Two weeks ago, shortly before the ACC announced that the Georgia Tech-Miami game would be moved back two days to accommodate a Hurricane Irma-related scheduling change, Mike Huff’s phone rang.
Huff is Tech’s football-operations director, a job that includes oversight of the team’s travel, lodging and meals, among many other tasks. The person on the other end of the line was athletic director Todd Stansbury.
He was calling, Huff said, to alert him to the change, acknowledge the work it was going to create for him and authorize him to do whatever needed to be done. He also asked what support he could offer.
“I think that personal touch, it means a lot,” Huff said. “And it’s not to say others wouldn’t (have done the same), because we’ve never had that situation. But, still, just the thought.”
It was a year ago Friday that Stansbury’s hire as Tech’s ninth athletic director from the same position at Oregon State became official. In the 12 months since, Huff is only one of many in Tech athletic circles to make note of the imprint Stansbury has made on the athletic department.
In interviews with the AJC, responses from several of them fell along similar lines, observations of his passion for Tech, his vision and his desire to serve Yellow Jackets athletes. Following Mike Bobinski’s departure for Purdue, those in and around the department attest to a reinvigoration.
“He brings a different energy that we haven’t had before,” Huff said.
Andy Blanton, assistant athletic director
Blanton has been at Tech in the video department since 2001, a span that covers four athletic directors – Dave Braine, Dan Radakovich, Bobinski and now Stansbury. As the only Tech alumnus in the group, Stansbury stands out.
“I would say that, obviously, it’s very apparent that Georgia Tech is extremely woven into Todd’s fabric, and that was apparent from Day 1 that he had a passion that most folks hadn’t had in that same position,” Blanton said.
Blanton has observed that Stansbury has sought to embrace the school’s academic rigor and emphasized the importance of developing its athletes through the athletic department’s Total Person Program, which former AD Homer Rice implemented when Stansbury was himself a Jackets football player. Blanton calls him a great fit and, as someone on his fourth AD, is hopeful for a long run.
“He seems pretty passionate about it, and he seems like he’s in it for the long haul, and that’s a breath of fresh air,” he said.
Bill Curry, Tech hall of famer
The football great acknowledged his bias toward Stansbury, who played for Curry in the early ’80s. But he said he could examine Stansbury with clear eyes because he can judge him on whether he has implemented the policies that make Tech viable as an athletic entity.
“Here’s what I see – he has incorporated the things that he learned not just being a student-athlete at Tech but working under Homer Rice for years (as an assistant AD for academics) and then heading out on his own with (his wife) Karen to implement the program at every single place he worked,” Curry said.
Curry was referring to the Total Person Program, which aims to equip Tech athletes with the skills to achieve academic and athletic excellence, serve the community and prepare for a post-athletics career. Curry has further seen Stansbury respond to constituents, be it athletes, coaches or fans. Having worked at five schools across the country as well as two jobs outside athletics has given Stansbury a broad grasp, Curry said.
“He understands the entire 360 degrees of athletics and academics in America today, and there are very people that do,” Curry said.
Shawn Fowler, alumnus
A CPA, Fowler has known Stansbury since he was an assistant athletic director for academics at Tech and Fowler was a tutor in the department.
“You could tell he cared about the students because he always wanted to know how they were doing, and he cared about the tutors,” Fowler said. “It felt like they were part of the team, in a sense.”
That was why Fowler, a major donor to the department, was excited about Stansbury’s hire. Fowler is one of several dozen donors that Stansbury has met with one-on-one since his hire.
“When you meet with him, his love of Georgia Tech comes through,” Fowler said. “He’s just very positive and he gets it.”
KeShun Freeman, football player
Freeman, a senior defensive end, has noticed Stansbury’s visibility, seeing him at competitions for a variety of Tech’s teams and his visits to meetings of the student-athlete advisory board, of which Freeman is a member.
“When you see him around, he’s always speaking, he’s always asking questions about how he can be a better AD,” Freeman said. “He really just puts himself out there just to create relationships with the different sports. You know he has our back.”
Courtney Shealy Hart, swimming coach
As Hart puts it, not only does Stansbury have a vision, but “he shares that vision with everybody.” Hearing the message of academic and athletic excellence and career preparation has helped Hart, Tech’s head coach of both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams since 2009, align her mission with the department’s.
“I think it gives me motivation to continue to strive to be better,” she said. “Not that you need that, but I think when your top guy is saying, ‘This is what my vision is and this is how we’re going to get there,’ it gets you excited about it.”
In Stansbury, Hart has found a supervisor willing to meet and listen. A high priority has been restoring the team’s scholarship funding, which has been reduced for several years because of budget constraints.
“I don’t think it falls on deaf ears,” Hart said. “I think he truly listens and tries to figure out a way to make it happen.”
Paul Johnson, football coach
Johnson has on numerous occasions publicly shared his appreciation for the job that Stansbury has done, particularly in prioritizing facilities improvements and recruiting, two areas where Johnson has long lobbied for more resources. But that isn’t where Johnson believes he’s made the most significant impact.
“I think that the biggest thing is probably just the general morale around the building, if I was going to point to one thing,” Johnson said. “I think it’s improved tenfold since he’s gotten here. (Also), communication. That’d be the two biggest, probably.”
Marvin Lewis, associate athletic director
As a senior-level administrator, Lewis is around Stansbury on a daily basis and has recognized his boss’ frenetic pace. Since arriving full-time from Oregon State in late November 2016, Stansbury has criss-crossed the country to meet with donors and made time to meet one-on-one with all 177 staff members in the department. It isn’t only his schedule that is full.
“If you’ve ever gone into his office and you see his (wall-size) whiteboard, he has ideas that come out each and every day,” said Lewis, a captain of Tech’s 2004 Final Four team. “He’s always thinking about how we can get better. He’s always thinking of the next thing and so, even each meeting that we have, there’s usually a new idea that comes up. ‘Hey, can you somebody investigate this? Do you think this is possible?’ That pushes the rest of us to move at that pace and try to accomplish things in a quick fashion.”
Brad Malone, brand and ideation director
Shortly after Stansbury’s arrival, Malone gave two weeks’ notice that he would be leaving his position as director of digital media after four years in the athletic department. Between the time that Malone submitted his resignation and his departure, Stansbury met with him a couple times to understand his reasons for leaving and left the door open for him to return. The new job didn’t work out the way Malone expected, and, intrigued by Stansbury’s vision and appreciative of his personal attention, he was back at Tech four months later.
As a Tech grad, Malone has been excited that Stansbury deeply understands Tech’s identity and recognizes the need to do a better job with branding. As a member of a team that is dedicated to differentiating Tech to fans, alumni and recruits, Malone said that Stansbury has given the group freedom to do its job.
“You wake up wanting to come in and get the job done,” he said. “That wasn’t always the case.”