Not long after Geoff Collins was hired as Georgia Tech’s new coach, the seniors on the 2018 team got a message from Kevin Cone, the former Yellow Jacket wide receiver now serving as assistant director of football operations.
Cone wanted to know if they would like to meet with Collins. Given that they obviously weren’t going to be a part of the team going forward, at least one of those recipients was confused.
“I was like, did you send this to the right person?” said Kyle Cerge-Henderson, a defensive tackle.
Cone’s response, according to Cerge-Henderson, was that yes, he was the intended recipient. Collins wanted to meet with all the outgoing seniors. The gesture of inclusion was well-received by Cerge-Henderson, who was figuring that Collins’ attention would be fully focused on recruiting and the players he was inheriting.
“We sat down, every senior sat down with coach Collins, one at a time, and he wanted to get to know us,” Cerge-Henderson-told the AJC. “I thought that was so cool. He didn’t even talk about it in the media or anything.”
Collins’ purpose, Cerge-Henderson said, was to get to know the outgoing team members, tell them about his plans and to quiz them on changes they’d like to see within the team.
“He also told us, ‘Y’all are literally not even more than welcome – y’all are invited to attend anything we do,’” Cerge-Henderson said.
Collins’ embrace of the outgoing team members didn’t stop there. Cerge-Henderson is one of a handful of players who are using Tech’s weight room and other facilities to prepare for their pro day. Collins set aside a number of lockers specifically for them. The video screen attached to each locker space, which typically functions as a name plate, reads “Legends of the Flats” – which is the honorific that Collins has created for former Tech players.
“It’s at the very front of the locker room, so everybody in our organization knows that the guys that played here truly matter to us and we want them to still be a part of it as they get ready for pro day,” Collins said on signing day Feb. 6.
Collins also kept the outgoing seniors on the team’s group-messaging network and retained their privileges to use the locker room and other facilities.
“Just small things like that is really cool,” Cerge-Henderson said.
As part of his vision to make Tech part of college football’s elite, Collins has been intentional about connecting with former Tech players of all generations. Perhaps most significant, he hired five former Tech players to his staff – Brent Key (offensive-line coach), Tashard Choice (running backs coach), Marco Coleman (defensive line/outside linebackers coach), Nathan Burton (safeties coach) and Will Glover (offensive quality-control specialist).
He has connected with former players whom he knew through his two previous stints at Tech, with coach George O’Leary as a graduate assistant and tight ends coach and then with coach Chan Gailey as director of player personnel.
Among other things, he also designated the first Saturday of spring practice (March 30) as “Legends of the Flats Day,” inviting every former letter winner to attend the day’s practice.
“They’ve put so much blood, sweat, tears into this unbelievable place,” Collins said. “I want them back around this program, engaged out at practice.”
Collins’ inclusion of the outgoing seniors has created a bond between them and Collins where none previously existed. It’s a group that, as they were the last seniors to play all four seasons for former coach Paul Johnson, might have the potential to feel the most disenfranchised by the coaching change.
But a one-on-one meeting and an invitation to be a part of the new regime has gone a long way to address that.
“He’s so open,” Cerge-Henderson said of Collins. “It was really cool.”
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.