Todd Stansbury: Georgia Tech ‘obviously getting better’ with Geoff Collins

Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury speaks during a football uniform reveal party in Atlanta, Friday, August 3, 2018.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury speaks during a football uniform reveal party in Atlanta, Friday, August 3, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury has felt the frustration that many Yellow Jackets fans have experienced this season. And, while fan disenchantment with coach Geoff Collins appears to be on the rise as his third season nears its end, Stansbury voiced his support and trust in his coach and the team’s direction in a Wednesday interview with the AJC.

“We’re obviously getting better,” Stansbury said.

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That likely is not as obvious to many Tech supporters, given the Jackets’ 3-6 record, assorted statistical data and continued shortcomings in certain areas. But Stansbury sees it in the Jackets, who will play for their fourth win of the season Saturday afternoon against Boston College at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“I think the first thing is that, when you look at our team and who we’re playing, we actually look like the teams we’re playing,” he said, referring to the team’s gains in size. “The student-athletes that Geoff’s recruited over the last couple of years, you’re seeing the flashes of what’s to come and there’s flashes of brilliance. Obviously, there’s frustration in that, at times. It seems (we’re going) one step forward, two steps back. But when you look at just where we are in going toe-to-toe with the best teams in our league, having an opportunity to win those games, you can see the progress.”

Similarly, Collins has pointed to Tech’s string of close games as evidence of improvement. After losing their seven games last season by an average of 24.9 points, the Jackets have lost their six games this season by an average of 9.7 points per game. In five of them, Tech led in the fourth quarter and/or had a possession to tie or take the lead.

“In fact, every week I go in saying, ‘You know what? If that team that showed up against (North Carolina in a 45-22 victory Sept. 25) shows up today and things go our way, I feel like we can beat anybody,’” Stansbury said. “But we have a razor-thin margin for error to be able do that, and unfortunately, that’s where we are right now with a very young team. And one play here, one play there, a touchdown being called back – those end up being very, very significant in the final score.”

A next step, Stansbury said, is taking leads and building them to the point that one or two plays won’t be the difference between winning and losing.

Before the season, while recognizing that the team faced a difficult schedule, Stansbury said he was optimistic about the Jackets’ chances to make a bowl game after back-to-back three-win seasons. That’s still a remote possibility, though it would require the Jackets to defeat the Eagles on Saturday and then pull heavy upsets of No. 9 Notre Dame (on the road) and No. 1 Georgia.

Regardless, Stansbury said he has been encouraged by the progress made by individual players.

“I think when you look at the development of our players, I think (quarterback) Jeff Sims is a much different quarterback this year than he was last year,” Stansbury said. “You can see how he is becoming better and more comfortable, staying in that pocket and making the plays he needs to make. So I really feel good about the development of where the players are, knowing that’s got to be part of the plan.”

He also puts stock in the effort that he has seen from players. He cited Tech’s 14-8 loss at Clemson, when Tech safety Juanyeh Thomas forced a fumble to create a safety with seven seconds remaining to keep the Jackets’ hopes alive, and the Jackets’ rally at Virginia, cutting a 48-27 deficit to 48-40 inside the final 3:50 and having a chance to force overtime on the final play of regulation.

“While the score isn’t necessarily what we want to it be, it’s obvious that these kids do not quit,” Stansbury said. “I think that’s a significant statement about their belief in what they’re doing and the team.”

Stansbury has heard from supporters who aren’t as confident in the team’s future with Collins and his staff as he is.

“As athletics director, a big part of the job is listening to fans and donors,” he said. “Of course, you tend to hear from people more when they’re upset or don’t like how things are going. But I think the main thing is we’ve been here before, and I myself personally have gone through a number of transitions, and they’re painful, and it’s part of it. And I think you can even look around (the ACC at) coaching changes that happened at the exact same time we changed ours – they’re not in much different situations than we are. And they’re not going from a triple-option offense to something completely different where you’re essentially having to flip your entire roster.”

Collins was hired to replace Paul Johnson after the 2018 season, the same hiring cycle when Louisville (Scott Satterfield), Miami (Manny Diaz) and North Carolina (Mack Brown) also made changes. Where Tech is 3-6, Miami is 5-4, North Carolina 5-5 and Louisville is 4-5. The Jackets could contend they’re a couple of plays from being 5-4.

However, Brown and Diaz have led their teams to two bowl games in their first two seasons (including the Orange Bowl last season for North Carolina) and Satterfield has made one bowl trip with the Cardinals. Further, all three are in position to earn bowl eligibility again this season.

Regarding Stansbury’s experience with coaching transitions, Stansbury was at Tech from 1988-95 as an academic advisor for the football team. The 1988 season was coach Bobby Ross’ second. In 1989, Tech started out 0-3 before finishing 7-4, setting the stage for the 1990 national championship season.

And one could debate whether the Jackets’ “entire roster” has had to be flipped, given that Tech ran standard defenses during Johnson’s tenure.

While Stansbury and Collins will undoubtedly feel pressure to make changes to the coaching staff, if they haven’t already, Stansbury said that he fully trusts Collins to evaluate his team and staff and move accordingly.

“And my whole thing with Geoff is, stick to the plan,” Stansbury said. “So many times, I believe that – and it always happens typically in Year 3 – where people start to get a little anxious, coaches get a little anxious and then change the plan. And then all of the sudden, you have no plan.”

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