Dell McGee’s transfer-portal plan will be critical to Georgia State’s success

Coach Dell McGee answers questions during a press conference at University Club at Center Parc Stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Atlanta. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Jason Allen)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Coach Dell McGee answers questions during a press conference at University Club at Center Parc Stadium on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Atlanta. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Jason Allen)

Dell McGee’s eyes are open. Georgia State’s new coach knows that he’ll lose some of his better players in the transfer portal when power-conference schools entice them away with lucrative name, image and likeness deals from their collective.

The former Georgia running backs coach even made light of it at his introductory news conference Feb. 26, saying he told Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart that “I know you’re going to be trying to recruit my players because I’m going to bring some in.”

It happened to McGee’s predecessor Shawn Elliott. In December, for example, Auburn and Missouri plucked two Panthers players recruited and developed by Elliott and his staff. A year ago, Georgia State players left to earn starting jobs at USC and Louisville. Many more left besides them.

“From everything I hear, it’s all about the money,” McGee told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. “And it’s the same for the power-four schools, too. It’s all about money. Kids are leaving places because they feel like they should be playing or they feel like they should get more money.”

McGee’s success will be determined by several factors besides how he handles the portal. But being able to counteract the potential talent drain will be high on the list.

McGee does have a plan. He intends to help develop a collective at Georgia State that can at least offer players something. And then he’ll pitch players on why they ought to resist greener grasses.

“I just think it’s about how we connect with our players and try to make sure they understand that if you’re not getting a substantial amount of NIL (at a potential transfer destination), then you’re probably going to a place where you’re going to be a depth guy or a backup guy,” McGee said. “And why would you leave when you’re starting and you’ve got a chance to get your degree?”

He said that he needs to survey players to determine what that dollar figure is “where you feel like you’re being taken care of as opposed to risking all these different things.”

Give McGee credit for this much – the man knows how to deliver straight talk. It’s not every coach that would speak openly about talking with his players about what sort of NIL deal they would need to remain with his team. It speaks to his awareness of the importance of keeping as many of his best players on the roster as he can.

It is accurate that there is more to retaining players than offering NIL deals. McGee will need to develop players and win games. He’ll have to develop a culture that players will feel loyalty to.

But the compensation part is crucial, particularly when McGee said NIL opportunities for the football team have “kind of been non-existent here” while players at the top of the college football food chain can earn six figures. Hence, McGee’s motivation to get boosters behind him.

Here’s the challenge, though. McGee’s plan to pitch players on the value of staying and blossoming at Georgia State while also trying to help scrape together NIL deals surely is what virtually every Group of 5 conference coach has been trying to do in this new era of college athletics.

That surely includes Elliott before his sudden departure for an assistant coaching job at South Carolina to be with his family. And it’s not like Elliott fared poorly. In seven seasons, he led the Panthers to five bowl games.

Can McGee build on Elliott’s foundation?

He does have an asset that Elliott did not. He starts the job with an established bond with the state’s high-school coaches. He grew up in the state, having played at Kendrick High in Columbus before going to Auburn. He then coached in the high-school ranks, including eight seasons as head coach at Carver High in Columbus. And then he coached at Auburn, Georgia Southern and Georgia, helping the Bulldogs win two national titles. But he hasn’t forgotten his roots, describing himself as “a high-school coach at heart.”

He is known and appreciated by the state’s high-school coaches, a group that can hold sway over where their star players enroll. In 2022, when Brent Key was the interim head coach at Georgia Tech, I conducted a survey of high-school coaches in the state asking who they wanted to see get the full-time job. Key was the most popular choice, but McGee was second.

McGee “understands and has recruited Georgia,” Langston Hughes High coach Daniel Williams wrote then. “Dell is a coach who can recruit the country and lock down metro Atlanta.”

His visibility and popularity among coaches and fans could assist McGee, a first-time head coach, in recruiting better, winning more and even in building NIL deals. It has been pointed out that the state likely lacks no shortage of Georgia fans who earned degrees at Georgia State. Perhaps McGee could be a catalyst to make the Panthers the second favorite team of that subset.

It won’t be easy. McGee has challenges to take on even before he has to worry about NIL. Georgia State had begun spring practice when Elliott abruptly resigned Feb. 15. The Panthers will resume with a new head coach and coaching staff after spring break.

It’s a lot for players to digest, certainly. To get to know his players – and vice versa – McGee met with every team member and their parents (the latter via videoconference) in his first two days on the job.

“I just wanted to make sure that during this transition that they knew who I was and that they’re in good hands,” McGee said.

That was followed by getting his staff together – his offensive coordinator is former Georgia OC Jim Chaney, and his defensive coordinator is Kevin Sherrer, who also was an assistant at Georgia for Smart and Mark Richt. The next phase will be spring practice, which will resume March 19.

And, soon enough, he’ll work on the framework to make sure that the players he’ll need to compete for Sun Belt titles – Georgia State has yet to win its first after joining FBS in 2013 – will have what they need to stay in Atlanta.

It isn’t what inspired him to be a head coach. But it is what will help him to remain one.