Brent Key’s deal with Georgia Tech: 5 years, $15 million

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

New Georgia Tech coach Brent Key won’t receive the salary that most of his peers in the ACC are receiving. But his potential for success – and seeing more generous extensions – has been augmented with a larger salary pool for his staff.

Key agreed to a five-year contract worth $15 million, starting at $2.8 million in the 2023 season, according to a copy of the term sheet that Tech provided Friday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That’s a lower average and fewer years than what former Geoff Collins received (seven years starting at $3 million in 2019, increasing by $100,000 annually). It’s also below what two first-time head coaches in the ACC received last offseason (Virginia’s Tony Elliott and Virginia Tech’s Brent Pry signed six-year deals starting at $4.1 million and $4 million, respectively).

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That perhaps reflects the financial challenges that athletic director J Batt is facing in his leadership of the department, which opened the fiscal year with a $12.1 million deficit in the fund balance and had to take on the buyout of Collins, a reported $11.4 million. According to an ESPN report, other candidates balked at the amount of guaranteed money that Tech was willing to offer. It is a reality of the situation and part of the reason why Batt, a highly regarded fundraiser, was brought to Tech in the first place. It also could be an indication that Key likely didn’t bring the same bargaining leverage that others could have.

Regardless, it is a union that both sides appear to be comfortable with – an opportunity for a first-time head coach at his alma mater and a relatively safe deal for an athletic director trying to establish his footing and build momentum. Should the Key-Batt marriage prove a successful one, it would be a fortuitous stroke that Tech’s financial limitations presented Batt with a candidate who was willing to accept the contract terms, strongly desired to be the coach and also had the backing of fans.

For Key, the most critical aspect of the term sheet might be the amount that Batt is willing to spend on the 10 assistant coaches and support staff. Batt has given Key a pool of $7.5 million, a 32% bump from the $5.7 million that the 2022 staff received. The overall $10.3 million payroll for 2023, including Key’s $2.8 million salary, is the largest in program history.

It will help Key fulfill his goal, stated at his introductory news conference, to “hire the best staff possible to teach, to coach these young men and recruit the best players that fit here at Georgia Tech.”

Tech’s 10 on-field assistant coaches earned a combined $3.9 million in 2022, according to a USA Today database. Among the eight ACC schools obligated to release coaches salary data through open-records requests, it was eighth. If Key were to increase the pool for assistant coaches by the same 32% that the entire pool has been increased, the new allotment would be about $5.2 million. Compared against USA Today’s data for 2022 assistant-coach pools, that would rank sixth in the ACC behind Clemson ($6.5 million), Florida State and North Carolina ($6 million each) and Virginia Tech and N.C. State ($5.4 million) and ahead of Virginia ($4.4 million) and Louisville ($4.2 million).

The buyout terms are far more favorable to Tech than the ones in Collins’ deal. Collins was owed 100% of the remaining value of the contract through the fourth year. The terms and length of the contract that former AD Todd Stansbury awarded Collins to succeed Paul Johnson were part of the frustration with him that, as Collins’ tenure floundered, helped lead to his dismissal.

Key receives all of the remaining money on the contract only if he is dismissed by Dec. 31, 2023. The percentage drops to 70% in the second year, 60% in the third year and 50% for the remainder.

Key would owe $4 million if he were to leave in his first year, $3 million the next year, $2 million in 2025, $1 million in 2026 and nothing in the last year. Collins’ terms were similar.

The contract does offer Key a chance to add to his income through a variety of incentives. They include $100,000 for an eight-win season and another $100,000 for a 10-win season. If the Jackets win six regular-season games and go to a bowl game (outside of the College Football Playoff), Key will earn $50,000 and an extra $50,000 if Tech wins the bowl game.

Similarly, Key will receive $50,000 for leading Tech into the ACC title game and another $50,000 for winning it. The largest incentive is for winning the CFP championship, $700,000.