Todd Stansbury looked about his new office, a spacious room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Bobby Dodd Way. The walls were largely bare, and a happy epiphany struck Georgia Tech’s ninth athletic director.
“I’ll be able to pull all that Georgia Tech stuff out,” he said.
Yellow Jackets memorabilia that has been held hostage in boxes and made moves to Houston, Johnson City, Tenn., Corvallis, Ore., Orlando, Fla., and back again to Corvallis will finally be liberated.
“I’ve got all kinds of plaques and stuff that I’m sure my wife has been wondering, why are we even moving this stuff again?” said Stansbury, who plans to start work in late November or early December.
Named to the post Thursday, Stansbury succeeds Mike Bobinski after his August departure for Purdue. He is the first in the position since coaching great William Alexander to hold a Tech degree, earned in 1984 in industrial management. The morning reflected this connection. In his opening remarks, about nine minutes long, he used the word “dream” or “dreams” seven times and the word “home” three times.
That doesn’t include two mentions of “Homer,” as in Rice, Tech’s beloved former AD who gave Stansbury his first job in college athletics administration in 1988 as an academic advisor to the football team.
“And so I am incredibly thankful to be back,” he said. “This is home.”
Stansbury, 55, traces a most remarkable journey to this point. At age 10, his family was on vacation in Daytona Beach, Fla., from their home near Toronto. The family happened to share the hotel with spring-breaking members of the Tech football team, including a goofy quarterback named Scott Zolke, who, among other things, wrapped himself in a towel like a diaper and rode a tricycle off the diving board.
“And Todd was just a young kid, sat in a corner and just took everything in,” said Stansbury’s mother, Marlene Yustin.
Zolke struck up a friendship with Stansbury’s family and invited them to stop at Tech’s spring practice on their way back. They did and met the team and coach Pepper Rodgers. Young Todd was smitten. The 10-year-old hockey goalie from Ontario was going to play football for the Yellow Jackets. His mother and stepfather’s friends tried to discourage them from allowing Stansbury to chase his dream – “because we’re Canadian; Canadians don’t go to the States,” his mother said – but they didn’t listen. Eventually, he was a Tech linebacker playing for coach Bill Curry.
In 1988, four years after he graduated, Zolke was working for the Tech athletic department as an academic adviser and still friends with Stansbury. He was transitioning to pursue his law career, and recommended Stansbury to Rice. Stansbury worked for Rice through 1995 and became, in his words, an evangelist for Rice’s Total Person Program and his family-atmosphere style of management.
“There is a Tech way, and it’s the right way, and for the last 20 years that I’ve been away from the Flats, I’ve done everything I could to bring the Tech way to every place I’ve been,” he said.
He served 2003-12 as executive associate AD at Oregon State, then led the Central Florida athletic department 2012-15, then returned to Oregon State last August. At both schools, he assembled a record of effective fund-raising, competitive success, academic performance and creative fan engagement.
“He has all the credentials to be one of the best administrators in the entire country,” Rice said.
All the while, he kept an eye on Atlanta. He was in the mix for the job in 2012 when Bobinski was hired. In the early hours Aug. 9, his phone started buzzing after Bobinski resigned his position at Tech. Stansbury, however, had been at Oregon State one year, not long enough for him to feel comfortable to pursue his dream.
“I’m just like, You’ve got to be kidding me,” Stansbury said. “He couldn’t hang on another couple of years?”
He woke up his wife Karen and shared the news. Karen’s reaction, Stansbury joked Thursday, couldn’t be printed in a newspaper. But the search committee turned its focus to Stansbury, who met the criteria – among other things, AD experience, an understanding of Tech and knowledge of football, the last of which detractors felt was a weakness of Bobinski’s.
Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson met with Stansbury Sunday at a meeting of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. A three-hour meeting ultimately led to a job offer later in the week.
Said Peterson, “I didn’t have to twist his arm.”
Wednesday, Stansbury found himself meeting with Oregon State president Edward Ray. At the time of his hire, Stansbury had told him about his dream job. Barely a year into his tenure, he was now saying goodbye. Ray was gracious and understanding, Stansbury said, telling him that life was too short to pass on the opportunity.
A job that with increasing volume had been calling Stansbury to itself since a chance meeting at a Florida hotel pool 45 years ago was now his.
“This is where I found out who I was, and it provided me a launch pad that has so far been a pretty good adventure,” Stansbury said. “And to be back here and be able to finish my career where it started is just an incredible gift.”