Will Mizell, a Georgia Tech graduate and a season-ticket holder for football and men’s basketball holder for years, was excited for the hire of coach Geoff Collins. His energetic personality, a staff chockful of Tech grads, his past history at Tech and his priority on branding the Yellow Jackets were among many reasons.
“And the fact that he likes Waffle House is just kind of icing on the cake,” said Mizell, a vice president for the Atlanta-based restaurant chain. “I had no idea.”
Collins’ zeal for Waffle House and his eagerness to share it through his Twitter account has been received with understandable pleasure by Mizell and his cohorts, save perhaps the ones who are Georgia fans.
“We’re thrilled to have him because I think what it is is, it’s authentic and it’s reaching out locally,” Mizell said. “’Hey, I eat at Waffle House. I’m just a regular guy.’ I think that is helping him connect with folks.”
Waffle House has done its part to grow the relationship. He was given a gift card, a personalized ID badge and, perhaps most significantly, a ride on its corporate plane. Last week, Collins tweeted out a photo of him, wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon and two other gentlemen in front of a private propeller plane thanking Waffle House for helping Tech “RECRUIT IN STYLE!!!!!”
Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner declined to comment on the flight, saying only that the company makes it plane available from time to time. Warner would acknowledge, though, that the company and Collins are working to make their alliance official.
“We’re kind of in talks right now, kind of seeing what a partnership would look like,” Warner said.
Collins has tweeted visits to Waffle House multiple times. A Styrofoam to-go cup from Waffle House seems to be a constant companion. When he signed autographs and met fans before a Tech basketball game at McCamish Pavilion on Jan. 5, a Waffle House cup sat on the table. When he spoke to media Jan. 10, he placed a Waffle House cup on the lectern.
In turn, Tech fans have responded, tweeting back at him photos of their own visits to Waffle House, often complete with their own Styrofoam to-go cups. Mizell called it “sort of surreal to us.” Mizell said that he hears from friends when they see the product placements, asking how much the company is paying Collins. The answer – at least to this point – is nothing.
“It’s awesome, isn’t it?” Mizell said. “I have a couple of fraternity brothers who work for Chick-fil-A – I haven’t heard from them yet.”
Collins isn’t the first coach to connect himself with Waffle House. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn often celebrates wins by dining at Waffle House.
Collins, who grew up in Decatur and then Rockdale County, took the Tech job in part for the opportunity to return home. Part of what home evidently means is Waffle House. In an Internet radio interview, he said that, upon his hire, he had breakfast at Waffle House for his first nine days in Atlanta. He stayed with the same order – four scrambled eggs with cheese, a double order of bacon, coffee and a Diet Coke in a to-go cup.
“No carbs and just a lot of protein and a little caffeine to get the day started,” Collins said.
The Styrofoam cups are by design. In a video series that he did while at Temple, Collins drove with staffers to a Waffle House in Elkton, Md., where he said that he prefers Styrofoam cups because it create a fizzier beverage.
“Stays fizzier longer, crisper taste,” he said. “With the plastic cup, the bubbles go into the middle and they just kind of coagulate, and I don’t like that,” he said.
(When Collins spied the familiar Waffle House sign, he said, “There it is. Oh, my God, it’s beautiful.”)
Mizell shared breakfast with Collins and Tech character-development coach Derrick Moore on the morning of Dec. 19, the first day of the early signing period. When Mizell pointed him out to restaurant staff, he said that they weren’t aware that a celebrity had been dining in their midst.
“But that’s what’s great about Waffle House,” he said. “A lot of famous people come in and our staff treats everybody the same.”
Tech has a long history with the chain. Chairman Joe Rogers Jr., son of the co-founder, is a Tech alumnus. Former company president Bert Thornton, perhaps best known for his namesake chili on the menu, played for Bobby Dodd in the ’60s. Only three colleges have more alumni on the Waffle House management team than Tech. One of them is Marcus Harris, another ex-Jacket football player who graduated in 2007 and is now a regional manager overseeing locations in downtown Atlanta.
The history continues, this time with a Diet Coke-guzzling coach.
“I think genuinely, he really likes it himself and missed it personally,” Mizell said. “But I think high-school athletes like Waffle House as well. So do the fans.”