Georgia Tech running backs coach Tashard Choice, a key member of coach Geoff Collins’ staff, has accepted a job to coach the running backs at USC, a person familiar with the situation confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday morning.
The news was initially reported late Saturday night by On3 Sports.
It is a tremendous loss for Collins and the Yellow Jackets. Passionate and demanding, Choice excelled both at developing players and recruiting talent to Tech. Most notably, he led on the recruitment of running back Jahmyr Gibbs, spotting him ahead of the competition and then maintaining a strong enough relationship with him to hold off a number of SEC suitors. When Gibbs made the announcement that he would attend Tech on signing day in February 2019, he was asked how he decided on Tech. Gibbs had a two-word answer: “Coach Choice.”
He then trained Gibbs in his two seasons, helping him earn first-team All-ACC status before Gibbs elected to transfer after the season. He was also central in the recruitment of four-star running back Antonio Martin of Langston Hughes High, a commit for the 2022 signing class, as well as four-star prospect Javin Simpkins of Miami, Fla., who committed to Tech to be a part of the 2023 signing class. Tech nominated him at the end of this season as a candidate for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.
It is a significant opportunity for Choice, a Tech grad whose love for the institute has been unmistakable. USC, headed by new coach Lincoln Riley, is one of the biggest names in college football with a heralded tradition of running backs. It’s likely, too, he’ll receive a significant raise on the $300,000 he made this past season and was due to receive again. Regardless of Tech’s circumstances, in which Collins faces heavy pressure to improve the team’s play after three consecutive three-win seasons, it would have been an opening difficult to pass up.
Choice’s star continues to rise. When Collins hired him in December 2018, Choice had just completed his first season as an on-field coach, at North Texas, following a six-year NFL career.
The running-back position has been the strongest on the Tech team in each of the past three seasons, with Choice often being credited for players’ development as well as creating a team-first attitude in a group of players all deserving of playing time.
“He’s a hard coach, (but) it’s nothing but love,” running back Jordan Mason, who was an All-ACC pick in 2019, said of Choice Nov. 24. “It’s nothing but love coming out of him. Anything he does, it’s because he loves you. It’s not hard feelings or anything like that. He has pushed me to be the player I am today. Everything I’m doing now is because of him.”
Choice will be the fourth coach on his 10-man coaching staff whom Collins will have to replace, following the dismissals of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dave Patenaude, cornerbacks coach Jeff Popovich and co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Nathan Burton at the end of the season. Collins has hired a new offensive coordinator (Chip Long) and defensive backs coach (Travares Tillman), and now has two spots to fill.
Whomever Collins hires to replace Choice will have a new set of challenges. Tech has lost four of the scholarship running backs who were eligible to return in Gibbs, Mason, Jamious Griffin and Tony Amerson. Mason decided to turn professional, while the other three entered the transfer portal. Tech has one scholarship running back returning in Dontae Smith with one running back, Martin, committed to the 2022 signing class.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com