It was Thursday morning when Geoff Collins ducked into a conference room at Georgia Tech’s Edge Building, a guest of the Georgia Tech Athletic Association as it held its quarterly board meeting. He was dressed, per usual, in business attire and holding, per usual, a Waffle House to-go cup.
The board members and Tech athletic department staff went around the room introducing themselves, the loop finally returning to Collins.
“Geoff Collins, head football coach, Georgia Tech,” he said.
In front of the group that formally approved his hire, Collins said many of the things that he has often said since taking the job in December – that it is a distinct honor to be Tech’s coach, that it was a job he had dreamed of, that Tech is a special place. Speaking at about 10:30 a.m., he also said he had already visited three Atlanta-area high schools by helicopter and was about to visit the father of a recruit at his barbershop.
“So recruiting is huge for us,” he said. “For us to be the national power that I know we should be and doing it the right way, got to form relationships, got to be a relentless recruiter, and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.”
In response to a question, he explained the offseason competition that the team is conducting, one that is broader in scope than those that the team conducted during former coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, and one that helped illustrate Collins’ vision for how he wants to raise Tech’s bar above the largely successful standards set by Johnson.
“We have a saying in our program,” Collins told the board members. “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
The roster has been split up into 10 teams, with captains for each. One aim of the competition is to build cohesion across position groups, as typically bonds between teammates are within a position group. That’s similar to how the teams were formed in the past. But there’s differences.
For one thing, assistant coaches have been assigned to each team, so it isn’t just players who are getting to know each other outside of their normal circles.
The competition also goes beyond what happens in workouts. Players have to sit in the first two rows of their classes, and staff members make class checks and take pictures to verify protocol is being followed. If they’re not in the first two rows, their team loses points. Similarly, players can win or lose points based on how they fare on papers or tests.
For Tech fans who follow players on social media, they may have noticed an uptick in tweets of players attending Tech swim meets and tennis matches. That’s part of the competition, too.
“If you go to another team’s sporting event, it’s just you, you get a certain amount of points,” Collins said. “If your entire team goes and you all get a selfie and you stay for the event, you get a lot of points.”
Every third Friday is known as “judgment day.” The team that is leading gets a reward, Collins said, “and the people that are in last place, there’s a day of reckoning. They do a little extra.”
Former defensive lineman Kyle Cerge-Henderson has observed with interest. Cerge-Henderson, who completed his eligibility this past season and is on campus finishing graduation requirements while preparing for a shot at the NFL, has heard from former teammates about the competition.
Previously, the competition was mostly held during offseason workouts supervised by coaches, Cerge-Henderson said. Community service, GPA and performance in the weight room were also part of it.
“But they do events literally every day,” Cerge-Henderson said.
For instance, Cerge-Henderson said, there’s competition in every morning workout, such as on a set of sprints or lifts.
“It’s different,” Cerge-Henderson said. “When you tell a guy to do 15 reps, it’s like, all right, I’m going to do these 15 reps and when I get tired, I might slip up and do 14. That’s just human nature. When things get tough, you stop. When you’re saying, both of y’all do 15 reps and there’s a winner and a loser, there’s just a way more competitive nature, because it’s like, when I get tired, I don’t want to lose to this person, regardless. Nobody’s OK with losing.”
Not surprisingly, one of the slogans introduced by Collins is “Competition is king.” There was a Saturday team challenge conducted early in the morning, when coaches and staff dressed up like characters from “Game of Thrones.”
“They worked really, really hard, but it’s OK to have a smile on your face and have a positive attitude about working hard,” Collins said.
Something else that Cerge-Henderson has noted – the locker room is spotless.
“I think that’s awesome,” Cerge-Henderson said. “I would, like, keep a jacket or something lay out by my locker on one of my hooks. You can’t even do that.”
Another change to the locker room: While lockers were assigned by numbers, meaning that a player’s locker neighbors never changed and was typically around players of the same position, Collins has mixed up locker assignments.
Collins has a vision beyond encouraging attendance at swim meets or earning brownie points from professors. For instance, he said that players first went for the points but took an appreciation for their fellow Tech athletes and enjoyed the competition all the while spending time with teammates.
“It builds camaraderie throughout the team and hopefully throughout the whole athletic department,” Collins said.
A team that trains harder, grows closer together and is pursuing excellence outside of football – the on-field benefits seem fairly obvious.
Fueling competitive spirit and building camaraderie are hardly new ideas, nor are class checks. The football team recorded a GPA as high as 2.94 during Johnson’s tenure. Johnson even relied on a saying that sounded a note similar to Collins’: “Little things lead to big things.”
But a change in methods and a new style have been hard not to notice.
“There’s a lot of things that are just different,” Cerge-Henderson said. “Nothing bad against coach Johnson. He won plenty of games without doing these things. It’s a fresh start.”
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