Curry knows: Georgia Tech needs a unifying presence

The problem at Georgia Tech isn’t that the football coach runs an option offense, or that he doesn’t pat needy alums on the head enough, or, please, of all things, that some Doritos-and-Yoo-hoo chugging recruiting “guru” has determined the program didn’t sign enough “four-stars.”

The biggest problem with Tech athletics today, as strange as this may sound, isn’t specific to the football team or the basketball team or any team. That’s like blaming the ceiling’s water stains on cheap paint instead of the holes in the roof.

Tech lacks leadership.

Tech lacks a clear understanding of its mission.

Tech lacks a consensus on what it wants to be, or should be, or even what it can be.

Tech’s president was so detached from athletics the last time the school went through an athletic director search that he basically let one booster run the show and make the hire. How’d that turn out?

“We major in moaning and complaining,” said Bill Curry, a former three-time coach of the year in the ACC and SEC, who maintains ties to the school. “When we stop doing that, that’s when things will get better. We need unity. But that starts with a leader coming in, putting their finger on the pulse of what’s going on and then everybody else stop complaining and just doing their job.”

Curry is not a candidate to become the next athletic director. He tried to go down that road years ago, and it didn’t happen. But maybe the next guy can call him in for a halftime speech.

He was aware that people around Tech athletics had become disenchanted. He goes to functions and keeps in touch with former players and boosters.

“The age-old charge of Georgia Tech athletics: There’s not a unifying presence,” he said.

Being a successful athletic director requires passion, business sense and vision. Tech needs all that. But more than anything right now, Tech needs a unifier.

What has struck me most in the few days since Bobinski’s departure was how many folks believe athletics has been a relatively rudderless ship the past three years and the extent to which they have felt disconnected.

Nobody has had a bad word to say about Bobinski personally, not even those who were fired by him. But there’s an overwhelming sense that athletics has lacked leadership and that Bobinski put people in positions of authority who were operating for themselves and not the university as a whole. It has become an unhealthy and fractured environment.

The “all for one and one for all thing” might seem hokey to you, but if students, athletes, coaches, administrators and fans can’t feel connected on a college campus, where can they?

Ironically, when Bobinski was hired in 2013, he said: “For us to get things done in our league and nationally, it’s an all-in proposition. We can’t just do it in athletics. We need everybody with us. We need everybody in the boat, pulling on the oar at the same time. We need to tell the story of what we’re trying to accomplish at Georgia Tech. Create a positive energy around the program.”

Was that Bobinski or a pod Bobinski?

The three-plus years that followed reflected none of that.

Tech isn’t Clemson, or Florida State, or Miami, or Louisville. It’s not flush with revenue. Admitting that is not a surrender, it’s a reality check. Figure out what you are, embrace that and move on.

There are people trying to run off Paul Johnson. During his eight-year tenure, he has gone to two Orange Bowls, won 11 games twice, won an ACC title, played for the conference title three times, has four wins over top-10 teams and defeated Georgia in Athens twice.

In … eight … years.

Seriously. What do you believe is realistic at Tech? Because I’m not sensing anything north of that.

(Oh right. Recruiting rankings. Sorry.)

Curry was hired as the Jackets’ football coach in 1980. Athletic director Homer Rice created a culture on campus, centered on his “Total Person Program.” He spread the word to his coaches about athletes having a balanced life that encompasses academics, personal well-being and athletic achievement.

I know. Right now you’re thinking: “Forget this touchy-feeling stuff! We need that pass rusher from Bogart so we can beat the Bulldogs!” But Curry said there was a sense of purpose and unity then that ran through the athletic department.

“The situation today is similar to what it was like in 1980 when Homer Rice arrived,” Curry said. “Obviously I’m biased because I was a part of that resurgence. But we had a situation where everybody bought in — me, (basketball coach Bobby) Cremins, (former baseball coach Jim) Morris, we all ran with it.”

What can Tech be?

“Tech can be Georgia Tech,” Curry said. “It means recognizing our strengths and weaknesses. We can always excel academically, and we should be achieving on the field as well. Are we going to be a top-five team every year? No. But we can win a national championship and we can be good enough to avoid those huge drop-offs while we build the program back.”

Tech needs some building. But more than anything, it needs some healing and a loud clear message from the top. That’s what has been missing.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.