ve been online.

Robert: Looking back through my own writing, the clear breaking point for me happened after the Miami game in 2021. Not that it was the worst performance, but that it revealed the massive disconnect between the coach’s perception and what was actually happening on the field. That’s when I knew nothing would ever change. A few of my favorite selections from that article:

On Saturday afternoon, Georgia Tech’s head football coach stood at the podium and appealed to the gathered reporters to focus on what had gone well. He insisted that this team is on the razor’s edge of a breakthrough, that it’s a “play here and a play there” holding this team back from the promised land. He wasn’t right. It’s more like “twenty plays here and there.”

This is a team with a top 35 level of talent nationally who is playing as about the 75th best team in the country. When the coach talks about recruiting and development, it rings pretty hollow given those numbers. The only development I’ve seen is with his shoe collection.

Other than the financial constraints that weigh like an anvil on the GTAA, there is no compelling reason for this coaching staff to return. A third straight three win season is well within sight. The last time Georgia Tech won 9 or fewer games in a three year span was 1980-1982 - what is generally considered the absolute low point in the history of the football program. That’s not elite, no matter how many press conference answers plead that it is.

The specifics I normally look for in this takeaways section don’t seem to matter right now. This is a well below average team trending in a negative direction, with two top 10 opponents awaiting in the final three weeks of the season. If the coach would admit how bad things are, it would give me just the slightest consolation. As things are, either he is is denial or clueless, and neither provides any hope for the way forward.

Yea, that was it for me.

Jake: At one point, Akshay and I started to avoid talking about football on the podcast as much as possible. I think that about says it all. It definitely was more fun to spend 30 minutes on a great volleyball team and 10 on football than vice versa. I think, if anything, the 3-3 start last year, especially UNC, brought me back somewhat, but certainly Miami and Virginia games showed that even when a bevy of things broke Tech’s way, they were simply not able to get out of their own way.

Nishant: I signed up for the Smash Ultimate tournament at Dragon Con in 2021, figuring it’d at least be funny if I got embarrassed as long as I went in with no expectations. But I got placed in the 7 pm Saturday group for pool play, which coincided with the Northern Illinois game, and they couldn’t switch me to an earlier time—so I dropped out of the tournament and went over to campus for the game. Turns out I should have taken a lesson from my Smash mentality, because that game would’ve been funny if I had gone in with no expectations. Opening Year 3 with that dud—after losing to an FCS team in Year 1 and giving up 73 points in one game in Year 2—was all I needed to see. It doesn’t matter if NIU turned out to be a pretty good team. It’s a game that Tech should have won comfortably.

With the Geoff Collins era now over, what lessons can Georgia Tech take away to help them in this next coach search?

Ben: One big lesson is don’t give out 7-year contracts with stupid buyouts to a coach with two years of head coaching experience. If you have a coach that is very experienced and has proven that he deserves something like that, sure. But looking retrospectively, Collins did not deserve that contract when he arrived. I think another lesson is that Tech should encourage their coach to not just bring his previous staff with him. Actively search for coaches who are not going to be out of their depths. Collins’ initial staff was either coaches from his Temple staff or “Tech guys.” Let’s not do that again.

Jack: We have to rebuild the rebuild now. In my head, that means we can’t gamble this hire. When the barrier for success is 5-6 wins depending on who you talk to, getting someone who has done this before and doesn’t mess around is critical. I’m all for taking calculated risks while going for the jackpot, but now is not the time. Seeing how little support Collins had at the end, a team first guy is important to me. Results matter, but those are the product of effort and execution. To get effort and execution, we need a someone who cares about the guys as people first to where the relationships aren’t dependent on the football.

Carter: The biggest lesson for me is “don’t hire someone who’s the polar opposite of the last guy just because he’s the polar opposite of the last guy”.... although, given how this went, maybe we should do that this time. But that shouldn’t be one of the driving goals. The other lesson is don’t prioritize “being a Tech man” over everything else.

Chris: Agreed with Ben, do not give out another contract like this. A guy with two meh years of HC experience does not remotely deserve a 7 year contract. Focusing on staff building is another key for me: we need to commit real resources into getting the best possible coordinators and position coaches we can instead of treating them almost as an afterthought with a tiny budget.

Robert: Ignore all the words if they don’t match up with the numbers. We got a bill of goods early on about all of the success this team had at Temple. Well, what did the numbers tell us?

Compared to some other G5 coaches who may be part of this search, Collins had a terrible impact on Temple’s performance. They got measurably worse in his two years. That should have been the headline, not Waffle House, 404, or recruiting.

Jake: Words mean little on the field. Interest and engagement can be driven by connection to the Institute or a push for branding, sure, but wins are what keep people engaged and invested. We need to find the person who has demonstrable experience doing exactly that.

Nishant: As the last entry here, my lone addition is: get an athletic director who’s actually made a football hire before. Todd Stansbury is gone because he let himself get fleeced in contract negotiations and got burned by the results. Get someone who knows how to handle those discussions, and get some lieutenants who know how to intervene and prevent foolish things like a contract that rolls over on January 1 instead of the start of December.