Brent Key focused on helping Georgia Tech’s players win each day

If it doesn’t help Georgia Tech’s football team win, interim coach Brent Key likely doesn’t need it as part of his goal of helping his players win each day.

From the cosmetic – the Above the Line chart and likely referring to third down as Money Down – to the serious – helping the players understand the difference between wanting to win and not wanting to lose – the work began in a 2 ½-hour team meeting Monday night and on the practice field Tuesday. Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh will be Key’s first as a head coach and the team’s first without Geoff Collins, who was fired by Tech President Angel Cabrera on Monday following the Yellow Jackets’ loss to Central Florida on Saturday that dropped them to 1-3 this season. The team went 10-28 under Collins. Key was named interim coach by Cabrera on Monday afternoon.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Yellow Jackets

“I just want to say I’m honored and proud to obviously take this responsibility of leading (the) football program over these next eight games,” he said. “It’s something that I take very seriously as an alum and a former football player here at Georgia Tech.”

Key announced a few more changes in addition to bringing back the traditional depth chart, which Collins had not used in favor of his Above the Line chart. Collins’ format did not list starters and backups at each position, but instead listed all players in order by jersey number that were deemed ready to contribute on the field.

Key also answered a question about injuries – the team is relatively healthy, he said – which was a topic that Collins did not entertain.

Jason Semore will coordinate the special teams, which are off to a disastrous start with four punts blocked and four of six field-goal attempts missed, and was the focus of Monday’s team meeting. There were changes to the format of Tuesday’s practice, but Key didn’t want to go into what those were. Nor did he want to discuss any personnel changes that may be seen at Pittsburgh.

There won’t be any schematic changes. Key stressed, though, that he wants the players to play faster and with more confidence. The less they have to think, the easier it is to play. Not having to think as much could well have been a factor in Tech’s four blocked punts this season, in which mental errors played a part. That was a focus in Tuesday’s practice. Key said the team didn’t play quickly in its 42-0 loss to Ole Miss, which followed a week of “slow” practices. The speed was better in last week’s 27-10 loss at UCF.

The end goal is changing the focus of the players.

“I talked to the team today, and I told them, I said there’s a big difference in this game of not wanting to lose and wanting to win,” he said. “As a player, when you’re sitting back not wanting to lose the game, you’re not free to go out and try to make plays. And it’s not just the players, it’s coaches as well. People are waiting for things to happen, and they’re waiting for bad things to happen. We need to go out and make things happen. And we have to empower the players during the week of practice that you’re free to go make things happen.”

Focus has been an issue, particularly as speculation swirled following the loss to the Rebels that Collins had one more game to try to save his job. Key said it was easier for the other coaches to tune out the static than it was for the players, who were asked about their former coaches’ future last week before the loss to the Knights.

Key said he is treating the next eight games as an audition to become the team’s next coach, but that’s not his focus. He’s doing it because he wants what is best for the players. Cabrera said Monday that the next coach won’t be hired until the next athletic director is hired. Former athletic director Todd Stansbury also was fired Monday for his role in hiring and supporting Collins.

“I think this is one of the greatest jobs in the country,” he said. “And I would hope over the next eight games in the next 10 weeks, that our work in the field would put our coaching staff in a position to be able to have those conversations.”