Tech revamps recruiting operations

Georgia Tech has made a leap forward in its recruiting efforts. It is the hope of coach Paul Johnson that the Yellow Jackets now won’t be playing from behind.

The team has expanded the recruiting department from one person to four, a staff that includes Tech great Joe Hamilton.

“We were so understaffed that we’re just now catching up to where everybody else is,” Johnson said.

The office will be led by Matt Griffin, the newly appointed player-personnel director. Besides Hamilton, the other assistants are former Miami Hurricanes assistant coach Mike Cassano and Saeed Khalif, a former Tech player and most recently the Savannah State defensive coordinator. Previously, the recruiting office was staffed solely by Liam Klein, who left Tech in April to take an assistant coaching job at Kennesaw State.

Johnson has come under criticism for perceived recruiting shortcomings, to which he has responded that Tech’s recruiting results are similar to what his predecessors have achieved, with the star-studded 2007 class standing as an outlier. In an era in which the SEC’s reputation and might have grown exponentially and challenged Tech’s ability to retain in-state talent, the Jackets have given themselves a boost.

“Certainly, I expect that we should be better,” Johnson said.

Johnson has charged the recruiting staff with a lot of the legwork that previously occupied the time of the assistant coaches, such as gathering transcripts. The team evaluates thousands of prospects each year, and Griffin’s staff will endeavor to streamline the process. For instance, if there are 100 offensive line prospects to look at, Griffin said, “we can go through the 100 to find the 10 that we think they’d like and then let them make the decisions from there.”

With as many as four coaches heading to Florida next week — assistants have been on the road evaluating prospects since the end of spring practice — Cassano surveyed high school coaching contacts in the state to check on who would be worth seeing. Griffin estimated Cassano’s 45 minutes of work saved the coaching staff two days of travel and evaluation time, hours that can be more devoted to more worthwhile prospects.

“Two phone calls, we can cover about four counties — who can play, who can’t,” Griffin said. “People we know and trust.”

Griffin previously was head coach at Tennessee-Martin and Murray State and spent the past two seasons as an offensive assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has considerable experience recruiting in Tennessee, Georgia and northeast Florida. At Tennessee-Martin, he said, “we recruited the dog out of (metro Atlanta).”

Through the recommendation of special-teams coordinator David Walkosky — they were assistants together at Tennessee-Martin in the late ’90s — Griffin interviewed for the quarterbacks and B-backs coaching job that ultimately went to Bryan Cook. But Johnson and Griffin also discussed the recruiting position, which Johnson ultimately offered to the Massachusetts native.

Griffin has loosely assigned Cassano to focus on evaluating offensive prospects and Khalif to track defense. Hamilton will be primarily responsible for social media. The duties will overlap, and each brings areas of expertise. Cassano was recruiting coordinator at Florida International in 2007-09 before coaching at Miami for one season, giving him considerable knowledge of south Florida. Khalif, who played with Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof and was known then as Kyle Ambrose, coached high school football in metro Atlanta and also New Jersey, a state where Tech is intensifying its efforts.

Hamilton, of course, offers considerable name recognition and a hard-to-resist personality. He spent the past three years on staff at Georgia State under then-coach Bill Curry.

Said Curry, “He’s a natural when the moms and dads come around.”

Johnson credited athletic director Mike Bobinski for approving the hires, though he noted that the plan “was kind of in the works a little bit” when former athletic Dan Radakovich still presided over the department. In making his case to Bobinski, Johnson compared his recruiting office with competitors. The Florida State recruiting office has five staffers. Clemson has at least four.

“We were behind a lot of teams in our league,” Johnson said, “and woefully behind a lot of the SEC schools.”

The hires arrive at an opportune moment. With a large senior class in the coming season, Tech could have Johnson’s largest signing class in February, as many as 25 players. That is only the start. Griffin’s staff, which began work this week, has begun evaluating the 2015 class.

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