Taking a look at coaches Georgia Tech might consider

Georgia Tech has made clear at least one part of its plan for hiring a football coach – it will hire an athletic director first, and that person will hire the coach.

Who could Tech consider as coach? There’s plenty of names to consider, but for this initial list, coaches who are presently head coaches (or became one Monday) were included.

ExploreClock ticking on search for Georgia Tech athletic director

Deion Sanders, Jackson State

Deion Sanders’ name easily has been the most intriguing of the candidates whose names have been tossed around since Geoff Collins’ firing. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Sanders is a big name and his connections to Atlanta, having starred with the Falcons and Braves, make the tie to Tech obvious. The attention – both from fans and recruits – that he would draw to Tech would be vast. Consider this – Jackson State set an FCS record last year with an average home attendance in excess of 42,000, which easily surpassed Tech’s.

Further, Sanders’ record with the Tigers (19-5, including a SWAC championship in 2021) indicates he’s not a mere gimmick. However, he is succeeding at a level where he has a considerable recruiting advantage. The benefit of his star power likely won’t be as significant if he were recruiting against SEC and ACC teams. Also, he has been successful on the field, but it’s still only 24 games and at a lower level.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Yellow Jackets

Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina

Jamey Chadwell has won at three different levels – Division II, FCS and now FBS – and has had his name connected with multiple power-conference openings as he has posted back-to-back 11-win seasons with the Chanticleers. With its spread-option offense, Coastal Carolina ranked fifth in FBS last season in scoring offense and total offense, not an insignificant consideration as Tech faces the challenge of drawing back a fatigued fan base.

Another plus is that Chadwell and his staff have recruited Georgia and metro Atlanta extensively. There is the matter of Chadwell not having coached at the power-conference level and how much of Coastal Carolina’s success has depended on quarterback Grayson McCall.

But so long as Coastal Carolina maintains its success (4-0 thus far), Chadwell will be a hot name, and Tech may have an advantage by getting a head start.

Jeff Monken, Army

The former Paul Johnson assistant has done nothing but win since leaving Tech after the 2009 season. He was 38-16 in four seasons at Georgia Southern and since has completely turned around an Army team that had had one winning season in the 17 seasons before he took over after the 2013 season. Out of that desert, Jeff Monken has produced five winning seasons in the past six, including two with double-digit wins. It’s hard to ignore that record as a proven winner.

Monken’s offensive scheme is an offshoot of Johnson’s, which some Tech supporters may delight in while others may react differently. Recruiting initially also could be a challenge as there could be a pushback on the offense. But if he were to have time and support, there’s little reason to think he couldn’t win consistently.

Brent Key, Georgia Tech

Named the interim Monday, Brent Key expressed his hope that the team’s performance over the remaining eight games would put him and his staff in position to be considered. A Tech grad, he called it an honor to be given control of the team.

Without this opportunity, he would be an atypical candidate. He has been an offensive line coach for most of his career, and in the one season when he was an offensive coordinator (at Central Florida in 2015), the unit finished last in FBS in total offense. At Tech, the line for which he oversees recruiting and coaches has not been a strength.

But he does have strengths – such as vision and attention to detail – that fit the head-coach position. If he can significantly improve play and demonstrate his fitness for the job, he’ll have to be considered.

ExploreBrent Key focused on helping Georgia Tech’s players win each day

Mike Houston, East Carolina

Not a name most are familiar with, but consider what Mike Houston has accomplished: As a coach at The Citadel, he led the Bulldogs and their triple-option offense to the 2015 Southern Conference title, only their second in more than 50 years. The next year, he led his new team, James Madison, to the FCS championship with an offense that operated out of the shotgun and threw more than 20 times a game. That demonstrates an ability to win in places with competitive challenges and with different schemes.

Taking over at East Carolina before the 2019 season, he took over a team that had had three consecutive three-win seasons (which may sound familiar to Tech fans). After a 7-14 record in his first two years, East Carolina was projected to be an also-ran in 2021 but made its first bowl game since 2014. The Pirates, who nearly upset then-No. 13 N.C. State in this year’s season opener, will have to finish strong for Houston to get a look, and he’s another with no power-conference experience, but he could be considered.

Curt Cignetti, James Madison

Curt Cignetti, who succeeded Houston at James Madison, also has won at multiple levels, but also has assistant coaching experience at the power-conference level, most notably Alabama with Nick Saban at the start of his tenure with the Crimson Tide.

He continued Houston’s success at James Madison, compiling a 33-5 record with the Dukes in three seasons at the FCS level. They’ve moved up to FBS this year and have started 3-0. Before James Madison, he was coach at Elon, which had been to the FCS playoffs once since moving to that level in 1999, then made back-to-back trips with him in 2017-18 and have not been back since.

While he has demonstrated his ability to win in difficult conditions, he likely would create little excitement, and, at 61, it’s not clear how long he would coach.

Tyson Helton, Western Kentucky

In his fourth season with the Hilltoppers, Helton has a 26-17 record. Perhaps more notably, he has more than held his own against his peers, with an 18-6 record within Conference USA. The younger brother of Georgia Southern coach Clay Helton, Tyson Helton took over a team that was 3-9 in the previous season and finished 9-4 in his first season, in 2019.

After finishing second in FBS in total offense last season, it will be worth watching to see how the Hilltoppers maintain that performance after losing offensive coordinator Zach Kittley to Texas Tech.

Helton has coached at the power-conference level, with stops at USC (when he was on his brother’s staff) and Tennessee (where he was on a staff with Tech quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke).