Sept. 26, 2016
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
As Todd Stansbury was seeing the flurry of activity on his cell phone, he knew something was up. It being the wee hours of the morning, he was more than a little wary. After all, no good news usually arrives via phone call at that time.
“Around 3:30, 4:00 in the morning, my phone just started blowing up and I thought somebody had either died or was in trouble,” Stansbury recalled of that Tuesday, Aug. 16 morning.
He was pleased to find out it wasn’t as dire as originally thought but was left with mixed emotions when he found out what it was.
“It was that the Georgia Tech job was open,” he said. “So knowing that this has always been the goal, to eventually come back to The Flats, I was hoping that this could potentially be a possibility. It was tempered because I was in a great spot, I had a great staff and we were doing some really, really innovative things. I thought that this opportunity might present itself and was hoping that it might but never knew for sure.”
Stansbury was able to temper those emotions early last week, when he got a call from Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson — the good kind and not at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning.
The nine-member search committee, led by Georgia Tech Foundation President Al Trujillo and assisted by Turnkey Search, recommended the Tech alum, a former football player and assistant athletic director of academics, to be the school’s ninth athletics director. He replaces Mike Bobinski, whose Aug. 16th departure led to the early-morning barrage of texts and voicemails.
“The search committee, early on, quickly identified the key characteristics that they thought we should look for in an athletic director. This included someone who had a true passion for Georgia Tech,” said Peterson. “Todd Stansbury not only has that passion for his alma mater, but I believe will inspire that passion in our student-athletes, our coaches, our alumni and all of the folks here in Georgia.
“His global perspective, his leadership experience in athletics and development combined with his lifelong passion for Georgia Tech made him the ideal candidate,” Peterson added. “I believe that this is one of those rare golden moments in life where opportunity meets ambition and we welcome Todd Stansbury home.”
Stansbury’s journey to, through, away from and back to Georgia Tech is one even hedescribed as “a little surreal.”
It started as a 10-year-old hockey player from Oakville, Ontario, Canada, who met several Yellow Jackets football players on Daytona Beach while on vacation. Sophomore quarterback Scott Zolke and his teammates made such an impression that young Todd convinced his family to stop at the campus on the way home. After seeing a practice, Todd was convinced he had to go to Tech, one of the premier academic institutions in the world.
He’d not only attend Tech and make the football team but, as a freshman, he’d be introduced to Dr. Homer Rice’s inaugural year of the Total Person Program. Total Person so influenced him that when he eventually became an administrator, he modeled his initiative for student-athlete development as athletics director at East Tennessee State, Central Florida and Oregon State after Dr. Rice’s innovative program.
While Stansbury has affinity for all of those previous schools, none can match his passion for Georgia Tech. That passion was obvious on Thursday, when he was introduced as Tech’s new AD by Peterson, in the museum area of the Edge Athletics Center.
“I’ve done a number of these [press conferences] in the past but you might have to bear with me through this because this is more than just another AD job,” said Stansbury, who faced a portrait of Dr. Rice as he spoke. “My journey to this point has certainly been a long time coming. It’s been 45 years since I first decided I was going to come to Georgia Tech.”
The fit couldn’t have been more perfect.
Stansbury pointed to Dr. Rice and his Total Person Program, head football coach Bill Curry, who taught him “The Tech Way,” (“You’re only 18 years old and you think that this is the way they do it everywhere. Once you leave you find out this isn’t the way they do it everywhere. There is a `Tech Way’ and it’s the right way.”) and the entire College of Management, especially Dr. Phil Adler, (“They pushed me and showed me potential that I had that I didn’t even know what I could become.”) as three elements responsible for his life renaissance.
“My whole career, everything that I’ve done, every program that I’ve led, the DNA can be found here on The Flats,” he said. “This place had a profound impact on my life, it changed my life.”
Going on a two-year backpacking sojourn around the world with his wife, Karen, also was life-altering and proved something that has become a credo for him and, he hopes, for the student-athletes in all 17 Yellow Jackets sports.
