The sense that Georgia Tech’s teams can be winning more — athletic director Mike Bobinski thinks it, too.
“On an across-the-board performance level, I don’t know that we’re where we would like to be in anything at this point in time, or where I think we’re capable of,” he said.
He didn’t name teams, but finding examples isn’t difficult. Of the school’s two most prominent teams, one experienced its worst season since 1994 (football) and Bobinski replaced the coach in the other (men’s basketball). To address that and other challenges, Bobinski has led a project that was presented to the athletic-department staff Tuesday.
It lacks the sizzle of a multi-million dollar gift or the sparkle of a new facility. But the hope is that a strategic plan — the end result of a months-long process involving coaches, department staffers, as well as athletes — will help Tech’s 17 varsity teams attain their potential and also provide direction for other department objectives.
“To me, I love clarity, and I love vision, and I’m kind of a vision guy,” men’s tennis coach Kenny Thorne said. “And I think everybody getting on the same page of what is the vision for Georgia Tech athletics — it’s an honor to be a part of that and, to me, that energizes me.”
Bobinski said he saw the need for a comprehensive statement of mission, core values and goals — and perhaps more importantly, the collaboration necessary to complete such an endeavor — in talking with coaches and department heads soon after his arrival in April 2013. Bobinski said he saw people who were hardworking and well-intentioned, but lacking unifying purpose or connection beyond their own teams or departments.
“I think that sort of permeated our whole place,” he said.
Groups began meeting last spring. The plan largely was completed by the fall and refined in recent months. It’s believed that the department has not had such a plan previously. North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Florida State and Clemson are among schools whose athletic departments also have strategic plans.
The roughly 65 contributors included administrator, staff, coaches, including football defensive coordinator Ted Roof, golf coach Bruce Heppler and Thorne, and athletes, including football team captain D.J. White. Alumni, faculty, donors and athletic association board members were also consulted.
The 10-page document is divided into five categories — academic excellence, competitive excellence, student-athlete experience, culture and community. The overall mission statement: “Georgia Tech Athletics inspires and empowers student-athletes to be champions in academics, competition, and life.” The plan identifies four core values — teamwork, character, excellence and innovation.
“I think it’ll be good,” Bobinski said. “Nobody gets excited at the concept of a strategic plan. … But we didn’t do it as an exercise. We did it to have a real impact.”
“The development of the strategic plan for our athletic department was a great initial step moving forward for the future of our athletic department,” Roof wrote in a text. “An organization of this magnitude certainly needs a road map for sustained excellence in combination with our goals, values and comitment level. It was time well spent to be a part of this process to develop this plan.”
One of Bobinski’s most desired outcomes lay in the process itself. Bringing together people who share the same spaces but rarely cross paths, much less share ideas, created conversations and understanding that had rarely existed previously.
Bobinski said that participants recognized “how all the different units sort of interconnect through our sports programs and other units, and when we do communicate, when we work together, when we look for ways to help us be better, we’re just that much better as an organization.”
Thorne valued being on the competitive excellence committee with Heppler, coach of the most successful team on campus, and absorbing his thoughts and practices. Thorne believes that most coaches are willing to help colleagues when asked, but that each coach’s preoccupation with his or her own team or hesitation to ask for help often precludes such collaboration.
Thorne said that not all ideas or strategies are applicable universally, “but to have that pool of information is going to help us be much more efficient.”
One goal that the competitive excellence group put forth: Demonstrate progress toward competing for ACC and NCAA championships in every sport. A question that most Tech fans might have: Can a piece of paper, particularly one that isn’t a check or a letter of intent from a five-star prospect, help the Yellow Jackets win more football and basketball games?
Bobinski acknowledged that the mere existence of a strategic plan, which has a three-year scope, won’t cause an “overnight magical transformation.” But the plan calls for a more formalized and consistent process for developing an annual plan for progress and review, a charge to develop and retain the highest quality coaches and goals to provide top-tier athletic support services for athletes and to develop and maintain first-class athletic facilities.
Those goals place an onus across the department, not only coaches. Bobinski’s hope is that the plan provides accountability.
“That is exactly what it’s all about, and throughout the organization, not just on any one particular group of folks,” he said. “It’s for all of us to be more accountable to our collective success.”
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC