In survey, Georgia high-school coaches favor Brent Key as Georgia Tech coach

Georgia Tech interim coach Brent Key walks off the field after an NCAA college football game against Virginia Tech, Saturday, Nov. 5 2022, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech interim coach Brent Key walks off the field after an NCAA college football game against Virginia Tech, Saturday, Nov. 5 2022, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Georgia Tech interim coach Brent Key’s campaign to be named full-time coach could get a boost if the Yellow Jackets can defeat Miami at home Saturday. Regardless of the outcome, a notable constituency already spoke on his behalf this week.

In a survey conducted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Key received the most votes of Georgia high-school coaches asked who they would want to see hired as the Jackets’ next coach. Of 27 coaches who responded to the survey, eight named Key, while another three split their vote with him and one or two other coaches.

Key was followed by Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee (four votes, plus four split votes), Jackson State coach Deion Sanders (two votes, plus three split votes) and Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien (one vote, plus one split vote). Several coaches received one vote or split votes. The coaches who participated are mostly at metro Atlanta schools, including some of the more prominent programs in the state.

The support for Key largely was based on how the team has responded to him since he was named the interim following the firing of coach Geoff Collins four games into the season.

After a 1-3 start in which the Jackets were outscored 110-20 in the three games against FBS competition, Tech has won three of its five games under Key’s leadership to reach 4-5 going into the Miami game. The Jackets failed to surpass three wins in any of Collins’ three full seasons.

“I think coach Key has done a great job since taking over, and the kids love him and will continue to play hard for him,” Kell High coach Bobby May wrote in an email. “So he should get a long hard look.”

May’s perspective is more informed than most. Before his hire at Kell in December, May was at Westlake High, where he coached four future Jackets.

“It is obvious he has made an impression on the players in terms of playing harder and believing they can win,” wrote Marist coach Alan Chadwick, who has won three state titles with the school and sent several players to Tech over the years. “I think he also brings a tougher mindset to the program.”

Others cited the value of Key’s ties to Tech, his alma mater. Milton coach Ben Reaves, in his first year leading a program that has sent several players to Tech, pointed out both of those factors and his relationship with high-school coaches.

“He has always treated me and every other high school coach like royalty anytime we have an interaction,” Reaves wrote. “He’s very personable and genuine with not only the coaches, but the kids as well. It’s obvious kids believe in him and trust in him, just look at what he’s done this season since taking over. He’s been around a strong culture of winning at Alabama and knows what it takes to win championships. He also is a Georgia Tech guy! Anytime you can hire an (alumnus), you know that it’s not just another job, but that it means a little more to them.”

McGee has been at Georgia since 2016 for the duration of coach Kirby Smart’s tenure. McGee’s Georgia roots – he coached from 2002-12 at the high school level in the state, building a powerhouse at Carver High in Columbus that won a state championship in 2007 – and recruiting prowess factored into support for his candidacy. McGee often has been mentioned in media lists of possible candidates for the Tech job.

“High school coaches in Georgia would love to see Dell get a shot,” wrote Troup County coach Tanner Glisson, who split his vote between Key, Sanders and McGee.

Langston Hughes coach Daniel Williams, who has two former players on the Tech roster, wrote that McGee “understands and has recruited Georgia. Dell is a coach who can recruit the country and lock down metro Atlanta.”

Douglass coach Stanley Pritchett, who played nine NFL seasons, endorsed Sanders, an NFL star who played for the Falcons and the Braves.

“I think he would do an outstanding job recruiting the state and the metro area,” he wrote.

While South Atlanta coach Michael Woolridge’s first choice was McGee, he also was supportive of Sanders, saying that “it’s nothing short of amazing what coach Sanders has done at Jackson State.”

Woolridge added, too, that “it would also be great to see another minority coach get an opportunity at leadership.” Tech never has had a non-white head coach for football and, according to an ESPN 2021 report, has had one minority coordinator (offense or defense) in the past 40 years.

Other coaches who received one vote or a partial vote: Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson, Tulane coach Willie Fritz, Marshall coach Charles Huff, Georgia wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, former Florida coach Dan Mullen, former Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule, Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons and Georgia Southern cornerbacks coach Kevin Whitley.

While not named anyone’s first choice, Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell received several mentions as a coach outside of the power conferences who should be considered, as well as Sanders. Kennesaw State’s Brian Bohannon, Liberty’s Hugh Freeze and Fritz also received multiple mentions.

“He has done an amazing job with Coastal Carolina getting them ready to play each week,” wrote Langston Hughes’ Williams of Chadwell. “He has them nationally known. He recruits well. Offensively, they do some unique concepts with many different-size players. Defensively, they flat-out fly around.”