Barring the team reversing course, Collins’ inability to effect progress through the first three games of his fourth season may compel that decision to dismiss him. In-depth conversations involving key decision-makers, including institute President Angel Cabrera, have been taking place regarding the program’s future, according to a person familiar with the situation. Besides Collins, that would include the future of Stansbury, whose leadership also has come into question in part because of his hire of Collins in December 2018 and his reaffirmation of support for him near the end of the 2021 season.
Through a spokesman, Cabrera declined an interview request Tuesday to discuss the state of the football team and athletic department.
Tech’s 42-0 home loss to No. 16 Ole Miss on Saturday – the Jackets’ third shutout loss by at least 40 points over the past five games – was a tipping point in support for Collins and has led significant donors to both the institute and athletic department to place heavy pressure on Cabrera and Stansbury to act. A game that was looked upon as an opportunity for the Jackets to prove themselves as an improved team instead was a disaster as Tech was thoroughly outplayed and outcoached.
“Dr. Cabrera is getting full-on pressure,” said Steve Zelnak, a major donor to the institute and athletic department. “He’s going to react to that, I have no doubt.”
Tech leadership often has been methodical in its process before acting, and this circumstance surely invites deliberation. But Cabrera could be ready to act soon. At his weekly news conference Tuesday, Collins asserted that he is the right coach for the job. Supporters have pointed out that the two losses this season – to Clemson and Ole Miss, by a combined 83-10 – have been to ranked opponents, and that the Jackets were competitive against Clemson into the third quarter.
“I have tremendous confidence, based on demonstrated ability,” Collins said. “Now, has that shown up yet while we’ve been here? It has not. Do I have faith and belief in the process that we’re going about to do it? Absolutely. Do I have faith and belief in the young men that are in that locker room that we’ve recruited, that we’ve developed to be able to take that next step? Absolutely. One hundred percent.”
That said, enthusiasm and support for Collins have eroded. Season ticket sales took a sharp drop after last season, creating a shortage of revenue for an athletic department that strives to break even annually and whose reserve fund held a $12.1 million deficit at the end of the 2021 fiscal year.
“I’ve seen some good football, I’ve seen some bad football,” Tech alumnus and season ticket holder Karl Paul said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But never have I seen football like last year, where it was just totally embarrassing and frustrating and not fun anymore.”
There are not many supporters of Tech – the team or the school – more loyal than Paul and his wife, Janis. A member of the Class of 1969, Paul first bought season tickets in 1971 and held them every year through 2021, 51 consecutive seasons. He has made donations to the athletic department for the past 48 years. He has contributed to Roll Call, the institute’s longstanding giving program, for 56 consecutive years, most often in four-figure donations.
Paul said he has attended virtually every Tech home game since 1965. He and his wife enjoyed what they believed were the best seats at Bobby Dodd Stadium – at the top of the lower deck of the west stands in a spot protected from the elements.
But after last season, the Pauls decided, while they’ll continue to support the institute and other Jackets teams, they would let their football season tickets lapse. It was not an easy decision, Paul said. They have decades of memories of games, tailgates and trips to road and bowl games. But the experience had stopped being enjoyable.
“Totally embarrassing,” Paul said. “I said (to Janis), ‘I’m not going to put up with this anymore.’”
ACC Network analyst Roddy Jones, a former Tech captain who was recruited by Collins as part of the team’s famed 2007 signing class (when Collins was director of player personnel for then-coach Chan Gailey), was high on Collins’ hire.
In his work capacity but also as a former player, he has watched Collins’ tenure with a keen eye.
“I don’t really want to pile on, because I feel like everybody’s kind of spiking the football right now on him,” Jones said. “Disappointed I think is probably the best way to describe it. Nobody wants to go through what we’ve gone through the past few years.”
In his first three seasons, Collins led Tech to records of 3-9, 3-7 (the pandemic-shortened season) and 3-9 and is 10-27 overall at Tech entering Saturday’s game at Central Florida. To Jones, Collins’ fourth season has been a continuation of the first three.
“I think you see the same inconsistencies and mistakes that you’ve seen his entire time, which is the most disappointing part,” he said.
The potential for a change at the highest level of the athletic department is a jarring notion. In his tenure, Stansbury has achieved a number of objectives, most notably completing a $125 million capital campaign that wrapped up during the pandemic and exceeded the target by $50 million. The two head-coaching hires made on his watch, women’s basketball coach Nell Fortner and softball coach Aileen Morales, have lifted their teams to heights not reached in a decade. Aside from the very glaring exception of football, Tech teams largely are more competitive now than they were at the time of his hire in 2016.
Firing Collins between now and Dec. 31 would cost the athletic department roughly $10.5 million, and there would be additional costs to cover salaries owed to assistant coaches who were not retained by a new head coach. Firing him after Dec. 31 would drop the total to $7.2 million, but that would be unfeasible for multiple reasons. One, that would mean his fate (and the fate of his assistant coaches) would be up in the air for more than a month after the regular season. Two, a new coach would want to be in place before the December signing period to retain prospects committed to Tech.
Stansbury would be owed $325,000 if he were dismissed by Cabrera.
A proud alumnus, Stansbury has aspired to lead the athletic department in the way that his mentor Homer Rice did at Tech during his exceedingly successful tenure and has said that he hoped to stay at Tech for the duration of his career.
However, football attracts the most attention and is responsible for bringing in the revenue that keeps the athletic department going. And when the attention is of the unwanted sort and revenues lag, a price has to be paid somehow. In this case, unless the team’s fortunes turn quickly and significantly, it appears that it could be severe.