After bad start to offseason, Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins recovers via transfers

September 25, 2021 Atlanta - Georgia Tech's head coach Geoff Collins gives a thumb up during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 25, 2021. Georgia Tech won 45-22 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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September 25, 2021 Atlanta - Georgia Tech's head coach Geoff Collins gives a thumb up during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, September 25, 2021. Georgia Tech won 45-22 over North Carolina. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

It felt like Georgia Tech’s football program was crumbling, and coach Geoff Collins couldn’t make it stop.

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The Yellow Jackets lost their final six games of 2021. Combined score of the last two: 100-0. Two days after the finale, Tech’s best player, running back Jahmyr Gibbs, announced he was transferring. Collins fired the coordinator for his bad offense but retained the coordinator for his worse defense.

Some Tech supporters already were salty with Collins for unwisely telling them that they just didn’t want to see the progress. Now a third consecutive three-win season had ended poorly, followed by a terrible start to the offseason. There was little reason to think then that Collins’ Year 4 could be something more.

There is now, though.

Gibbs is gone, but Tech has more good players coming in through the transfer portal than going through it. Collins has managed to keep most of the top recruits from his four classes, which is harder to do in the transfer-portal era. Collins revamped his defensive staff and hired Chip Long, who called the plays for high-scoring teams at Notre Dame.

Adding experienced Power 5 players was important for the Jackets. They are only three full recruiting cycles removed from doing it Paul Johnson’s way. The question is whether Collins can get the most out of his players. Johnson knew how to do that. Collins has much to prove.

Still, give Collins some credit for his recruiting. Tech’s path forward meant attracting good players for a modern offense and for a defense that’s more than just an addendum. Collins has pulled that off. Two of his three recruiting classes ranked in the top half of the ACC, and now he’s getting good transfer players.

In the latest update of the 247Sports transfer rankings, Tech is No. 15 nationally and second to Florida State in the ACC. Gibbs is one of the better players to switch teams this offseason, yet Tech still came out ahead. It’s a good sign for the Jackets that players looking for new teams are buying what Collins is selling despite his program not winning much.

I’m not trying to downplay how much losing Gibbs hurts Tech’s prospects. He made big plays for the Jackets as a rusher, receiver and kick returner. He’ll probably do the same for Alabama. Gibbs and quarterback Jeff Sims were supposed to become the one-two punch for a high-scoring offense. Now that won’t happen.

It’s doubtful that any of Tech’s transfers will have the same impact as Gibbs. Players who switch programs tend to be hit-or-miss in general. But even if there are no stars among Tech’s incoming transfers, they can collectively improve the team’s talent base. The people who pay close attention to these things have concluded that few coaches did better than the Collins on the transfer market.

Gibbs was the best of Collins’ high school recruits. Also gone are two of the highest-rated signees from the 2019 class, wide receiver Ahmarean Brown and quarterback Jordan Yates. They also were productive for the Jackets. But those are the only three players to leave from among Tech’s 15 highest-rated recruits from 2019-21. It could have been much worse. Plus Sims, Collins’ other big get along with Gibbs in 2020, is still here.

Collins has supplemented those recruits with transfers from Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and Notre Dame. The 2022 transfer class includes two defensive backs to help a secondary that’s struggled to stop deep passes. There are two offensive linemen to shore up shaky pass protection. There’s a quarterback to compete with Sims and a candidate to fill Gibbs’ all-purpose role.

Two of Tech’s seven incoming transfers should immediately help the offense. Hassan Hall set a Louisville record for all-purpose yards as a freshman in 2018. Injuries and fumbles limited his chances since then. Long, Tech’s new coordinator, plans to use formations with multiple tight ends. Tech transfer Luke Benson liked the sound of that after his production declined in Syracuse’s run-focused offense.

Ex-Akron quarterback Zach Gibson comes to Tech even though Sims, a rising junior, is first in line to start. Gibson figures to get a real shot at the gig. Three of Tech’s scholarship quarterbacks transferred. Sims has obvious talent, but he has been inconsistent. Yates was a good option, and Gibson could be, too.

The high rankings for Tech’s other incoming transfers are based mostly on the high potential they showed as high school recruits. Skeptics may wonder how much players who didn’t play much (or at all) for better teams can help Tech. Maybe they just aren’t as good as their recruiting rankings suggested.

That’s not how I look at it. Just because those players left high-level programs doesn’t mean they can’t be major contributors for another Power 5 team. Most of Tech’s arriving transfers are coming closer to home for a chance to play more. We’re seeing how the transfer portal can be a boon for Tech and other programs outside of the elite.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has complained that the transfer rules hurt lower-level programs and players who end up leaving for worse situations. What Saban really doesn’t like is outgoing transfers chipping away at his team’s depth. No need to feel bad for Saban. He signed three of the top 10 players on the transfer market, including Gibbs.

Losing Gibbs was a big blow for Collins at a time when he desperately needed some good news. He recovered by adding good players from the transfer portal while keeping most of the best prospects from his recruiting classes. These developments provide hope that the Jackets can climb next season after going downhill fast to end Year 3.

Now Collins just needs to win more games.