Bradley’s Buzz: Whom should Georgia Tech hire? Beats me

Of the ACC’s 14 football programs, 10 have hired at least one head coach since the end of the 2015 regular season. The two Florida schools have hired five between them. Virginia Tech has hired two. Georgia Tech is need of its second. Of the league’s current head coaches, only four have won an ACC division title – Dabo Swinney, Pat Narduzzi, Dave Clawson and Mack Brown. Only one was hired after 2015, and he bears an asterisk.

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Brown is 71, on the fourth year of his second stint in Chapel Hill. (In the interim, he won a BCS title with Texas and worked for ESPN.) If this is what it takes to make an ACC coaching upgrade, what’s to stop Tech from bringing back Paul Johnson, a mere stripling at 65?

To borrow Paul Johnson’s line about one of his recruiting classes: “They all come highly recommended.” Nobody hires someone expecting failure. The 14 ACC hires since 2015 range from Mark Richt, who won the ACC Coastal and retired a year later, to Justin Fuente, who won the Coastal and was fired five years later, to Willie Taggart, who lasted 21 games at Florida State. Full disclosure: I liked all three hires. Shows what I know.

I’ve been thinking about replacements for Geoff Collins, and I can’t say I’ve found anyone who’s more likely than not to succeed – and, more important, to want to coach Tech. I’m sure Nick Saban could do the job, but I doubt he’s leaving Alabama for anywhere but Lake Burton. Chan Gailey, a solid hire, couldn’t beat Georgia. (And who’s beating Georgia now?) My nominees to replace Johnson were Collins and Tony Elliott; their combined record as ACC head coaches is 13-35.

Granted, Elliott is just getting started at Virginia. So are Brent Pry at Virginia Tech and Mario Cristobal at Miami. Those first-year coaches are 5-15 in ACC play. The only ACC rookie whose team is above .500 is Duke’s Mike Elko, who managed to lose to Tech and Brent Key in overtime.

Not counting Brown and two terms, the longest-tenured ACC coaches are Swinney, promoted from receivers coach to succeed Tommy Bowden midway through the 2008 season; Clawson, who landed at Wake Forest after being head coach at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, and Dave Doeren, who came to N.C. State after two years at Northern Illinois. Some Tech fans will cringe at the thought, but such low-profile consistency might suit the Jackets.

This is Doeren’s 10th season in Raleigh; his Wolfpack haven’t won the Atlantic. Only in 2021 did Clawson’s Deacons manage more than eight wins. Doeren has never been the ACC coach of the year; Clawson won it last year, his eighth season at Wake. These aren’t flashy men at flashy programs. But they’ve done, by non-Clemson standards, pretty well.

Tech mightn’t be able to make a flashy hire. Would Lane Kiffin leaved the SEC for the ACC? As much as coaching in Atlanta might appeal to Deion Sanders, Prime Time figures to target a prime program, which Tech isn’t. Jamey Chadwell, who has done well at Charleston Southern and now Coastal Carolina, is a possibility, but I recall when luring Scott Satterfield from Appalachian State seemed a slam-dunk for Louisville. In Year 4 with the Cardinals, he’s 24-23.

Matt Rhule? He preceded (and exceeded) Collins at Temple and worked wonders in sweeping up Art Briles’ mess at Baylor. Still, he didn’t last three seasons with the NFL Panthers, who owe him $40 million. He’s not taking just any job. Tech, as we know, is harder than most. It’s a technical institute in the shadow of the nation’s best program. Collins brought great hype and put a huge emphasis on recruiting. He lasted three years and four games.

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The abject failure of the #404Takeover leaves Tech with a fundamental issue. As antiquated as Johnson’s offense could seem, it nonetheless was capable of wrong-footing superior opponents. He won three times in Athens. Using conventional methods – pursuing 4-star recruits, throwing the occasional forward pass – how long might it be before any Tech team beats Georgia again? Jahmyr Gibbs, Tech’s biggest signing of the past 15 years, played two seasons here and hopped into the transfer portal.

Say what you will about Johnson, but he did something Gailey never did and Collins couldn’t do. He and his offense got Georgia’s attention. The Tech-Georgia game is 12 days away, and I guarantee you no UGA fan – except maybe Jeff Dantzler, who worries about everything – has given a thought to the Jackets. Maybe J Batt, the new AD, will find a coach capable of making Tech scary again. Darned if I know who that person might be.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d be obliged if you’d give it a try.

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