Before he officially took office Monday, Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury spent his Saturday in Athens, watching the Yellow Jackets defeat Georgia 28-27. To Stansbury, it was a solid data point in his evaluation of the team and coach that he inherits.
“Anytime you can go between the hedges — I don’t care who you are – and win a game down there, that tells you a lot about where you’re at,” he said.
Stansbury’s assessment of Tech and coach Paul Johnson, however, had been ongoing during his years at Oregon State and Central Florida.
“I can say also say this, being not a part of Georgia Tech for the last nine years, there’s nobody out there that wants to play us,” he said, “which I think also tells you a lot about the program, the state of the program and the fear that opposing coaches have of our head coach.”
Johnson’s security as Tech’s coach was not thought to be in any jeopardy, but as far as endorsements go, he received a strong one from his new boss Wednesday in a news conference. Stansbury also praised men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner and gave an indication of some of the objectives he’ll aim for during his tenure, which, by the way, the 55-year-old Tech graduate (Class of 1984) expects to be for a long time.
Stansbury said he met with Johnson for about an hour Tuesday. The objective of the meeting, he said, was to offer his help. To Stansbury, that includes improving facilities, helping increase attendance and centering Tech’s recruiting message on the value of a degree from the institute.
He acknowledged that Tech won’t have the budget of Alabama or Oregon, Stansbury’s rival while at Oregon State. But he made the point that, even with its deep resources, Oregon just fired coach Mark Helfrich, demonstrating that facilities isn’t the only answer. Oregon State completed a locker room and football building project that cost $42 million and is different in scale and grandeur from some of its competitors.
“But it was what we needed to compete at the highest level, to be recognized as a program of commitment,” he said.
Stansbury mentioned Tech’s Edge Center, the athletic department headquarters that was opened in 1982 and looks largely the same as it did then. He said he wasn’t sure what the next steps are — predecessor Mike Bobinski had begun developing a plan to overhaul the building — “but that’s something I’ll be working on right out of the gate, knowing that, when you walk in the lobby, for a lot of people, that’s going to be their first introduction to Georgia Tech athletics.”
Facilities improvements have been a sore point with Johnson, who said in October that “commitment has to meet expectations.”
He said that attendance and other revenue streams such as annual giving will be on his radar. His goal is to offer a different and better experience than what fans have at a sports bar or at home, particularly students. At Oregon State, Stansbury oversaw the addition of a 13,000 square-foot space overlooking Reser Stadium that featured products from Oregon breweries, wineries and restaurants. He helped with the building of a beach club-themed section at UCF’s stadium.
“(Student attendance) is an area that sometimes gets overlooked, but it’s an area that I’ve always been pretty passionate about,” he said.
Another way that he can support football and all of Tech’s varsity teams is helping with the department’s branding, particularly in recruiting. He said that the long-term success that many Tech graduates enjoy is the department’s differentiator in recruiting.
“So while I’m going to be patient, I think, in a lot of areas that I don’t know about, using the value proposition (of the degree) both to recruits and their parents, and how I think we can differentiate ourselves from other programs, that is it,” he said.
Stansbury said of Pastner that “I love the guy.” The two were acquainted when Pastner was coaching at Memphis and Stansbury was at UCF, both in the American Athletic Conference. He called him a recruiting fanatic and that his energy reminded him of “a young Bobby Cremins that I remember back in 1981 running as fast as he could trying to figure this thing out and put the pieces together. I’m really excited about working with Josh, and I think he’s definitely the right guy for the job.”
Stansbury grew up in Ontario, but referred to Tech as “home,” though he hadn’t worked there since 1995 until his hire in September, and spoke of his excitement about being back. Typically, he said, coaches and athletic directors look at their job in three- to five-year increments and make decisions knowing that the outcomes may be dealt with their successor. This job is different, he said, “because I will hopefully be the person to inherit those decisions down the road because that’s ultimately my goal, is to finish my career here on the Flats.”