In the middle of last season, Buster Faulkner made a declaration to his wife, Tia. He was a quality-control assistant at Georgia and in his third year in Athens. It was the first job he had held since 2008, when he was at the start of his coaching career, that the couple were back in the state they both grew up in and dearly loved.
That said, while he surely aspired to be more than a quality-control assistant, he told Tia that there was only one other school that he would want to move for. Stars aligned for Faulkner. He is now at that school, serving as Georgia Tech’s offensive coordinator.
“I think this is the best opportunity that I could have been provided,” Faulkner said Wednesday after the Yellow Jackets’ second practice of the spring. “I think I’m the luckiest man in the world. Being from the state of Georgia, this is where I want to be. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
In his first public comments since taking the job in December, the Parkview High graduate spoke about joining coach Brent Key’s staff and his plans for the offense, which finished last season ranked 114th in FBS in total offense, resulting in the dismissal of offensive coordinator Chip Long. Faulkner assumes leadership of an offense with four new coaches (including himself) and that has lost its leading passer (quarterback Jeff Sims), leading rusher (running back Hassan Hall) and three of its top four leaders in receptions (receivers Nate McCollum and Malachi Carter and Hall).
“We’re going to establish an identity throughout the course of spring,” Faulkner said. “Right now, we’re still searching for that.”
In various ways, Faulkner stressed that a style won’t be forced upon the offense. While he spent three years at Georgia with celebrated offensive coordinator Todd Monken, he pointed out that he has been with other teams, too. He was coordinator at Southern Mississippi, Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee before joining coach Kirby Smart’s staff in Athens.
“One thing we were able to do at all those places – we’re going to try to play to the strength of our team, what those kids can and cannot do,” Faulkner said. “I don’t want to do things they can’t do.”
He said he believed in the tight end position because “it helps you be versatile.” Controlling the game’s tempo was a priority for him “whether that’s fast, slow, in and out of the huddle. Different ways to do that.”
His main objective is “finding ways to get the players the ball, getting the right guys touches and getting them in space so they can make plays,” he said.
The scheme and identity that Faulkner ultimately lands on, as Key has said previously, will be a group effort. Over the past three months, Faulkner said, he and the offensive staff spent “early mornings to late nights” trying to assemble the offense.
“This’ll be Georgia Tech’s offense,” Faulkner said. “We’re all aligned with that same vision. We’ve got a great staff, they’ve all got great ideas, different backgrounds, and we’re able to kind of put that together and make this our own.”
Key and Faulkner go back two decades. They had a mutual friend in Jeremy Muyres, who was a teammate of Faulkner’s at Parkview before he played safety for the Yellow Jackets when Key was a player. Faulkner said when he was in high school, Key hosted a prospect on a recruiting visit who later became Faulkner’s brother-in-law. Key and Faulkner have stayed in touch over the years.
“I appreciate the way he goes about doing things and the approach that he takes,” Faulkner said. “A lot of the same beliefs that I have. It was an easy transition, and I couldn’t be more excited to be here.”
On Monday, Key praised Faulkner’s knowledge and command of his offense.
“And that’s what you look for, is a guy that has a belief, has a system, knows what he believes in, but also understands that regardless of what that system is, we’ve got to make sure that system fits our current players,” Key said.
Faulkner had comments for each position group. He said the tight ends – the position group he coaches – will “be a big part of what we do.” Of his quarterbacks, he liked that “all three of those guys (Zach Pyron, Zach Gibson and Haynes King) have at least (at) some point been the starter for a couple weeks during the season and have had to feel that pressure.”
While the wide receivers lost considerable production, “Honestly, I couldn’t be more excited about a (group),” Faulkner said. “They’re guys that are hungry. I think we’ve got some size, we’ve got some speed. We’ve just got to continue to develop them.”
Faulkner said he liked the running backs’ ability to learn.
“(New running backs coach) Norval McKenzie, I’ve worked with him in the past,” Faulkner said. “He’s one of the best teachers in the country at coaching that position and getting them to understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’”
Faulkner left a team that won back-to-back national championships for a team that finished 5-7 last season and is starting a rebuild, although his new job is far higher up the organizational chart than the last one. He sounded ready for the challenge.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I really am. I truly feel like the luckiest guy in the world.”
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