Just last week I wrote about the decisions by Nebraska and Arizona State to fire their head football coaches only a few weeks into the 2022 regular season. Less than a few hours after that post went live, on September 26, 2022, another major college football coach was relieved of his duties. Specifically, Georgia Tech fired both Geoff Collins and Athletic Director Todd Stansbury, effective immediately.
Coach Collins was hired by Georgia Tech on December 7, 2018, following a two-year stint at Temple University. During his time at Georgia Tech the Yellow Jackets amassed a 10-28 record. Id. This includes the 1-3 start to the 2022 season. Moreover, under Collins Georgia Tech was appearing to be on their way to a fourth straight bowl-less-losing season after previously attending nine bowl games in eleven years before the arrival of Coach Collins. Id.
In 2018, to lure Coach Collins from Temple, Athletic Director Todd Stansbury paid $2.5 million to buyout Coach Collins’s contract. Id. Stansbury then hired Collins to a seven-year deal that averaged roughly $3.3 million per year with no reduced settlement for a firing (meaning that Coach Collins would receive the entire amount of his original contract). Id. Now, after being fired, Collins will be owed more than $10 million in his buyout.
Inability to Grow the Brand
In 2018, Coach Collins was brought to Georgia Tech to modernize the Yellow Jackets. In his initial press conference, Collins noted that he was “trying to maximize the exposure for the logo as much as possible.”
Generally, the success of a program’s brand can be measured through retention and recruiting. During the Collins’ era there was poor retention of players and coaches, and less than stellar recruiting. For example, five Georgia Tech assistant coaches left the program at the conclusion of last year, over a dozen players transferred to other programs, and in Coach Collins’s last two years recruiting, the Yellow Jackets finished 48th and 53rd nationally. Id.
Growing the Brand under the Player Compensation Umbrella
One primary difference between 2018, when Coach Collins was hired, and now, is the reality that players can earn compensation for their name, image, and likeness. As discussed in a prior article, the opportunity for compensation will likely only continue to expand.
Now, maximizing a program’s brand implicitly includes taking advantage of an institution’s natural features to incentivize players to build their own brand simultaneously with the growth of the program.
At Georgia Tech, that likely means taking advantage of its location. Notably, Georgia Tech’s campus is located in Atlanta, Georgia: the greater metropolitan area of Atlanta amasses the eighth largest population in the country.
Moreover, in 2021 it was reported that over 4,600 former Georgia High School players were on college rosters, with 54% of those players competing at the Division I level. Furthermore, these numbers generally place Georgia within the top five most desirable states to recruit college football players from. This includes the likes of Florida, California, and Texas. Id.
Nevertheless, the point I am trying to make is that the metropolitan area of Atlanta, Georgia, combined with the overall saturation of talent within the state means that whoever runs Georgia Tech should seek to take advantage of the natural platform provided by the city for exposure of the program and its athletes. In the player compensation era, Georgia Tech has a natural advantage with its geographical location.
Georgia Tech’s Involvement with the ACC
With its geographic advantage, one has to ask whether Georgia Tech’s involvement with the ACC limits its potential. CJ Kolber, a law student at UB, wrote about the lack of realignment done by the ACC and the factors that have hamstrung the Conference from pursuing growth. The article included the payout estimates for the five major conferences in college football. In last place was the ACC, with a projected $30.9 million payout estimate for the 2022 year. Id. The trend continued with the PAC-12, Big-12, and ACC vacillating back and forth between the lowest projected earners through 2029. Id. Moreover, the estimates account for barely half of the payouts expected to be paid by SEC and Big Ten programs. Id.
The clear disadvantage of funding between ACC programs and those in the BIG Ten / SEC will prove to be clear over the course of the next several years. Without knowing the true outcome of the player-institution relationship quandary, it is clear that programs with greater amounts of money will be better situated to build a brand attractive enough for players to not only come and play, but to springboard their own personal brand at the most successful level.
As Kolber mentioned, if you do not act fast, you will get left behind. Perhaps the best move for a Georgia Tech program would be to focus upon the primary players of the college athletics market to maximize value in the highly football-saturated area of Atlanta, Georgia.
Regardless of who Georgia Tech chooses for its next head football coach, the institution will eventually have to ask itself whether it is situated in an advantageous position within the ACC, or, whether its natural geographic advantage would better play in the likes of the SEC.
Until foundational decisions like conference alignment are made, how can the next head coach truly be effective at Georgia Tech? The ceiling is only so high for an institution that situates itself in the bottom tier of power five programs but is itself placed in an environment producing elite tier talent. Ultimately, if further changes are not made, then it would be likely to see the coaching carousel continuing to spin at institutions like Georgia Tech.
Just prior to finalizing the above article, news broke yesterday (Sunday, October 2, 2022) that Wisconsin fired their now former head football coach Paul Chryst. Coach Chryst’s departure comes after amassing a 67-26 career record including a 2-3 start to this season. Unlike the moves by Nebraska, Arizona State, and Georgia Tech, Wisconsin experienced much success under Coach Chryst For example, the Badgers won at least 10 games in four of the last five seasons which included three Big Ten championship game appearances. Id. Currently, there are varying reports as to the amount that Wisconsin will owe Coach Chryst, whatever that number may be, this is just another example of schools willing to spend millions to cut ties immediately with a current head football coach. And, again, the carousel continues.
President of the Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Law Society. Before law school, I coached college football at the University of Rochester for five seasons. I am excited to take these experiences, along with a legal education to make an impact on the ever-evolving landscape of college athletics. Thanks for reading our posts!