Wednesday, November 16, 2005

State of the Institute

I left yesterday morning on a flight to New Jersey for work, never thinking I was going to miss one of the craziest days in recent memory for the Georgia Tech athletic department. When I was on the phone in the car on the way back to the airport to leave late in the evening yesterday, my wife mentioned “oh yeah, did you hear that Gailey got a 5 year extension today?”. Er, well I guess we saw that one coming, so it wasn’t a huge surprise. It wasn’t until after midnight when I got home and saw Braine’s poorly thought out comments and the nuttiness that was the Reuben Houston ruling. There were 5 e-mails in my inbox asking me what I thought about the day’s events, and quite frankly I didn’t know what to think then, and still don’t now.

I guess the best idea is to work through these in order, and the first one is the Chan Gailey extension. I don’t like or dislike or Gailey inherently, and that might be the root of a number of problems, actually – he simply doesn’t generate any emotion in the fan base. Chan Gailey isn’t Bill Lewis, he isn’t a coach who’s going to ruin a program. On the other hand, he isn’t Bobby Ross either. Someone compared him to George Welsh, and I think that is a fair comparison. 7-5, 8-4 each year with a chance at a conference title once a decade is basically what I expect from him. Georgia Tech will never be a laughingstock while he’s here, but I doubt there will be another National Championship during his tenure. Right now he has the highest winning percentage in his first 4 years of any GT coach not named Dodd or O’Leary, and I would figure that’s about where he finishes in the GT coaching records when he’s done.

Gailey has his strong points. He seems to be a good judge of talent, and generally his players have been better than their recruiting rankings seem to have had them pegged, this is especially true on the defensive side of the ball. Gailey won’t embarrass the school by sleeping with his secretary or using his expense account on strippers. He won’t bring in ‘low character’ kids into the program. He has plenty of NFL ties to help out his players get a shot at the next level. Every year he seems to win one game he shouldn’t (Auburn, etc). He has not been overbearing on his good assistants like Tenuta, and shown the ability to work well with his staff.

Gailey also has his weaknesses. He can’t seem to get our special teams to be anything other than ‘special’. His offense puts a premium on execution, and while that works with NFL players, it can be painful to watch somewhat erratic college kids try to implement it. For some reason his teams come out extremely flat some weeks, and have either been blown out by good teams or lost to poor teams (Duke, NCSU, VT, UGa). On the recruiting side, he hasn’t built the strong ties with high school programs in the state of Georgia that are more important to Tech than any other school. We need those high school coaches encouraging kids to take their math and language classes so they can be qualified at Tech if they want to attend. We need those coaches and administrators to help identify and encourage the athletes that are good enough students to fit with Tech. The state of Georgia has enough talent to support both UGa and GT, but we cannot keep losing qualified recruits to out of state schools. To me this is Gailey’s biggest failure; he is simply getting killed by Richt in building these relationships. Both coaches are selling “strong Christian character and leadership”, but Richt has been much more successful at this.

I understand that Gailey wasn’t going to be fired this year, and that if that was the case he needed to receive an extension for recruiting purposes. With that in mind, I’m not surprised he received the extension or really upset. I will be upset if some changes aren’t made to the staff this off season, however. GT needs an offensive coordinator, preferably one with some previous experience and charismatic recruiter who can build some of the in-state ties that Gailey hasn’t been able to get. Something has to be done about special teams as well, and I don’t know if that means a coaching change, or for someone to just explain to Gailey that we have to have our best players on the field in that unit. I’m not happy with 6-6 or 7-5 seasons every year, and I don’t think we have a chance to improve on that without some turnover in the staff. All in all, I’m not bent out of shape about the extension – though I’m not Chan’s biggest fan, we could do much worse, and probably would suffer in the short term if we went through yet another coaching change. Gailey is Braine’s man, and will be the coach as long as he is the athletic director. The way the contract is now structured, this is a decision that leaves the new AD some flexibility when he comes on the scene in the next couple of years.

Second major event of the day was Dave Braine’s comment in his press conference that, "Georgia Tech can win nine or 10 games. They will never do that consistently. That's my feeling ... because of the type of program this is." This was a terrible, terrible mistake. Dave Braine has been an excellent A.D for GT, but he undid a lot of work with that single sentence. There is already a strong feeling within the fan base that Clough and Braine don’t care about the results of the football program, and he just fanned those flames. Even though I understand where he is coming from, and probably agree with his statement in my gut, you simply cannot ask the donors for millions of dollars for a stadium expansion and then tell them to not expect a winner. Taz Anderson has never been a fan of Gailey and so hearing shots from him isn’t surprising, but this time he won’t be the only one. Braine is going to retire fairly soon, but I hope he’s not a lame duck the next couple of years.

For whatever number of well documented reasons (lack of non-math based majors, difficult entrance requirements, inner city location, etc) GT is at a disadvantage compared to the other big southern football schools, and I fully agree with Braine calling it one of the 3 toughest jobs in modern college football. That doesn’t mean the athletic staff can throw up their hands and just formally quit caring about trying to win championships. While it is tougher to win at GT than at UGa, it can still be done, and there are plenty of advantages that GT does a terrible job of selling. Our AD should be someone focusing on how to sell the program, not someone who is uninterested in trying to maximize it and accepting mediocrity. I do like Braine, I think he’s done a very good job – but yesterday was a huge gaffe in a very public forum, and one that fed into the worst fears of portions of the fans and boosters. I don’t mind the contract extension because it was basically already done, I don’t mind Braine admitting that winning at GT has a special set of difficulties, I do think that his extra comments were by far the worst part of the day. Worst of all, he referred to GT as “they” and not “we”. Ugh.

The third, and by far the most bizarre, event of the day was the court ruling that forced GT to accept Rueben Houston back on the team. Now, I don’t fully understand all the legal procedure, but I have no idea how a football coach is supposed to discipline their team if they can’t suspend players for gross violation of team rules. I can see a court forcing GT to allow Houston back to class, but back onto the team is a bit ridiculous. I do expect this to be overturned, and for Houston to be suspended until the court proceedings a finalized – but I will not be surprised at all to see him on the team for next year, depending on the way the court case is settled. The whole situation has been beyond weird as it has played out to this point.

I love GT, and I didn’t grow up in Georgia. I am proud to tell people where I attended school. Everyone knows that each GT sporting event is a chance for me to brag about the institute. I have donated money to the GTAA in the past, in the meager amounts that I can. I have traveled to watch the Jackets play, bought GT licensed apparel and in general supported the school and athletic department to the best of my ability. I felt Dave Braine let me down yesterday in a pretty big way, and I’m not sold our football program is doing anything but treading water with Chan Gailey. I wish the Reuben Houston situation would just disappear and never be heard from again. All of these are fixable issues, but nothing I saw yesterday gives me great confidence. Braine seems to happy to just ride it out to his retirement, and Gailey hasn’t inspired great confidence in me that he’s going to make the necessary changes in his staff and team strategy (I’m holding out hope he does in the off-season for some unjustifiable reason). Overall, a thoroughly average GT day … giving a coach an extension should be an exciting event, so why do I have a slightly sour taste from it?

(Think the donors are happy they paid for that expansion now?)


Blogger Harper said...

"GT needs an offensive coordinator, preferably one with some previous experience and charismatic recruiter who can build some of the in-state ties that Gailey hasn’t been able to get."

Right On! This is exactly what we need. Nix is a nice guy, but we need someone to get the job done.

6:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nix not only needs to get the axe, but so does David Wilson, our 'Special' Teams coach & Recruiting coordinator.

Good article by the way!

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