Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"I never think of the future - it comes soon enough."

And so it begins, the offseason overhaul of the GT athletic department that everyone knew was coming. The unfortunate situation with Theodis Tarver and the seemingly frayed relationship between “The Hill” and the athletic department may have helped accelerate the process, but this has been on the docket for a year or more. Dave Braine has not been a healthy man for quite some time, and I think he has finally decided that battling with both Crohn’s Disease and the GT administration was more than he really wanted to take on.

This story begins a couple of years ago with Flunkgate on the football team and the academic arm screwing up the quarter-to-semester transcript process which finally led to the NCAA investigation and penalties this year. There was something broken inside the athletic department, and in the AD’s relationship with the Institute’s administration, that much was clear to all. In typical GT fashion, nobody was held truly responsible (registrar reassigned, whoopee!) and the poor working relationship seems to have continued to deteriorate. While the Institute does make some concessions for athletics that the other two comparable schools in the country do not (MIT and CalTech don’t have D-1 athletic programs), they have steadfastly refused to create an environment that is conducive to athletes succeeding while on campus. Tech has never been a school that desires to see every student succeed, there’s almost a sick sense of pride in the fact that so many people fail. “Look at how good we are, all these people wash out “– that’s our version of academic prestige, as if an 80% graduation rate would lower the standing of Tech in the eyes of the ivory tower world. Combine that attitude with the pressures of playing D-1 athletics and you have a recipe tailor made for the problems we’ve had in the past 5 years.

What exactly kind of changes would help? Well, we’re not talking about adding majors similar to Duke’s sociology program or UNC’s African American Studies, that’s out of the question. We’re not talking about further lowering admission standards for athletes, another taboo topic that is a non-starter. It’s the little stuff, like working with professors to allow basketball players at the Final Four some leeway with their exams scheduled during the trip, that wouldn’t harm our academic reputation too seriously – would it? Maybe working with the AD and the coaching staffs for athletes with true hardship cases before putting students on Tech’s harsh version of probation and ending their careers, again something that isn’t a permanent black mark in the book of “elite engineering schools”. Hey, I got an idea! Maybe we can properly process the player’s paperwork so they don’t end up thrown under the bus at a much later date due to no fault of their own. At some point, “The Hill” has to recognize the fact that the athletic department is the most visible component of the entire Institute and the success or failure of the student athletes reflects on the school as a whole.

So what happens now? Braine is retiring as Athletic Director and the first step will be finding his replacement. Bill Curry has been mentioned a lot, as he is a “Tech Man” and has strong ties to the school still – but he’s also not what Tech needs right now. The Institute needs a strong administrator, someone who is adept at maintaining relationships and cutting some of the red tape and bandaging the wounds between the athletic department and the academic administration. Curry isn’t that man, he’s outgoing and magnetic and would be a fantastic fundraiser, but he’s never proven himself as a nuts and bolts manager and Tech can’t afford to continue to drop the ball on that. The other hot name in the rumor mill is Todd Stansbury who is currently the Associate Athletic Director at Oregon State. He has a strong reputation as an administrator and is well liked in the Tech community, potentially the kind of person that is needed in the position.

No matter who is hired, the first two tasks for a new A.D are clear – figure out what on earth is going on with our football program, and making sure a good working relationship is in place with Coach Hewitt, who has an 18 month window with no buyout from the date Braine steps down. The football program is a mess, there’s no two ways around it. Is Gailey the right coach? I have no clue, and Braine left that mess for his successor. Should Gailey be forced to hire an offensive coordinator? Again, this was left for the new A.D. Chairbacks are always empty at Bobby Dodd, what should be done about them? Hoho, welcome to GT Mr. New AD. Coach Hewitt is probably the lesser of the two major issues, simply because he won’t be leaving Tech for another college job – and his buyout would never have been a stumbling point for an NBA team anyways, so the 0$ buyout for the next 18 months is probably a non-factor. If Larry Brown steps down as the Knick’s head coach though this year or next, and Hewitt doesn’t feel like the school is supporting him fully, that’s when it could get ugly. I don’t foresee that sort of situation happening, but it would be a huge blow.

Braine had his failings, a number of them. The football program has been pretty much a failure during his tenure, and the general marketing of the athletic department as a whole has been rather poor. On the other hand, he did hire Paul Hewitt, the baseball program has been terrific during his tenure and he’s done wonders for the women’s and non-revenue programs at GT, things we shouldn’t shove under the rug and pretend never happened because of failings in other areas. Women’s sports at Tech, especially, owe Braine a huge debt of gratitude for his involvement and support, something they never truly had before. In 5 or 10 years when people look back on Braine’s time at Tech, the black stain of the NCAA probation and the relative failure of the football program won’t have disappeared, but he will be remembered more kindly than he is now. In the grand scheme of things many parts of the athletic department are better off than when he took over, but now is certainly the right time for him to step down and let someone younger and in better health tackle the huge task ahead.


Blogger Ian said...

