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Georgia Tech Football: Coaching Carousel - S Coach Andrew Thacker and DB Coach Travares Tillman

What will Georgia Tech’s secondary coaching situation look like next season?

Georgia Tech v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Ed. Note: I originally planned to post this article solely about Thacker next week, but it seems I was beaten to the punch with the announcement that Thacker and Tillman were being moved to off-field roles.

Now that the regular season is over, the coaching carousel has begun! As teams look to improve their coaching staffs, it seems probable that Georgia Tech will see a few changes to its coaching staff before next season. Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at a few of those possibilities and opine about how Georgia Tech should respond if that coach were to find himself at another school next year.

Of the holdovers that Brent Key brought from Geoff Collins’ staff, defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker was easily the most surprising. Although he seems to be much beloved by several of the players, he has struggled since he came to Georgia Tech. In his time with the Yellow Jackets, he has mostly served with the linebackers.

In Collins’ last season, Jason Semore was brought in to coach the linebackers, and it was easily the best seasons the linebackers had during the Collins era. This season, Thacker served as the primary defensive coordinator with Kevin Sherrer serving as the co-DC.

Coming into the season, it was expected that Georgia Tech’s defense would take a step back. Losing key players like Keion White, Ace Eley and Charlie Thomas is incredibly difficult. What happened, though, was the bottom fell out. Seemingly every defender forgot how to tackle. All of a sudden, the defense was mostly unable to enact any kind of havoc.

Following Georgia Tech’s devastating loss to Bowling Green, Thacker was stripped of his DC title and reassigned to be the safeties coach. The safety group contains probably two or three of the best players on the whole defense, so it was probably the safest option while keeping Thacker through the season.

During the Collins era, the Yellow Jackets dismissed a player-favorite coach in Nate Burton, and the players made it known immediately that they were unhappy. (THIS IS PURE CONJECTURE) Knowing that Thacker is similarly well-regarded by players, I believe that the decision to not fire him midseason was to avoid players revolting midseason. Now that the season is over, and Thacker’s contract is up, there’s no reason to keep him.

Moving onto Tillman, this move is actually a little more surprising. Tillman’s first season was Collins’ last. It was just after the graduation of several notable defensive backs, including Juanyeh Thomas and Tariq Carpenter. It was expected that the secondary would probably struggle. On the contrary, the secondary performed admirably, and that’s probably how Tillman was able to retain the job coming into this season.

This season, Tillman has played a role in two members of the secondary having particularly noteworthy seasons: Jaylon King and Myles Sims. King, who Tillman lost in his first season, returned and had a phenomenal season, finishing with four interceptions and eight pass break-ups. King was also named third-team All-America by College Football Network, the first Yellow Jacket to earn the honor since Jahmyr Gibbs in 2021 and the first Georgia Tech defensive back since Morgan Burnett in 2008.

Sims’ season is also not to be understated. I shared this tweet from David Hale in the mailbag yesterday, but I want to share it here too:

Aside from those two, the other corner spot was pretty insignificant. LaMiles Brooks had a solid, if slightly underwhelming, season, and Clayton Powell-Lee struggled (especially with tackling).

Likelihood of departure: 10/10

Likely reason for departure: Not renewing contracts

How should Georgia Tech go about replacing Thacker and Tillman?

Moving on from Thacker and Tillman puts Georgia Tech in an interesting position. Of course they will need to hire a defensive backs coach, but what do they do with the second position? They could hire two defensive backs coaches and have one on corners and the other on safeties. Personally, I’m not a fan of that model. but it’s an option.

Another option could be to hire one defensive backs coach and one coach to serve as the defensive coordinator, replacing Kevin Sherrer (or hiring a linebackers coach while Sherrer focuses on DC duties).

But I think there’s a better option even than that. I think the one thing that Brent Key is missing on his staff is someone with head coaching experience. No coach on Georgia Tech’s staff (besides Brent Key) has any head coaching experience. As a first-time head coach, Key struggled a bit with decision-making (see going for the first field goal against UGA instead of going for it on 4th and half a yard). Having someone on the staff that can serve as the assistant head coach that can serve as a mentor to Key would be invaluable as Key develops as a game manager. The best way this would work, in my opinion, would be for it to be someone he used to work with. Now, I think George O’Leary is probably out of the question, so let’s look at some other guys.

Beginning with his time at UCF, guys that have head coaching experience are Jim Fleming (who has been the head coach at Rhode Island for a decade and probably isn’t leaving) and Tyson Summers (who has as much head coaching as Key does now). Fleming could be interesting (and was a defensive coordinator at UCF), but I don’t know that he’ll want to leave Rhode Island. I don’t suppose Summers is out of the question entirely. He is currently the DC/Safeties coach at Western Kentucky. He just doesn’t fit the experienced head coach model. Another name that I saw that could be interesting is Dave Huxtable. Huxtable has been a career-long defensive coordinator (and former DC at Georgia Tech). Currently, he works as an analyst for the Atlanta Falcons, so that could be a role more suited for him if Key decided to pursue him.

Moving onto his time at Alabama, there’s one name that really stands out to me that almost certainly won’t happen: Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt was the head coach at Tennessee for a few years before he got into a whole mess of recruiting trouble. Before his time as a head coach, he was a great defensive coordinator for Florida State, UGA, and Alabama. He probably doesn’t fill that experienced head coach mentor role, and he’d have to be suspended for a year, so that’s probably not going to happen.

So where does Tech go from here? There are some other well-experienced coaches who were recently dismissed, like Tom Allen (who has a host of DC experience) and Dana Holgorsen (don’t see that one happening). Looking at some current unemployed/underemployed head coaches, there are also options like Charlie Strong (maybe?), Ken Niumatalolo (don’t think he’d do it), Scott Frost (pass), David Shaw (pass), and my favorite: Rocky Long. Rick Stocksill could be interesting too, but he seems less likely.

Long currently serves as Syracuse’s defensive coordinator, but with Dino Babers being dismissed, it seems likely that Long will be searching for a job in the offseason. Long previously served as the head coach at New Mexico from 1998-2008 and at San Diego State from 2011-2019. That’s 20 years of head coaching experience that could be invaluable to Brent Key as he develops as a new head coach. Throw on a co-DC title and call it a day. It also works out that Long has previously been a defensive backs coach. The only problem is that he is already 73, so there’s no guarantee he’s looking to take on another coaching job at this stage in his career.

But what about that defensive backs position coach? Brent Key could look to Kevin Sherrer for some recommendations if he’s retained, but that would be fruitless looking at Sherrer’s past coaching stints. His time at UGA saw two defensive backs coaches: Pruitt and Mel Tucker. Yeah, those both seem pretty unlikely. At Tennessee, Derrick Ansley served as the DB coach. He currently serves as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers, so that’s also unlikely. When Sherrer was with the Giants, Jerome Henderson was the DB coach, and it looks like he’s still there.

So to summarize, I don’t really have any specific names (unless Rocky Long wants to continue coaching), but I would like to see Georgia Tech hire someone who can be the new DB coach and someone with some previous head coaching experience to help serve as a mentor to Key.

How do you want to see Key replace Thacker and Tillman?