June 30, 2003 ATLANTA These should be happy times for Georgia Tech athletic director Dave Braine. A long-time expansion proponent and a former Virginia Tech AD, he should be basking in the glow of a pro-expansion vote and the Hokies' inclusion in the conference in the face of some astronomical odds. Braine's consistent and unyielding pitch that the ACC should expand for the good of its present and future finally won out. He, along with other like-minded administrators and presidents, achieved victory on the expansion front, even if it didn't work out exactly as originally planned. Despite the waves of criticism, it was a victory Braine has long said was vital to the continued prosperity of the conference.
Perhaps only Clemson faces as much competition within its state from another league. Supporters of the Tigers and Yellow Jackets don't like to hear it, but they know it's true: The Southeastern Conference dominates the headlines and hearts of most fans in South Carolina and Georgia.
Football, not basketball, is king south of North Carolina. Braine knows that most evaluations of his job performance will be tied directly to the success of Tech's proud and storied gridiron program. With the Bulldogs riding high from last year's SEC championship and Sugar Bowl victory, increasing the ACC's pigskin profile became even more important to the recruiting efforts of the Yellow Jackets.
But at the same time that Braine's most important conference vision was coming to fruition, his support within the Tech community was slipping. Georgia's meteoric rise, including the Bulldogs' humiliating 51-7 whipping of the Yellow Jackets last season, remains among a multitude of factors that have many wondering if Chan Gailey has the Ramblin' Wreck pointed in the right direction.
Braine hired Gailey, of course, so the recent avalanche of criticism at the coach is a direct reflection of fans' attitude toward their AD. A small group of prominent boosters reportedly tried to push Braine out recently, even going so far as to contact school president Wayne Clough about their dissatisfaction with the current leadership.
Braine, meanwhile, has been bombarded with nasty e-mails from irate fans. He's even sworn off sports-talk radio, despite something of an affinity for it. After all, he co-hosts a pre-game football call-in show himself, although there's no word yet about whether or not he will continue to do so this fall.
This is the first time in my 19 years as an athletic director, Braine said recently, that I've been through such adversity.
Some reports indicate that Braine, who signed a 10-year contract in 1997 upon arriving in Atlanta from Virginia Tech, recently went so far as to offer Clough a settlement on the remaining years of his contract. Clough apparently shrugged off the offer, perhaps an indication of his faith in the job Braine has done and is doing.
It's a record Braine staunchly defends. Overall, the Tech's athletic program is in solid shape. In the 2002-03 school year, 15 of 17 teams made it to the postseason. In 2001-02, it was 16 of 17. When Braine arrived in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets recently had finished 89th nationally in the all-sports Sears Cup competition. Their last four finishes: 58th, 61st, 50th, 53rd. That's an impressive jump, of course, but it's not football.
AD Tied To Embattled Gailey
Braine also defends his hiring of Gailey, even though it's the biggest reason he's been skewered for the past year. Gailey, a down-home Georgia man, hasn't connected with the Tech faithful yet, and there's no guarantee he ever will. He was being blasted before he coached a game, and Tech's up-and-down season didn't help.
The loss to the Bulldogs, a game in which Tech appeared to quit, only emboldened the critics of Gailey and, by extension, Braine. Many of those who had restrained themselves during another bowl-eligible campaign finally let loose. The 31-20 loss to suspension-depleted Fresno State only served to increase the howls.
Braine, at the behest of the school's athletic board, to which he reports, wrote a letter to the donors telling them of his commitment to Gailey, who had more victories in his first season than any first-year Tech coach besides William Alexander and Bill Fulcher.
But the fan base hasn't seen those numbers. Instead, they see 51-7 and 10. The latter represents the 10 football players who are academically ineligible for the 2003 season, including star tailback Tony Hollings and talented defensive end Tony Hargrove. Hollings recently made himself eligible for the NFL's supplemental draft, in which he is expected to be picked between the third and fifth rounds. He will not be the last of the 10 not to make it back to Tech.
Dr. Carole Moore, Tech's director of academic services, was re-assigned in the aftermath of the academic disaster, in a decision she called mutual. She also disputed claims that there had been a large change in how things were run between the athletic department and the academic services people after George O'Leary left, a claim Braine made several times.
When George O'Leary left, the academic advising was taken completely out of the coaches' hands and put back into the hands of the academic advising office, Braine said. I agreed to that, but it obviously did not work.
Moore, upon her re-assignment, said, The only thing I'm feeling somewhat perplexed about is the impression that's been left that somehow the structure had changed. To my knowledge, there was no change in policy or in the way in which we did business. My expectation was that the coaches would be involved.
Col. James Stephens, a retiring Air Force man and former Tech quarterback,
will be taking over for Moore and trying to restore the program's academic reputation.
That news came out on the same day the Tech football program was honored by
the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) for graduating 70 percent or
more of its freshman class of 1997-98. The Jackets were one of 32 Division
I-A schools to receive the honor.
It hasn't helped that Gailey has made himself scarce in the offseason, not responding to the media for more than a week after the academic troubles. While making appearances at booster club meetings, he has told audiences that he can't say everything he wants to say, usually because the media is in attendance. He has tried to distance himself from the academic controversy, insisting he was told those matters were being handled by qualified persons. He said he assumed those people knew what they were doing and talking about and they were going to get the job done.
With those issues percolating, plus an underachieving men's basketball team, a coaching change with the women's program and a massive renovation of Bobby Dodd Stadium still on-going, Braine's plate has been full.
He's trying to take time this summer to get away from it all, perhaps go fishing (one of his greatest loves) a few times and hope that a few football victories will begin to quiet the crowd. He's made it clear that this contract will be his last, but Braine is a proud man. He knows his record and believes it compares favorably in many respects with beloved former Tech AD Homer Rice.
Braine knows, and his hard work on behalf of expansion proves this, that his record will be judged largely on how his hiring of Gailey works out. If the football team succeeds for years to come in the bulked-up ACC, Braine no doubt will be remembered like a fine wine, one that gets better as time passes. But if Gailey and the football team continue to struggle, as many are predicting this season, Braine's tenure may well sour along with it.