You know, I wish everyone at UGA could read this post the next time they assume that Virginia Tech is a lot like Georgia Tech.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

I've never really looked at GT and VT as analogous. To me the UVA-VT rivalry is sort of a higher-rent version of Ole Miss-MSU or Alabama-Auburn -- you've got the tradition-steeped school in the small but fun college town with a great bar scene and a sense of superiority pretty much based on one guy (Jefferson, Faulkner, The Bear) vs. the newer upstart tech/ag school in a shit town in the middle of nowhere dealing with a constant inferiority complex, deserved or not, which they compensate for in any number of socially unacceptable ways (cowbells, the color orange, Marcus Vick) and quite often a beating on the football field.

Anyway, back on topic. I can't really think of any rivalry in the country that quite manages the dynamic of UGA-GT -- which is not to say that that's the BEST rivalry, just one that's unique. I can't think of another rivalry in the country where the personalities of the two schools and their fan bases are so completely opposite, and unfortunately for GT, that discrepancy usually works in UGA's favor -- which is why the GT AD has such a hard job, and why the search for Braine's replacement is going to be a very interesting one indeed.

Of course, as long as he keeps Gailey, I don't care who the new guy is.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Dawgnoxious said...

Nathan, nice job breaking the situation down. I agree with you that Bill Curry would be a poor choice. The challenges that any modern-day atheletic director faces are more sophisticated that what an old ball coach has the skill set to accomplish. Also, you are correct that Braine has done a good job making women's athletics into a point of pride for the University. I never thought I'd see the day the Tech women would beat the Lady Dawgs in hoops.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Kyle King said...

Doug is right.

Georgia-Georgia Tech, Virginia-Virginia Tech, and Texas-Texas A&M are roughly similar, insofar as both rivalries consist of (a) the state's flagship university and its younger technical school, and (b) one school whose fans view the other school as prissy and citified while the other school's fans view the rival institution as a home to rednecks who live out in the sticks.

The difference is that, in the Lone Star State and the Old Dominion, the flagship university is viewed as prissy and citified while the technical school is viewed as rural and uncouth . . . but, in the Peach State, the roles are reversed, due primarily to geography (Atlanta/Athens v. Charlottesville/Blacksburg or Austin/College Station).

I haven't met enough V.P.I. fans or alumni to form an opinion of them, but I know any number of graduates of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Texas, Texas A&M, and Virginia and I have never thought the lines of demarcation were anywhere near as stark as the fans of any of those schools would have you believe, but the perceptions are what they are and I would like to reassure Ian that no Georgia fan I know ever mistook Georgia Tech for Virginia Tech.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Kyle King said...


In my opening paragraph, I wrote "both," but I meant "each."

So much for my chances of convincing Nathan that Georgia fans like me aren't uneducated rednecks. . . .

1:56 PM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I hate being compared to VPI&SU because GT is truly one of the elite schools in the US (Top 10 public university, Top 5 engineering school). VPI&SU, NCSU, Clemson, etc are all good schools, but there's a big difference between larger land grant universities and the very narrow focus you find at GT.

Yes, it creates it's own very unique set of problems (see: Theodis Tarver), but saying "Virginia Tech can win so why can't GT" is comparing apples to oranges. I hate UGA, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. The huge differences in culture between the two universities who are so close to each other makes it unique in college sports and incredibly heated.

I doubt we'll ever be a "better" football program than UGA, but we can certainly be better than we are now. Somewhere in my dreams there is the football version of Paul Hewitt (Bobby Ross Jr!) and we'll win more than 7 games.

I don't envy our new A.D, whoever it is, because he has an enormous job in front of him. The deep battle lines between the hill and the athletic department aren't going to be breached in one year.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Harper said...

For as much crap as I give UGA about being a worthless college it is much better than VT, MSU, Ole Miss, Alabama or Auburn. It just happens that the bar is a little bit higher in Atlanta, which is why we see so many nerds. This is not to say that admission into tech is that much harder, it's just that the school takes pride in getting people to fail out.

8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to add some personal perspective. I worked for Coach Curry while getting a couple degrees at Tech and know Todd from the same period. I believe either would make a fine AD for Tech. I want to take a moment though to talk about Bill.

Bill isn't as much of a "ball coach" with no management skills as you perceive or portray him. While I do not disagree that he will be a fine fundraiser, I would add that I saw the other side of the business up close and ugly. He is a solid mananger. He was exposed to world-class athletic management in the Pros (Packers-Lombardi/Colts-Shula) and in his college coaching career.

Working with him, I learned things that have served me well in my own Silicon Valley career for years. I picked up techniques, management styles, an attention to detail and the sense of when to not sweat a particular detail. He has a clue about things. He does, after all, have a degree from Tech.

Further, he believes in the need for athletes to not only get to class, but to get the right things out of it. While at Tech, he worked with Dr. Rice to set up a team of people whose whole job was to interface with the Hill and the different schools (since we didn't have colleges then) to make sure that (a) our athletes were where they were supposed to be (b) doing their work and (c) actually engaging with their professors.

Unfortunately the NCAA in their infinite wisdom keeps playing with the regs on what a coach can do to keep up with the work of their athletes, but I consider this illustrative of the lengths Bill will go through make sure that the Athletes succeed and not just the teams.

Whomever Clough picks, I hope that they care for the traditions of excellence that Tech represents both on and off the field and do so while strongly managing the beast that is a division 1 atheltic department.

10:23 AM  
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