Joe Speed graduated from Navy and trained Marines, an unlikely preparation for coaching Georgia Tech’s inside linebackers.
Speed, 39, is entering his third season at Tech. For more on Speed’s military background and his coaching ambitions, read further.
1. Speed’s father died when he was four, leaving his mother Courtney to raise Speed and his five older brothers by herself. She also owned a beauty salon/barbershop and a small grocery store in the Turner Station neighborhood in Baltimore that she still operates.
From his mother and older brothers, Speed said he learned values like hard work, responsibility and lifting up others.
“Everybody toed the line and did the right thing,” he said.
Speed’s mother was featured in the 2010 book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the account of a Baltimore woman from Speed’s Turner Station neighborhood who unknowingly donated immortal human cells that led to the development of the Polio vaccine and many other scientific advancements. Courtney Speed has sought to bring awareness to Lacks’ contribution, leading an effort for a museum in her honor.
2. Having the last name Speed, he heard plenty from the stands. The family had it, though. He and his older brothers all ran track.
“That was one of the family things, that we all made sure that we could hold our own to keep up the family name,” he said.
Speed does what he can to maintain it. While most coaches and staff walk the roughly half-mile from the Rose Bowl practice fields back to the football offices, Speed runs back daily.
3. Speed first turned down an offer to play at Navy, wary about the post-graduate five-year commitment. Eventually, he came around in order to relieve his mother the burden of paying for his college. Speed played for Navy 1992-95 and was a four-year starter at safety. He played for two head coaches and four defensive coordinators. His position coach in his senior year was Gary Patterson, now the TCU head coach.
“Very tough, very fair,” Speed said of Patterson. “Hard on the players. He knew his stuff. Great work ethic and he’s a good man.”
The same year was coach Paul Johnson’s first at Navy as offensive coordinator. They didn’t interact much, but, Speed said, “What I did know is that when he came, defensively we didn’t have to play as long because he took care of things on the offensive side of the ball.”
4. Following graduation, Speed chose to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and trained at Quantico, Va. As part of his duties, Speed also went to combat training stations in Twentynine Palms, California, and in the Sierra Nevada mountains, also in California.
“That was some pretty good training, some of the different things you do, whether you’re humping with your pack on in 120-degree weather, or you learn how to fight on snow skis,” Speed said.
Speed took his platoon to Kenya shortly after the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, where Marines provided security for a temporary embassy and embassy employees.
“It was just making sure that everything was in order from all facets,” he said. “If there’s a terrorist threat, we made sure we took care of things. If there were things out of order, we took care of it.”
Asked if there was a terrorist threat, Speed declined to answer.
5. Near the end of his five-year commitment, Speed returned to Annapolis in 2000 to serve as the executive administrator and military liaison officer for the football team, primarily overseeing academics and logistics for team travel. He also coached linebackers, staying at the academy until 2003. From there, he went to the Naval Academy Prep School in Rhode Island, where he was athletic director and also head coach.
His time there helped him decide he wanted to pursue coaching rather than administration. He returned to Navy, coaching defensive backs and the junior varsity team from 2006 to 2009. He came to Tech for the 2010 season.
He ultimately wants to be a head coach.
“I just want to continue to do my job every day, go out and recruit my butt off and do a good job here and do whatever I need to do,” Speed said. “It’d be nice to help Coach Johnson win a national championship here. That’s my goal.”
6. Having grown up in Baltimore, Speed knows about steamed crabs. He can’t recommend any Atlanta restaurants that can satisfy his palate. He and wife Ingrid prepare their own, buying at the Cobb International Farmers Market in Smyrna.
Speed pours water, vinegar “and maybe a beer or so” into a pot, puts down a layer of crabs, covers it with Old Bay seasoning, then adds three more layers of crabs with seasoning. About 25 minutes to steam, “and they’re ready to go. Real easy deal.”
Speed’s dining recommendations in Annapolis: Mike’s Crab House and Cantler’s. In Baltimore, he suggests Phillips Seafood, Salty Dog’s Crab House, Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, Costas Inn. Good information for those making the trip for the Tech game at Maryland.
7. As part of the Navy coaching staff, Speed made four or five visits to the White House with the team for winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, given to the winner of the Air Force-Navy-Army series. Speed met President Bush and President Obama.
“I didn’t know if, some of the guys on the team when I was coaching up there, if it got old hat to them, but I don’t know if sometimes those guys realize what a special situation and how much hard work and what roads were paved for that program to be where it needed to get to,” Speed said. “It never gets old hat for me.”
Starting in 2003, Johnson’s second year at Navy, the Midshipmen won seven consecutive Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies, going 14-0 against Army and Air Force through 2009.
8. Speed’s recruiting territories include DeKalb County, Orlando and New Jersey and points north. Speed makes five or six trips up to New Jersey annually, focusing on what he calls “high-value targets,” powerhouse schools such as Don Bosco Prep, Bergen Catholic and St. John Vianney (the alma mater of sophomore long snapper Sean Tobin).
Tech has received a commitment from New Jersey quarterback Damon Mitchell for the 2013 signing class. Speed recruited New Jersey for Navy and has maintained contacts with several coaches in the state.
“They’ll give me some leads and I’ll call and find out about guys, and, if it’s credible, I’ll go up and see what we can do,” he said.
9. Speed coached Julian Burnett for two seasons before his neck injury in the Sun Bowl brought an end to his playing career.
“He’s a good one,” Speed said. “He’s a warrior. I can’t say enough good things about that young man.”
Speaking last month, Speed said that Burnett is doing O.K. and is in a “decent state of mind.” He is trying to focus on his transition out of football and preparing for life after the game. Speed said Burnett is on track to graduate in the spring or summer and that he has a couple ideas for work but hasn’t decided on anything.
He interned over the summer at Barton Executive Search firm with Omoregie Uzzi and Jeremiah Attaochu.
Speed has a relatively inexperienced group – Quayshawn Nealy and Daniel Drummond have a combined 13 starts and backups Jabari Hunt-Days (who will start in place of Drummond against Virginia Tech) and Anthony Harrell are redshirt freshmen.
“I just want to see them invest in their careers as they have been, invest in their careers by continuing to study the playbook and pick up the knowledge that’s passed on to them not only on the field but watching film,” Speed said. “They already made a great investment over the summer with the strength coaches. The more you invest, the tougher it is to give up on yourself, so they’ve already displayed the right mindset in preparing themselves for the season.”
10. For relaxation, Speed named a couple of pursuits – riding on the Silver Comet bike trail with Ingrid and going with her to shooting range near their home in Cobb County. Speed likes shooting the military standard-issue Beretta M9 pistol and a replica of the M16 rifle.
“You don’t want to mess with my wife,” Speed said. “She’s a pretty good shot with the pistol.”
Other “10 things”
Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog