Clock ticking on search for Georgia Tech athletic director

Georgia Tech is about to make a significant decision in short order. Speaking Tuesday at a news conference with school President Angel Cabrera and interim football coach Brent Key, interim athletic director Frank Neville said that the hire of a full-time athletic director will precede the hire of the full-time replacement for former coach Geoff Collins.

He further added that he wants the new AD to be able to watch the tail end of the Yellow Jackets’ season. To accomplish that task, Neville and Cabrera, with the help of Parker Executive Firm, will need to make haste.

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Starting Wednesday, there are 7 ½ weeks until the end of the regular season, when Tech plays rival Georgia in Athens on Nov. 26. So to be able to see two games as the new AD, that person would need to be hired in 5 ½ weeks in mid-November (or earlier) to enable him or her to close up work at the previous school. A mid-November arrival would be wise anyway because whether the new AD actually can watch the team play, that person will want to take over the coaching search as quickly as possible. Particularly with more schools making midseason coaching changes, new coach hires can be made as early as late November.

That’s a small window to hire a replacement for Todd Stansbury, who was fired Monday after a six-year term. Of recent AD hires, Virginia hired Carla Williams in 2017 in a little more than six weeks. Duke hired Nina King in 2021 in four months. Miami hired former Tech AD Dan Radakovich in 2021 in a little more than three weeks, but that hire likely was aided by being able to target Radakovich – a well-respected AD with a connection to Miami – and having the backing of enormous resources.

Cabrera vowed his support, saying that he personally was committed to “building and maintaining a world-class athletic program,” that his current focus was to recruit the next athletic director and equip that person with “whatever resources they need to turn this program around” and that he also was committed to “doing anything that needs to happen to return our (football) program to the place where it belongs – among the best in our conference, among the best programs in our country.”

That is a lofty vision, one that won’t be easy to fulfill given Tech’s financial constraints. It would be difficult to argue that Tech’s athletic program is the class of the ACC, let alone the country (or world). Cabrera did not elaborate on what “doing anything” means – fans likely can happily fill in the blanks – and he left the news conference after making his address and did not take questions.

Cabrera and Neville, Cabrera’s chief of staff, will look for an AD candidate who represents Tech’s values, understands the complexities of college athletics in the era of the transfer portal and athletes being able to profit off their name, image and likeness rights and who knows college football and can lead the team.

Regarding the last priority, Cabrera made fairly clear in his statement that Stansbury’s dismissal was tied to the football team’s results – the Jackets were 10-28 under Collins – and not other possible factors.

“The results haven’t been there, and a new approach is necessary to return our program to where it belongs,” Cabrera said.

While the priorities would strongly indicate a conventional hire of a current college athletics administrator, Neville said that a hire from outside the field would have a higher hurdle to clear, but that he would not restrict the search in that way.

He did offer his hope that the right hire could bring results soon, mentioning Tennessee’s resurgence with coach Josh Heupel as an example.

“I think things can change if you bring in the right people and you create the right support around the program,” Neville said.

Tech is in need of financial support, particularly as it goes through a costly buyout for Collins and then hiring a new coach and staff. The athletic department finished last fiscal year with its reserve fund in a $12.1 million deficit.

Neville mentioned the institute’s capital campaign, which is seeking to raise in excess of $2 billion and will include the athletic department. Goals for the campaign are being built, but one objective for the athletic department is to fully endow all of its scholarships, an initiative that would free money in the budget to devote elsewhere. In Tech’s current $105 million budget, $15 million is allocated for scholarships, the second-largest piece of the pie after personnel ($36.8 million).

In addition to assisting in the search, Neville said that his priorities will be supporting Yellow Jackets coaches and athletes, as well as athletic department staff, overseeing facilities projects, namely the impending renovation of the Edge Center, and helping the football team right its course.

Neville does not have experience in college athletics administration, but has been on the Georgia Tech Athletic Association board (first as a faculty member and now as interim AD), which has allowed him to get to know some staff members and coaches and have familiarity with the department.

“I’m going to build on that experience in this role,” he said.

At George Mason, where he served with Cabrera as his chief of staff, Neville said that the athletic director “reported to me functionally on a day-to-day basis, so I have some experience there, as well, in providing oversight for intercollegiate athletics.”

Neville also was a three-sport athlete at Division III Carleton College and is a former competitive bodybuilder and martial artist and wrote for Sporting News for 15 years (as recently as 2021) about baseball prospects and fantasy baseball.