Andy McCollum knows Georgia: Born at Kennestone Hospital long before it became Wellstar Kennestone; grew up off the Marietta square; played at Marietta High in Northcutt Stadium under the famed Ray Broadaway.
“I was a quarterback,” McCollum said, laughing. “Eric Zeier broke every record I had in about five games.”
Mentioning his roots isn’t just a way for McCollum to make conversation. Those roots are essential to his new job. McCollum is Georgia Tech’s recruiting coordinator, hired from North Carolina State to replace Giff Smith, whom Chan Gailey — hey, didn’t he used to coach at Tech? — hired to coach linebackers for the Buffalo Bills.
The consensus throughout college football is that Smith will be missed. He knew Georgia, too, hailing from Cobb County — he played at Pebblebrook — and working at Georgia Southern before arriving at Tech. Smith was the driving force behind the signing class of 2007, which was ranked No. 18 at the time by Rivals.com but has just been re-rated as the third-best of that year by Andy Staples of SI.com.
That class — featuring Derrick Morgan, Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and Morgan Burnett — boasted no 5-star recruits but took the Jackets to an ACC title and the Orange Bowl. Within Tech circles, the belief was that Smith was about to reap a similar crop come February 2011. But now he’s in the NFL, and McCollum is on the case.
“Giff is a close friend of mine,” McCollum said. “He did a tremendous job.”
Can the new man pick up where Smith left off? “I think so.”
Here’s why: “When I was coaching at Middle Tennessee [he was the Blue Raiders' head coach from 1999 to 2005], half to three-quarters of my team was from the state of Georgia. When I went to N.C. State, there wasn’t a Georgia player on the roster. When I left there were 18. I know how football is in Georgia. I know how it’s coached and how it’s played.”
And McCollum has some notion of where Tech fits. The Jackets are rarely going to out-recruit the Georgia Bulldogs in terms of quantity — there’s that pesky calculus requirement — but Smith just proved that a recruiter who chooses wisely can get results.
“Recruiting comes down to relationships,” McCollum said. “When you walk into a school with ‘GT’ on your shirt, that speaks highly. There’s no doubt Paul Johnson is a winner. He’s won everywhere he’s been — we were coaching against each other when he was an assistant at Georgia Southern and I was at Middle Tennessee back in the ’80s.”
That said, Johnson’s spread offense has its idiosyncrasies – not many forward passes, which wouldn’t seem much of a lure for a highly rated receiver or a dropback passer. Do such stylistic differences tie a recruiter’s hands?
McCollum: “The team is coming off an ACC title and is going to have a receiver [Demaryius Thomas] who’ll be a high draft pick. That’s a pretty good ’sell’ right there … I know what Georgia Tech stands for. It’s for someone who wants a serious education, a great education, and there are lots of guys in the state who want that.”
Does he plan to change anything Smith was doing? “Giff did a tremendous job. But recruiting ain’t a one-man thing — it’s about a staff. It’s all of us. There are great recruiters on this staff. I know; I’ve recruited against them. It’s all of us together.”
Until he finds a place to live — he’s hoping to settle in Acworth, where his dad lives — McCollum figures he retains enough local knowledge to find his way around. And what will he do for food? Well, he was looking forward to eating at the Varsity and planning to make the pilgrimage to that Cobb County landmark.
“The Big Chicken,” he said. “They’ve fixed it up from when I was living there, but it’s still the Big Chicken.”