After a face-to-face meeting in New York followed up by conversations by phone, Temple coach Geoff Collins and Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury were closing in on a shared belief that Collins was the right person to become the Yellow Jackets’ next head coach.
It was Thursday night. Collins was at his gate at Tampa International Airport, headed back to Philadelphia after a multi-stop trip to visit recruits in Florida and, of all places, the Atlanta area. That was when he heard from his agent, Jimmy Sexton.
“Right before I got on the flight to come back, the initial proposal that this is probably going to happen was literally as they were calling out Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4,” Collins told the AJC.
Collins had an initial conversation with Sexton before the flight took off, but then, he said, the in-flight Wi-Fi wasn’t working. So Collins was in the dark for the next two hours.
Tech fans, at least, know the rest. Collins’ hire to succeed Paul Johnson as Tech’s coach was finalized Friday morning. He flew back from Philadelphia to Atlanta, encountering more flight adventures. However, not even the plane ahead of his getting a flat tire nor his own plane flying into strong headwinds could keep Collins from what he and his wife, Jennifer, have considered their dream job, at a school where Collins had previously worked twice and close to Collins family (he’s from Conyers).
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Collins’ path back to Atlanta began Nov. 28, when Johnson announced his decision to step down after 11 seasons leading the Jackets. Collins was happy after his second season at Temple and excited about a promising team in 2019.
“But when this job came open and the conversation began, it was something that we knew we were meant to do, and I’m excited that we get to do it now,” Collins said.
Stansbury and Collins first met Wednesday in New York (associate AD Marvin Lewis was also at the meeting), a week after Johnson’s decision was announced. (Stansbury declined to discuss other candidates.) The two men were in the city for the College Football Hall of Fame inductions for two of their schools’ greats – Calvin Johnson (Tech) and Paul Palmer (Temple). There was a quick connection between the two as they realized that their values and visions for the job aligned.
Both were strong on the importance of brand and culture. Collins demonstrated a spirit of outside-the-box thinking – he uses analytics and outfits players with GPS tracking devices to monitor workload in practice – that Stansbury believes is integral to the school and necessary to win. Collins liked what he heard from Stansbury about the new locker room and the $125 million capital campaign that includes a $70 million renovation of the Edge/Rice Center, the headquarters of Tech athletics.
“I think he felt great about it,” Collins said. “Obviously, I felt great about it.”
Stansbury had homework to do, namely to call colleagues who had overseen Collins in previous stops. Stansbury was so struck by Collins’ ability to speak his language that he wondered if the coach was pitching him just like he would a star prospect. From the reference checks, he got confirmation of Collins’ leadership ability, his ability to build a culture, the way players respond to him. He liked, too, that he had worked for Nick Saban at Alabama and that his first job at an FBS school was as a graduate assistant for then-Tech coach George O’Leary.
“A guy that starts with George, you know he’s going to be a worker,” said Stansbury, who was also O’Leary’s AD at UCF.
Collins, meanwhile, had to fly to Atlanta later Wednesday to recruit for Temple. The Owls have two defensive end recruits who are committed to Temple, Jacoby Sharpe (Lanier High in Gwinnett County) and Zaylin Wood (Heard County High). After that, he flew from Atlanta to Tampa, though not before he met with Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson.
Stansbury and Collins “were having this conversation, we’re having this dialogue about the future here at Georgia Tech, but out of respect for where I’m at, I’m going to go 1,000 miles an hour at the job that I have,” Collins said.
He also continued to talk with Stansbury by phone. Stansbury actually was still in New York on Thursday, having already scheduled a dinner meeting with three well-heeled Tech alumni – former baseball star Mark Teixeira (now a real-estate developer), Tony Kepano (an executive with CBRE, a commercial real-estate services company, and a Tech teammate of Stansbury’s) and Karl Dasher, the North American CEO of Schroders, a British fund management company.
Then came Collins’ WiFi-less flight and, after landing, a phone call with Sexton. He then called his wife, who informed him that this conversation was not going to take place over the phone. That was followed by a 40-minute drive home, then an hour of playtime with their 2-year-old daughter Astrid, who had waited up to see her father.
“She hasn’t seen me in four days, so my wife says, ‘I think you need to rock her to bed,’” Collins said.
Finally, Geoff and Jennifer, married for 23 years and together for 25, over which time they had made 12 stops and twice left Tech wanting to return. Atlanta was where they wanted to raise Astrid. They would be close to family. And dream jobs don’t often come open.
“All I know is the end game is exactly what Jennifer and I wanted it to be, and to be at a place that we love and in a city that we love, being able to invest in a place and make it something really special,” Collins said.