The assignment for Georgia Tech football coach Geoff Collins to lead the Yellow Jackets to a bowl game does not appear to be an easy one. Tech has lost key players on both sides of the ball, notably All-American running back Jahmyr Gibbs, and the schedule will likely again have few soft spots.
But after three consecutive three-win seasons to begin Collins’ tenure, Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury is well aware of fans’ frustrations and heightened expectations. He himself looks forward to the upcoming season with confidence for an improved win-loss record. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Stansbury said as much in response to a question asking if it was a reasonable expectation that Tech make a bowl game.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to win games,” Stansbury said. “I think Geoff’s done a great job of recruiting. We’re three classes in. Getting a real spring practice in – which, unfortunately, COVID affected the way that we could coach – and the coaching moves he’s made, I think we definitely have put ourselves in a good position.”
Stansbury did not say there was a specific number of games that Tech has to win in order for Collins to continue into a fifth season, although his response made clear that the time has come for a better product on the field.
“Obviously, the main threshold is, we’ve got to get better,” Stansbury said. “Obviously, we’ve got to win more games. We’ve got to look like we’re making progress. But there’s not necessarily a magic number. But we definitely need to be making progress.”
Perhaps no Tech supporter anywhere would argue with that assessment. In three seasons after the retirement of coach Paul Johnson, Tech has a 9-25 record. It’s Tech’s lowest win total in a three-year span since the Jackets won eight games 1980-82, which encompassed coach Bill Curry’s first three seasons. Tech’s home attendance average (37,733) was its lowest since 1989.
On paper, significant improvement won’t be easy. While the hire of offensive coordinator Chip Long (in replacement of Dave Patenaude, who was dismissed at the end of the season) and other changes appear promising, the Jackets are inexperienced on the offensive line and lost eight of their top 11 tacklers on defense (either through the transfer portal or graduation) in addition to watching Gibbs, easily the team’s most dynamic player, leave for Alabama through the transfer portal.
The nonconference schedule includes defending national champion Georgia, Ole Miss (10-3 last season) and Central Florida (9-4). Of Tech’s eight conference opponents, Pitt and Clemson figure to start the season in the top 25, and Miami and North Carolina appear to be on upward trajectories. ESPN’s College Football Power Index forecasts 3.8 wins for the Jackets.
“Obviously, we've got to win more games. We've got to look like we're making progress. But there's not necessarily a magic number. But we definitely need to be making progress."
- Georgia Tech AD Todd Stansbury, on the school's football program
Regardless, Stansbury reaffirmed his support for Collins, of whom he said that “I have my man” on the coach’s radio show the week of the season-ending Georgia game last fall.
Calling wins and losses “the most visible thing” and “incredibly important,” Stansbury said he also took into account the many pieces that have gone into Collins’ building of the program.
“Him being ‘my guy’ is he’s recruiting at an incredibly high level,” Stansbury said. “I know we’ve got to fill the pipeline to get there. He’s my guy because I’m seeing the building blocks of what needs to be done ultimately to get the wins that we need to get.”
Some fans might challenge Stansbury’s assessment of Collins’ recruiting. Since bringing in the No. 27 class (247Sports Composite) in 2020 – headlined by Gibbs – the next two classes have ranked 47th and 53rd. Collins, though, has also brought in top-25 transfer classes each of the past three years.
Stansbury was optimistic about the effect that coaching changes, particularly the hire of Long, would have on the team, as well as the hires of quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke and offensive analyst Jim Chaney.
Stansbury said the new hires have enabled Collins “to focus more on defense and not feel like he’s got to do everything. Because he’s brought a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. I think he feels comfortable with what’s going on in that room, which allows him to be in the defensive room. So a lot of really positive things.”
Stansbury was also optimistic about additions made through the transfer portal and the impact of running spring practice about a month earlier than normal, which enabled new coaches to start to work with Jackets players more quickly and gives the strength and conditioning coaches an extended block of time to train players without spring practice interrupting the training program.
Asked if there were anything he might have done differently in his supervision of Collins and the team, Stansbury said he wishes that he had been able to provide a bigger assistant-coach salary pool upon Collins’ hire. In his first season, Collins’ 10 assistant coaches made a combined $3.2 million, which was a bump from the $2.8 million that Johnson’s assistants made in 2018. That was in addition to a larger staff for non-coaches such as then-general manager Patrick Suddes.
“So much was changing that, if he had more on the front end, then that may have relieved some of the pressure of having to be everywhere and do everything,” Stansbury said.
Collins made Long his highest-paid assistant with a two-year deal worth $800,000 in 2022 and $850,000 in 2023. Patenaude had made $400,000 in 2019 and 2020. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker is at $450,000.
Barring recent adjustments, the 10 assistants are contracted to make a combined $3.75 million, about a 17% increase from the 2019 pool.
A larger pool “definitely affects the pool that you can attract,” Stansbury said. “So that’d be the one thing that would have given Geoff more flexibility on the front end.”
Stansbury was also asked for his thoughts about the possibility that his own tenure could be tied to Collins’.
“I don’t think about that at all,” he said. “We’ve got so much going on. I’ve got to do so much that my focus is always on how can I make this place better every day.”