Dec. 9, 2001
ATLANTA – In the wake of head coach George O’Leary accepting the head coaching position at Notre Dame Sunday, Georgia Tech director of athletics Dave Braine has named assistant head coach Mac McWhorter as the Yellow Jackets’ interim head coach as Tech begins preparations for its Dec. 27 Seattle Bowl game against Stanford.
Tech, with a 7-5 regular season record, is in a bowl game for the fifth consecutive year, facing a Stanford team that finished 9-2 in second place in the Pac-10 Conference and was ranked ninth in the final Bowl Championship Series standings.
The Yellow Jackets begin practice for the Seattle Bowl Saturday following fall semester final exams, and will practice twice a day through Wednesday, Dec. 19. The team leaves for Seattle on Dec. 20.
McWhorter, 51, who is completing his second season as offensive line coach under O’Leary, will retain those duties for the bowl game while serving as head coach. All of Tech’s other assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Ted Roof, will remain on staff to coach the Jackets in the Seattle Bowl.
McWhorter, who also has held the title of assistant head coach under O’Leary, is a veteran of 22 years on the collegiate level, 28 overall, and is in his second tour of duty with Georgia Tech, having served as offensive line coach from 1980-86 under Bill Curry. Since then, he has been an assistant coach at Alabama, Duke, Georgia, Clemson and Memphis and also was the head coach for one season (1989) at West Georgia College in Carrollton.
O’Leary, the ACC Coach of the Year in 1998 and 2000 and the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year in 2000, leaves Tech with a 52-33 overall record and a 36-22 mark in conference play in his seven seasons. That’s more wins over the first seven seasons for any coach in Tech history save Bobby Dodd, who won 53 games in his first seven years on the Flats.
“Coach O’Leary will be very difficult to replace,” said Braine Sunday, adding that a search committee will be formed by Institute president Dr. G. Wayne Clough to consider candidates for the head coaching position. “It’s not an easy job, it’s not an easy position to fill. There are very few people who are available who I think can handle the situation. I’ve said all along that the football coaching job and the basketball coaching job at Georgia Tech are as tough as any place in the country, with the exception of the service academies. George fit into the system, and that’s why I say it will be so tough to replace him. There is no timetable. We would like to hire a head coach, but that’s not an absolute. And as was the case when we hired Paul Hewitt, the next time I will be talking to the media will be when we announce the new coach.
“I don’t think this was a very easy decision for George,” Braine went on to say. “I know he fretted over this, and to be quite honest, I did not think he would take the job. When I talked to him on Friday, I felt like he would stay. Obviously, yesterday he changed his mind, and now we are in a position where we have to hire a new football coach. I met with the assistant coaches and the players today and laid the plans for the bowl game. We have moved Mac McWhorter up to be the interim head coach. He will still handle his duties as the offensive line coach, but he will be the head coach for this game. Everything else will remain in place. The most important now is that our kids get through exams and then get ready to beat Stanford.”
On Tech’s coaching search, Braine said only: “We have a list. I think any AD in the country has that list. I did not think I would need it here after last year, but that shows you how times can change. We have a list. We have made contacts and are moving forward.
“Recruiting has gone very well. We did have a big recruiting weekend set up for this coming weekend which we have cancelled, but we can make that up in January.
“Contracts for the football and men’s and women’s basketball coaches at Georgia Tech are approved by the Athletic Board, and the Athletic Board will be responsible for any change in the buyout (of O’Leary’s contract). I have talked with George, and part of his agreement with Notre Dame is that the would pay the buyout if we demanded that.
“It was tough for George. It was very difficult for him to tell the team. It was not vintage George O’Leary. You all probably would have appreciated seeing George because it hurt him deeply to have to tell the kids he was leaving, and he almost couldn’t do it.”
McWhorter, looking forward to the challenge of leading the Yellow Jackets for the bowl game, said:
“On behalf of the staff, we would all like to wish Coach O’Leary a successful tenure at Notre Dame, and we are really appreciative of all he’s done for Georgia Tech. He really got us back where Georgia Tech should be. Personally, I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to come back under Coach O’Leary. We wish him the best. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get ready to play a really good Stanford team. Coach (Tyrone) Willingham and his staff have done a great job building that program up, and they had a superb year this year at 9-2. It’s agreat opportunity for us to have a chance to go play them, and also a great challenge.
“After 28 years in this business, nothing surprises me. When opportunities arise, you have to take advantage of them. This Notre Dame position is the only one that Coach O’Leary would leave Georgia Tech for. I know he expressed that to me when he hired me two years ago.
“The players were obviously concerned, because anytime there’s a transition, there’s concern. But they were all appreciative of what Coach O’Leary has done for them and for the program and wish him well. All the players that I talked to are anxious to get on with the bowl practice, and they know that Coach Braine will provide a good staff for them in the future. The thing I like about our kids here at Georgia Tech is that they have great character. They are very resilient, and I don’t have any doubt in my mind that they will work hard and put forth a great effort in the bowl game.”