Friedlander: Geoff Collins living on borrowed time as Georgia Tech coach
Geoff Collins knew what he was getting into when he took the job at Georgia Tech in 2019.
It wasn’t your typical “tear it down to build it back up” proposition.
Collins knew that in order to transition the Yellow Jackets from former coach Paul Johnson’s antiquated triple option philosophy to a more modern 21st Century approach, he’d have to implode the program like one of those stadium demolition projects, then hire an entirely new team to clean up the mess before starting to rebuild.
That’s the reason he was given a 7-year contract. At the time, everyone involved with the transaction understood that the process would take time and patience.
Less than halfway through the contract, though, the patience is already wearing thin and because of it, time is quickly running out on Collins’ tenure at the Flats.
At 10-27 overall and 1-2 to start this, his fourth season – with the only win coming against FCS opponent Western Carolina – it’s no longer a matter of if the Tech coach will be fired, but rather when.
The hammer could have come down after Saturday’s 42-0 debacle at the hands of Ole Miss. But Rebels coach Lane Kiffin did everything he could to help spare Collins of that fate by keeping the score from getting even more lopsided.
“Having empathy for what was going on in that game on the other sideline and the hot seat or whatever he’s on,” Kiffin said afterward in explaining why he didn’t allow his backup quarterback to throw any passes during the fourth quarter. “(I) just didn’t really feel like it was right.”
Lane Kiffin said Monday Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins' hot seat changed the way he approached the endgame on Saturday.
— On3 (@On3sports) September 19, 2022
As noble as Kiffin’s gesture might be, all it did was delay the inevitable.
With the next 2 games on the road at Central Florida and defending ACC champion Pittsburgh, the chances of his nearly incinerated hot seat cooling down enough for him to keep his job fall somewhere between slim and none.
The only way he makes it through the season is if Tech decides it’s worth a few million dollars in savings to keep him around. His current buyout is $10.5 million. In January, the number shrinks to $7.5 million.
But chances are a hat is already being passed around among the school’s most disgruntled donors to raise the necessary funds to cut ties as soon as possible. According to a recent story on SB Nation, one of those boosters has volunteered to pay the entire buyout by himself to get rid of Collins.
All things considered, it’s hard not to have at least a little empathy for the embattled Yellow Jackets coach. He’s a Georgia kid who looked at Tech as his dream job, even though it was a nightmare scenario when he took it.
Not only did he have to find a quarterback to run his new offensive scheme, but he also had to recruit an entire corps of wide receivers and a collection of offensive linemen skilled at doing more than just cut blocking.
The challenge was only heightened by the COVID pandemic, which limited in-home visits for a full year. Despite the obstacles, it’s not an unreasonable expectation for some progress to be shown.
But after 3 consecutive 3-win seasons, that hasn’t happened. The Yellow Jackets have been outscored 183-10 by their past 4 Power 5 opponents – Notre Dame, Georgia, Clemson and Ole Miss – dating to last year.
And the remaining schedule, ranked as one of the most difficult in the country, isn’t getting any easier.
Compounding the results on the field is the exodus of more than a dozen players from last season, including leading rusher Jahmyr Gibbs to Alabama, through the transfer portal.
As for the few fans still interested in going to the games, tickets are as easily obtainable as Starbucks gift cards. And less expensive than a single cup of coffee.
“I look at the program and it’s in the worst place I’ve ever seen it,” prominent booster and Tech graduate Steve Zelnak told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the end of last season.
“Platitudes and catchphrases are no longer enough,” follow million-dollar donor Gregg Garrett added as part of the same article. “It’s time to start winning.”
So how much longer before athletic director Todd Stansbury finally ends the Collins era?
It could be any time.
The best bet for when he’ll join Nebraska’s Scott Frost and Arizona State’s Herm Edwards in hitting the contract buyout jackpot is after Tech’s Oct. 8 home game against Duke.
With an open date scheduled for the following week, the timing would give an interim coach some extra time to get organized and prepare the team for its next game while giving Stansbury a head start on finding a permanent replacement.
Assuming he doesn’t end up following Collins out the door.