April 26, 2004 ATLANTA School officials are not so quietly urging ISP Sports, which produces and sells Georgia Tech radio coverage, to find a better carrier in the Atlanta market. This is not a new problem, but Tech's recent run to the Final Four in men's basketball highlighted it and gave the Yellow Jackets a bit more leverage in the process. Tech is carried on 790-AM The Zone in Atlanta, but the station's signal is extremely weak outside of the city. Many Tech fans live in the northern suburbs of the city and struggle to keep a signal at night. Tech wants ISP to find an FM carrier that can take the signal to more of its fan base. Georgia, the Yellow Jackets' hated in-state rival, has no problem airing its games throughout the state and even into parts of Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina. The Jackets' radio deal has been at the center of attention for a while now. The school is unhappy about its range of air. Some alumni also are unhappy about the large sum being paid to Tech athletic director Dave Braine and his ties to the company. Braine's son Steven is the vice president and general manager for ISP at Cincinnati, one of 18 schools the company has in the fold. ISP's holdings are all in the East, from Syracuse up north to Central Florida on the southern end. Marshall and Virginia Tech, Braine's previous two stops as AD, also are ISP clients. Braine reportedly gets several hundred thousand dollars annually from the deal, more than Tech football coach Chan Gailey and nearly double what basketball coach Paul Hewitt gets from the deal. Braine's compensation from ISP reportedly will approach $500,000 by the end of the contract. Braine hosts a pre-game show with the "Voice of the Yellow Jackets," Wes Durham, before Tech football games. Gailey and Hewitt both co-host call-in shows with Durham during their respective seasons. Durham, named the 2003 sportscaster of the year in Georgia, long has pushed for ISP to land an FM station capable of carrying the signal further. That exact situation has worked extremely well for North Carolina, where the leading voice is Woody Durham, Wes' father. It just might happen for Tech, buoyed by its success in the basketball tournament and the increased attractiveness of the ACC football schedule. Atlanta sports properties are flip-flopping back and forth, with football's Falcons, baseball's Braves and hockey's Thrashers already making moves within the last year. Gailey's Philosophies Paying Off? Give Gailey credit for sticking with his plan. The third-year Georgia Tech head coach, despite troubled times early in his tenure, has stuck with his blueprint of recruiting strong academic types and speed at all positions. At least in the short run, the Yellow Jackets appear better off because of it. Tech's well-documented academic troubles last spring only reinforced Gailey's desire to eliminate as much of that problem as possible before signing day. He and his staff have been meticulous in finding players with high SAT scores and a demonstrated ability to handle the coursework. Over the last two years, according to information compiled by the ACC Sports Journal, the academic profile of Tech signees was second only to Duke among conference members. That's not to say that current or future student-athletes will not fail out of school or be deemed ineligible, especially under the NCAA's recently adopted (and tougher) satisfactory-progress standards, but it does mean that Gailey has done his part to limit those cases. As Gailey often says, "There will be two or three each semester that you have to worry about." Former Tech defensive end Tony Hargrove, one of the 10 players who failed out last year, blasted former academic advisor Carole Moore in several interviews before the NFL draft. He alleged that he was told to take courseloads he could not handle and was not given the assistance he needed to succeed in the classroom. The removal of Moore from her post and the subsequent hiring of Col. James Stevens, a former Tech player, seem to have quieted the concerns about the academic side. Interestingly, the Jackets have begun to play up the academic aspect of their recruiting rather than denying it. Pushing Tech's sterling academic reputation has become one of the staff's highest priorities. Coaches even have withheld offers to some qualified high school prospects, insisting that they show more effort in the classroom first. Gailey also brought his other plan with him from the NFL, one that focuses on speed at nearly every position, even with the sacrifice of some size. "We'll always build our team," Gailey said, "through speed and quickness."
That's evident in the coach's personnel moves. The Yellow Jackets played last season with a smallish defensive line, in part because of academic troubles, but also to take advantage of the quickness edges the smaller players gave them. Tech was at it again this spring. The Jackets moved safety Chris Reis to linebacker. He's a bit undersized for the position, but his speed, intangibles, coverage skills and hitting ability should be big assets. Even with star running back P.J. Daniels in the backfield, Gailey found plenty of carries for Chris Woods and Rashaun Grant, both of whom bring a speed dimension that Daniels doesn't. Daniels will be the starter and probably will get the majority of the carries, but don't be surprised to see Woods work his way into some gameplans as well. Hewitt Seeking Recruiting Surge Hewitt didn't wait very long to get back on the recruiting trail. Even as he waited for the expected May 6 announcement of senior center Randolph Morris, Hewitt was chasing numerous targets in the Class of 2005. Morris, who is still considering the NBA, Tech and Kentucky, appears intent on going to school, but he has changed his mind several times during the process. Most believe he'll end up with the Yellow Jackets, who already have his brother as a team manager. If Morris doesn't choose the Jackets, Tech will have an available scholarship for next year, thanks to the expected departure (first reported here months ago) of Swedish guard Jim Nystrom. None of the current Yellow Jackets is expected to test the NBA draft. The loss of Nystrom, a seldom-used shooting guard, freed up a scholarship for Morris or another big man, though Hewitt insists he will not use the scholarship just to use it. Morris has been the prize since the beginning, and Hewitt has invested serious time into wooing the seven-footer from nearby Landmark Christian. There is no certainty that Morris would start next season for the Yellow Jackets, given the emergence of center Luke Schenscher during the NCAA Tournament, but Tech obviously would love to have him. The NCAA is in the process of repealing its five/eight scholarship rule, of which Hewitt has been a vocal critic, but Tech may hold its last scholarship anyway. With five scholarship seniors-to-be and rising junior point guard Jarrett Jack a possible early NBA entrant in 2005, Tech certainly is hopeful that the rule will go away. Meanwhile, Hewitt and his staff with Peter Zaharis replacing Dean Keener, who left to take the James Madison job have been meeting with top juniors. Assistants Cliff Warren and Willie Reese, along with Hewitt, have been traveling the country to see and meet some of the top members of the Class of 2005. They would love to strike while the iron is hot and take advantage of their appearance in the national championship game. Tech is making plenty of inroads with rising seniors, already meeting with point guard Bobby Frasor, shooting guards David Huertas and Austin Jackson, small forwards Cassan Breeden and Jamal Boykin and power forwards Joey Cameron and Rashad Chase, among others.