Georgia Tech’s Brent Key makes 3 staff changes, including coordinator Chip Long

Offensive coordinator Chip Long coaches a player during the first day of spring practice for Georgia Tech football at Alexander Rose Bowl Field in Atlanta on Thursday, February 24, 2022. (Photo by Jenn Finch)

Credit: Jenn Finch

Credit: Jenn Finch

Offensive coordinator Chip Long coaches a player during the first day of spring practice for Georgia Tech football at Alexander Rose Bowl Field in Atlanta on Thursday, February 24, 2022. (Photo by Jenn Finch)

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key did not waste time in making changes to his staff. On his first full day as head coach, Key informed offensive coordinator Chip Long, wide receivers coach Del Alexander and strength-and-conditioning coach Lewis Caralla that they will not be retained. Tech made the announcement in a news release.

“I sincerely thank Chip, Del and Lew for their hard work and everything they did for our players and our program,” Key said in a statement. “I wish them and their families all the best.”

Also, a person familiar with the situation said that Key retained quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke. At the same time, all indications are that Key has decided to retain the defensive coaching staff. Tech has made no additional announcement about the coaching staff.

The defensive staff is comprised of defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker, defensive run game coordinator David Turner (who has coached the defensive tackles), special-teams coordinator/linebackers coach Jason Semore, defensive backs coach Travares Tillman and defensive line coach Larry Knight (who has coached the defensive ends).

Hired from Tulane to replace Dave Patenaude, Long was unable to deliver the improvement that his track record from three productive seasons at Notre Dame (2017-19) promised he could. A year ago, the Yellow Jackets finished 93rd in total offense (367.3 yards per game) and 95th in scoring offense (23.8 points per game) but fared even worse this season, falling to 114th (324.8 yards per game) and 125th (17.2 points per game) this season. Tech had particular trouble scoring in the red zone, finishing 126th in red-zone scoring percentage (71.1%).

Long faced challenges during the season, primarily the loss of his first- and second-string quarterbacks (Jeff Sims and Zach Pyron) in the second half of the season and injuries on the offensive line.

It is a decisive move for Key, who had a friendship with Long and was instrumental in bringing him to Tech from Tulane last offseason. It also will come at a financial cost for Tech, as Long will be owed his 2023 salary of $850,000. Long also coached tight ends.

This also was Alexander’s first season. He had coached with Long previously at Arizona State and Notre Dame and was hired after Kerry Dixon left Tech for a position with the Baltimore Ravens. He was working on a one-year contract.

Caralla was one of the initial hires made by former coach Geoff Collins upon his hire in December 2018. Known for, among other traits, his enthusiasm, motivational messages and commitment to putting himself through the same workouts that players did, Caralla became a popular and beloved figure within the team and fan base.

In a tweet informing followers that he wasn’t being retained, Caralla wrote, “I would like to say thank you to all the players I had the blessing to coach over the last 4 years. I’ll sleep good at night knowing I couldn’t have given more of my heart or worked harder to help. Love you guys.”

In Thacker’s fourth season as coordinator, following an offseason in which his retention was questioned widely, the Jackets defense showed marked progress. The defense tied for ninth in FBS in takeaways with 24. The Jackets allowed 5.7 yards per play in the eight games after Collins’ dismissal after giving up 6.6 yards per play in 2021 and did so despite facing three offenses ranked in the top 15 in FBS in total offense.

Scoring defense dropped from 33.5 points per game in 2021 to 26.8 in the final eight games. Football Outsiders ranks the defense 39th in its Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) rating after it was 112th last season, a stunning jump.

The defense’s high point this season was limiting North Carolina, ranked 11th in FBS in total offense, to season lows in scoring and yardage (the latter since eclipsed) in the Jackets’ 21-17 win in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Four defensive players – linebackers Ayinde Eley (second team) and Charlie Thomas (third team), safety LaMiles Brooks (third team) and defensive end Keion White (third team) – all made the All-ACC team, while cornerback Zamari Walton earned honorable mention.

The fate of two coaches promoted during the season to complete the 10-man assistant-coach staff, running backs coach Donald Hill-Eley and assistant coach for special teams J.B. Hall, was not known.

At the least, Key now has three spots to fill – offensive coordinator and coaches for the offensive line and wide receiver – and possibly up to five. When Key was promoted to interim, he charged graduate assistant Nathan Brock with coaching the offensive line. The remake of the Tech program to fit Key’s vision is well underway.