To understand the dysfunction that existed in the Georgia Tech athletic department, thanks largely to the departing Mike Bobinski, consider the clown show that has surrounded planning for the football team’s season opener in Ireland.
Bobinski’s soldiers in the Tech administration originally cut a deal that the Jackets would travel to Dublin, not by a major airline like Delta or (title sponsor) Aer Lingus, but Omni Air, a low-budget carrier that made its mark in transporting cargo and more recently focused on military charter flights to garden spots like Afghanistan.
The plane that Omni was going to provide for an eight-hour flight from Atlanta to Dublin for Tech’s players, coaches, marching band members and cheerleaders did not have WiFi, in-flight entertainment or anything in the way of amenities. The plane also included several rows of seats where the armrests didn’t go up, which can be a major problem for 300-plus pound linemen, and at the time of a recent visit reportedly smelled like a garbage dumpster.
“A tin can,” is how one Tech source described it.
The travel arrangements incensed coach Paul Johnson, as if the man needs a good reason to get upset. He had been frustrated in the past about other nickel-and-dime actions of the administration and he understandably wanted the Ireland experience to be special for his players. He had been venting his feelings to administrators since January. It all came to a head with a blowup last week that finally resulted in Bobinski and others stepping in to rectify the situation. The Jackets will now fly on a real plane.
Bobinski is gone now. Mercifully.
I write “mercifully” not because he was a bad person, or to suggest he and I even clashed (maybe a “spirited” interview or two). But it’s unfortunate what happened at Tech under his watch.
Things weren’t necessarily perfect under former athletic director Dan Radakovich. But he accomplished things during his seven-year tenure, from fund-raising to pushing to get facilities built (basketball arena and practice facility, football practice facility, softball field, tennis facility). He generally had the backs of his coaches — though Chan Gailey and Paul Hewitt might disagree — and was liked in the building.
There was a sense of community under Radakovich.
There was a sense of absence under Bobinski.
He was more hands off. Detached. Seemingly invisible.
“People in the department referred to him as ‘Sasquatch’ because we never saw him,” said a Tech insider.
Bobinski accepted the athletic director’s job at Purdue. The only smiles bigger than those at Purdue are those at Tech.
Morale in the Edge Athletics Center reportedly is at an all-time low. Tech president Bud Peterson and whatever search committee he hires had better realize that because they screwed up the last time they hired an AD.
Tech’s athletic department has been like a rudderless ship, with a revolving door of employees, many leaving voluntarily. Multiple senior staff positions, like those in facilities and operations and the sports information department, have turned over more than once under Bobinski.
Good employees left or were fired. Poor replacements were hired and fired or, worse, held positions and made decisions like those involving the Ireland trip.
From one athletic department donor: “The culture has changed. It became more of a me-first place as opposed to the student-athletes coming first, or as opposed to, ‘We’re all in this together.’ If a guy like Bill Curry had been hired, when you think about his personality and his leadership style, that’s what’s missing right now. An inspirational leader.”
It’s no secret there was a chasm between Bobinski and Johnson, who was hired by Radakovich. Bobinski clearly had designs on firing Johnson in 2014 until consecutive upsets over Clemson and Georgia. Only then, awkwardly, was Johnson offered a contract extension.
Johnson’s ire was peaked recently with the proposed Ireland flight and other budgetary issues at Tech. It didn’t take much for him to vent Monday when a reporter mentioned Clemson’s new football practice facility. He said Tech is “way behind” in the athletics arms race, saying, “If you look at the other schools, we’re probably behind in most every aspect, from facilities to staff to salaries to whatever.”
During a Saturday news conference, I asked Bobinski what he could do as an administrator to help the football program.
His answer: “There aren’t that many substantive, cause-and-effect type things you can do other than continue to be supportive of the guys.”
Either these two never spoke or somebody’s not telling truth.
Bobinski may have done a fine job at Akron and Xavier but he seemed overmatched at a school with football in a major conference. The hiring of Josh Pastner as basketball coach may prove to be a great move but his fumbling of Brian Gregory’s firing left something to be desired and damaged recruiting.
Tech administrators need to get it right this time, because they got it wrong last time.