November 8, 2005
ATLANTA -- It's becoming clearer and clearer that football coach Chan Gailey will be back for a fifth season at Georgia Tech. Changes, however, are almost certain to be made to his coaching staff.
The Yellow Jackets (6-2, 4-2 ACC) continue to struggle offensively, even with the presence of star receiver Calvin Johnson, two solid running backs and a third-year starter at quarterback.
Calls for Gailey, who has called plays since the beginning of his second season, to give up those duties surely will increase in the wake of another year of below-average offensive output. Nearly each week, callers to Gailey's radio show blast the offensive play-calling and demand a change on the offensive staff.
Often criticized for his conservative play-calling, Gailey has made the Yellow Jackets' offense a pass-first one this season. Tech ranks near the top of the ACC in pass attempts per game, in an attempt to soften defenses for the running game and ease the burden on a young offensive line.
It sounds like a solid plan. But the Yellow Jackets have been unable to sustain offense, in large part because of Ball's completion percentage, which is under 50 percent. Many of the incomplete passes are a result of Ball throwing the ball away to avoid sacks and interceptions, but it's nearly impossible to move the ball in a pass-first offense without completing passes.
Dreadful first halves against Duke and N.C. State only exaggerated the problem. Ball was 7-of-26 in the first half against the Pack. Late in the game against UNC, a Tech victory, the Yellow Jackets refused to run the ball despite holding the lead, ultimately allowing the Tar Heels back into the game.
If changes are made, don't look for coordinator Patrick Nix to leave. Gailey is extremely loyal to Nix, who was blamed for the Yellow Jackets' last-drive disaster against Georgia in 2004. (Gailey deflected much of the heat for that blunder.) Gailey could hand the play-calling responsibilities to Nix, or he could keep Nix as the team's quarterbacks coach and add another offensive assistant.
Another decision awaiting Gailey is what to do with the Yellow Jackets' special teams. Gailey is a former special teams coach, but the Tech special teams have been a disaster all season. Special teams coach David Wilson, also the team's recruiting coordinator, certainly deserves some of the blame. So, too, does the team's weekly scheduling, which does not allocate much practice time to special teams.
The team's shaky depth, always an issue, also plays a role. Tech has had to import more starters onto the special-teams units to shore up the leaks. A lack of depth at positions such as tight end and linebacker -- typically fast, strong players -- is especially harmful.
This offseason will be the most important for the Yellow Jackets since Gailey was hired in late 2001. He must have his contract extended or be let go. He must decide if his staff needs a major shakeup, or if he can proceed without changes entering what should be a solid 2006 season. Tech will return nine starters on offense, six on defense.
YOUNG BRINGS ACCLAIM, SCRUTINY
The Yellow Jackets won the Thaddeus Young sweepstakes, a major recruiting coup for coach Paul Hewitt and his staff. Young, among the top-rated high school seniors in the nation, chose the Yellow Jackets over Arkansas, Kentucky and hometown Memphis.
According to his high school coach, Young had picked North Carolina, but the Tar Heels wanted an announcement before Young took his official visit to Kentucky, something Young wasn't willing to do. So the Tar Heels took Tennessee big man Brandan Wright, another prep All-American, for their last available slot, and Young looked elsewhere.
The recruitment of Young became one of the biggest stories in Memphis. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion on where Young should play his college basketball, with many in town pushing for him to stay in Memphis with the hometown Tigers.
Rumors circulated that Young had met with representatives of the Walton family while being recruited by Arkansas. In a Memphis Commercial Appeal column, Gary Parrish wrote: "There also has been rampant speculation that Nike played a role in Young's commitment to Georgia Tech."
After Young committed to Tech, his former AAU coach Kevin Easterwood claimed that the NCAA had contacted him and was beginning an investigation into Young's recruitment. Importantly, Easterwood said the NCAA did not ask about Tech. The Yellow Jackets have not been contacted about an investigation and do not expect to be. Young's father has said repeatedly that the recruitment was on the up-and-up.
Getting past the ugliness surrounding the recruiting process, Young's commitment raised the profile of a probable top-10 class for the Yellow Jackets. Tech landed its chief target, point guard Javaris Crittenton, over the summer. Then, in part to land Young, the Jackets secured commitments from post players Zack Peacock and Brad Sheehan.
With Peacock and Sheehan on board, the Jackets could continue their pitch to the 6-8 Young that he would not have to bang in the post. Young, an extremely skilled small forward, also can play shooting guard.
With Crittenton and Young -- two of the top players in the Class of 2006 -- the Yellow Jackets have confirmed themselves as a major player in national recruiting battles. Until this class, the Jackets had been in the running with top-flight prospects but unable to land a high percentage of them.
Yes, the Jackets did well with prep All-Americans such as Chris Bosh and talented point guard Jarrett Jack, but they've more frequently found success by identifying and signing talented but less heralded prospects (B.J. Elder, Luke Schenscher, etc.) and turning them into ACC-caliber players. Now, perhaps, Tech is taking the next step in securing the best high school talent.
As long as Hewitt remains on board, it's not hard to envision a sustained run of success. Perhaps Tech even will challenge Duke and North Carolina for ACC supremacy and NCAA titles. Those dreams, of course, will have to wait until next year.
Tech should lose just one player, backup center Theodis Tarver, from its roster after the 2005-06 season. The additions of Young and Crittenton to a strong returning nucleus could be enough to lift Tech to a top-10 preseason ranking.