Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude was one of three assistant coaches whom coach Geoff Collins dismissed Sunday. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported that Patenaude was fired. The other two were co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Nathan Burton and cornerbacks coach Jeff Popovich. The Burton and Popovich firings were reported first by Rivals. Georgia Tech announced the staff changes Sunday afternoon.
The moves came one day after Collins completed his third season with a record of 3-9, his third consecutive three-win season. Changes to his staff have been expected, and Collins said Saturday after the season-ending 45-0 loss to No. 1 Georgia that “we’ve got some things that we’re going to fix in the immediacy.” Whether a factor or not, Collins was under heavy pressure from Tech donors to make changes to his staff.
With Collins firing three members of his 10-person coaching staff, it was expected that there were to not be any additional changes. That includes defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker, whose unit ranks 117th in FBS in total defense, remaining in his position.
“As I have begun evaluating our program and identifying the things we need to do to be more successful, I have determined that a change in leadership on both sides of the ball is necessary,” Collins said in a statement released by the school. “I believe that new voices in these key positions on our staff will allow us to do a better job of consistently putting our players in the best position to meet the high standards we all have for our program.
“I thank Dave, Nate and Jeff for everything that they and their families have put into this program. They have put everything they have into building the foundation for the future of Georgia Tech football, and I will be eternally grateful for their hard work, sacrifice, leadership and friendship. I wish all three of them nothing but the best of luck and success in the future.”
In three seasons, Patenaude, who also coached quarterbacks, oversaw an offense that improved its performance as Tech shifted from coach Paul Johnson’s option offense to a pro-style scheme, but the Jackets continually struggled on third downs and in the red zone. Tech is 12th in the ACC in third-down conversion rate (35.6%) and 13th in touchdown rate in red-zone possessions (48.7%). While several offensive players were out or playing with injury and Tech faced standout defenses, completing the season with the team’s first back-to-back shutout defeats since 1957 was a discouraging drop-off.
Burton and Popovich oversaw a Yellow Jackets secondary that underperformed throughout the 2021 season. Despite starting the season with four returning starters with more than 100 combined starts, Jackets defensive backs made one interception in the entire 12-game season and committed coverage errors that contributed to big pass plays by the opposition. With an inconsistent pass rush, Tech ranked second to last in the ACC in pass plays of 20 yards or more with 52.
Beyond his position coaching safeties, Burton had a significant role in organizing the Jackets’ pass defense. Popovich also had a role coaching special teams.
They are the first changes that Collins has made to his coaching staff in his three seasons at Tech. It is a grim day for all involved. Burton is a Tech grad (as is his wife) who graduated from Greater Atlanta Christian School and played for the Yellow Jackets 2001-04, the first season of which Collins was on the coaching staff. They were on coach Chan Gailey’s staff in 2006, Burton as a graduate assistant and Collins as player personnel director. Burton joined Collins’ staff at Temple in 2018 and came with him to Tech after that season.
Patenaude’s association with Collins goes back to 1996, when they coached together at Fordham. He served as Collins’ coordinator at Temple and also came to Tech with Collins. Popovich and Collins coached together at Florida International in 2010, with Collins hiring him from an assistant-coaching position at Boise State. All three were in their first on-field coaching positions at a power-conference school, not counting positions as graduate assistants.
They are the first offseason steps that Collins has taken as he continues his efforts in his stated objective to lead Tech to the realm of college football’s elite, a station that seems distant as the Jackets finish the season tied for Duke with the worst record in the ACC.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com