Georgia Tech’s Brent Key, commissioner confident in direction of ACC football

Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key huddles with players after the Spring White and Gold game at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Hyundai Field In Atlanta on Saturday, April 13, 2024.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Georgia Tech head coach Brent Key huddles with players after the Spring White and Gold game at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Hyundai Field In Atlanta on Saturday, April 13, 2024. (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — Brent Key has been a part of the ACC as a player, an assistant coach and now a head coach. The future of the league is perhaps a bit more important to him than maybe to others.

He said Tuesday he continues to have confidence in that future.

“The conference commissioner (Jim Phillips) is doing everything in his power to put us in the same conversations as everyone else,” Key told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the second day of the ACC’s spring meetings.

Key played in an ACC that had only nine members — Tech, Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Virginia, Florida State and Maryland. His second season as coach at his alma mater will be in a conference that has expanded to 17 football teams.

What the ACC will look like in the years to come is anyone’s guess. Florida State (a member since 1991 and Tech’s season-opening opponent Aug. 24) and Clemson (a founding member in 1953) are litigating against the league in an effort to possibly leave the conference. It also was reported this week that there is some dissension among North Carolina (members since 1953) higher-ups as to whether the ACC is the right spot for the Tar Heels’ future.

Those issues, of course, bled into the discussions as football coaches, athletic directors and faculty representatives shuffled from meeting room to meeting room inside the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Amelia Island. Key said debating the abstract was a bit of a theme during almost nine hours of meetings Tuesday, a few hours Monday afternoon and a brief session Wednesday morning.

“There’s hundreds (of topics) that we throw around,” Key said. “But there’s a lot of unknowns, a lot of things you talk about end up being hypothetical because of the unknown. Some questions you don’t know what the question is. Just trying to be proactive in some of the things that come about and that could be coming down the pike and being more solution-based.”

Phillips was active as well during the week’s meetings with coaches, athletic directors and administrators. He then took time Wednesday morning to brief reporters on the ideas he had heard, the topics he had stressed and the grievances he had absorbed. Among those grievances: The league’s football coaches clamored for better marketing strategies when it comes to their sport.

“And we’re going to get some outside help on that, too, from a communications standpoint,” Phillips said of strengthening the ACC football brand. “When you look at the coaches, the teams, the student-athletes, the student-athletes that are now playing in the NFL, it’s a really good conference. And we’ve performed at a good level as well.

“When I came here I got crucified because I said the future’s gonna be dictated by football. Just take a look at what we’re doing with success initiatives and the dollars, but to further that, to look at ACC Network, (the show) “The Huddle” that we have, the preseason venture that we’ve committed to, the two (recruiting) signing days, the spring games — if you look at the network, it’s dominated by football appearances. So the network piece of it and putting football up front from a television standpoint is one of many things that we’ve done in that sport. We’re gonna have to continue to do that. That’s where the revenue lies.”

Key played offensive line in the ACC at the end of the last century, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater and has been back on the sidelines inside Bobby Dodd Stadium since 2019, first as an assistant, then as an interim head coach and now as the head coach. He said the meetings, for him, provide an opportunity to learn about his conference peers and to represent Tech in the fullest.

“We got 17 different schools that are all different in the challenges that they cross every day, the different opportunities that present themselves,” Key said. “That’s our job, as coaches, is to present the challenges for what’s good, bad, ugly, right, wrong, different from our perspective and our football program — same for basketball, same for the athletic directors. Then we all come together and try to have solutions.”