In the grand scheme, this might turn out to be good for Georgia Tech. Who among us can know the future? But in the here and now of a football season gone unbelievably sour, seeing Tech’s athletic director hop in a car and motor 125 miles up I-85 to take the same job at a conference rival looks really, really bad. It looks as if Dan Radakovich is ducking out on a program in disarray.
For better or worse, most athletic programs go as football goes. The best move Radakovich made at Tech, or so it seemed, was to hire Paul Johnson to coach football. Now we’ve been given cause to wonder if Johnson’s success was but a two-year blip. Picked to finish second in the ACC Coastal Division, the Jackets dumped their defensive coordinator in mid-season and just lost to BYU – that’s three home losses this year, two against non-BCS conference schools – to fall to 3-5. And now the man who hired Johnson works at Clemson, of all places.
Those who know Radakovich always believed that when he left – and those folks were never under any illusion that Tech would be the final stop for someone so ambitious – it would be for a big-time SEC school. Given that Clemson has more fans and a much bigger stadium than Tech, this isn’t what you’d consider a lateral move. Still, it’s close enough to make Tech folks wonder where their beloved Institute ranks in the firmament of college athletics.
Only three years ago, Tech beat Clemson to win the ACC championship. That sweet victory was later vacated due largely to Radakovich’s bungling of an NCAA investigation involving $312 of clothing. The subsequent four-year probationary term was the first indication that this AD, who had been seen in this and other sectors as a deft administrator, might not have been quite so savvy.
And now, even as he heads up the road to Death Valley, we have further cause to wonder. Tech is set to open its refurbished basketball arena, the McCamish Pavilion, and that renovation was championed by Radakovich. But there’s no guarantee Brian Gregory, the coach Radakovich hired after finding the money to buy out Paul Hewitt, will win big enough to fill the new place. (Season-ticket sales for Season 1 in McCamish have been slow, as you’d expect coming off an 11-20 season.)
Facility-wise, Radakovich did well for Tech: He got a lot of stuff built. He also moved to fire Hewitt and Chan Gailey, coaches who’d won but who’d left their constituency wanting and expecting more. But the longer it takes Gregory to win and the longer it takes Johnson to correct all that has gone wrong in his program, the more it will reflect on the AD who just split for Death Valley.
A friend of Radakovich’s suggests his leaving is “a natural progression” – that Radakovich felt he’d done as much as he could do at Tech. But with football in decline and men’s basketball in rebuilding mode, the eyeball diagnosis is of an athletic program on wobbly legs. There’s no buzz, pun intended, around Tech sports, no sense that this always-difficult sell in a crowded metropolitan market is carving out a deeper niche. On the contrary, the Tech footprint keeps shrinking.
Which brings us to this: The next AD needs to be more a promoter than a money man. (Radakovich was the latter, not the former.) The next AD must find a way, assuming one exists, to make Tech more appealing to both moneyed alums and Atlantans who might never have taken a class at the Institute.
This is an awfully big city. Surely some folks out there might be willing to spend a bit of disposable income on a college football or basketball game if they felt it was worth their investment. Gregory has become an ardent and upbeat salesman for his program, but Johnson isn’t what you’d call a PR ace. (Neither were Gailey and Hewitt.) Somebody needs to take this athletic department and broaden the narrowing brand.
Which brings us to Wayne Hogan: He was Radakovich’s deputy, his eyes and ears, and he’s surely worth consideration as Radakovich’s successor. Hogan was the PR man at Florida State when the Seminoles and Bobby Bowden rose to national prominence in a famously amiable way, and he was the AD at Montana for nearly a decade. Hogan isn’t a numbers-cruncher, but surely the Institute – which is, after all, a school steeped in math — could find enough of those. What Tech needs more in its next athletic director is someone with a feel for the product and how best to market it.
Which brings us back to football: Johnson’s stylized offense wasn’t an easy sell even when his teams were winning, and it will become a massive impediment if Tech continues to lose. The Jackets’ recruiting under Johnson has been tepid at best, but it isn’t in Johnson’s nature to do things any way but his. The biggest move Radakovich made was hiring this football coach. The biggest decision the next AD could face is what to do about this football coach.
By Mark Bradley