“Graduation is the beginning of the journey, not the end, so our focus will be on success of our student-athletes,” he said. “Of course they’re going to graduate, but what are they doing five and 10 years after graduation? If you look at what Georgia Tech athletes are doing five and 10 years after graduation, that is our differentiator. That is what sets us apart and that needs to be part of our brand.”
His knowledge of “The Georgia Tech Brand” was a big part of what made him the right man for the job.
“More than anything, he understands the culture,” said Lucius Sanford, a four-year football starter (1974-77), two-time All-American, Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Famer (Class of 1985) and current associate director of development and executive director of the GT Letterwinners Club. “He was a part of the success here, especially during the Homer Rice era. We really stick to our brand in terms of being a student-athlete, it’s all about being both, truly being committed to excellence. He’s not only been through it, he’s actually taught it, has experience in the position. Being able to bring all this back and put it together, I think it’s great time for him to come back. We’re talking about a guy coming back and getting reacquainted with friends. Not meeting them – getting reacquainted. That says a lot.”
His resume said a lot for him and others’ recommendations said even more.
“He was at the top of everybody’s list,” said former men’s tennis player Nathan Rakitt (Class of 2016), a four-time member of the ACC Honor Roll, chair of Georgia Tech’s Student-Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) and a member of the nine-person search committee. “The highest of integrity, obviously, a former student-athlete here, understands the ropes. He checked off all the boxes. That’s not to say we didn’t entertain the possibility of several other individuals but Todd was definitely someone that shone brightest in everybody’s eyes.”
Stansbury eyes the day he can get started — Peterson expects him to take the reins from interim A.D. Paul Griffin in late-November or early-December — and sees himself continuing to implement the Total Person Program and aspects of his Every Day Champions Program, which is based on Total Person.
“Homer Rice had the Total Person Program. I have the Every Day Champions Program — I have a feeling it’s going to revert back to the Total Person Program,” he said, with a laugh. “But that program is so much more than just a bunch of programs and bringing in speakers. It is where the student-athlete finds you actually care about them because it’s more than just what they’re going to on the field or even what they do in the classroom.”
One such initiative is called First-Round Draft Picks, where local executives work hand-in-hand with athletics staffers in preparing student-athletes’ off-the-field skills.
“The First-Round Draft Choice Program is a program where we do corporate partnerships but they’re not your traditional corporate partnership,” Stansbury said. “They’re an H.R. partnership. So by being a partner you’re actually engaged in the programming of the Every Day Champions Program and in exchange for that you have access to the best talent. Your executives are engaged. We use the Junior Achievement model where their executives are actually teaching the students. That way, over four years, you’re going to know who your first-round draft choices are. It’s something we started at UCF and continued to evolve at Oregon State and that’s something that I think would work perfectly in Atlanta, Ga. Just looking at the skyline — I know there are a lot of potential partners [that] I think that would be interested in the talent that we’re producing.”
He’ll seek to do his part to upgrade facilities, as he’s done at ETSU, UCF and, most recently, at OSU, where he established a $150 million football expansion and has a sports-performance facility currently underway.
Of course, excellence in the classroom will be a priority. Stansbury, who has left a trail of rejuvenated athletics programs in addition to academic excellence as he’s traveled from Johnson City, Tenn., to Orlando, Fla., to Corvallis, Ore., comes home to a Georgia Tech program that in each of the last three years has hit and sustained school-best graduation rates (84 percent according to the NCAA from Nov. 2015) and superb APR performance — 13 of Tech’s 15 programs scored at least 980 out of 1,000.
It’s all within the principles of Dr. Rice’s vision.
“Same concept. I just changed the team colors and I changed the name but the DNA was all really Homer Rice’s Total Person Program.” he said. “Just the ideas that through the intercollegiate athletic experience, these young people can be taught life skills that will serve them for their entire lives and, at the end of the day, if they use this experience while they’re here to develop these skills, they’ll maximize potential they don’t even know they have.”
As the student-athletes form their dreams, Stansbury will continue to live his.
“I am so incredibly thankful to be back,” he said. “This is home. This is where I found who I was. It provided me a launch pad that has so far been a pretty good adventure. To be back here and to be able to finish my career where it started is just an incredible gift.”