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#TGW: Creative and Innovative

RELATED LINK: Geoff Collins Media Round-Up

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

Geoff Collins prides himself on being on the cutting edge, especially when it comes to connecting with people, bringing them together and rallying them via modern technology, like social media. The success of Georgia Tech football’s #404Takeover and #404TheCulture campaigns speaks for itself.

Those skills have proven invaluable in recent weeks at a most crucial time. While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people apart and into isolation worldwide, Collins has been more determined than ever to find ways to keep people, especially his team, together.

In a situation where there’s no playbook, Collins and his staff are writing one as they go along. They’ve challenged the players to keep working and improving while in quarantine. Similarly, it’s challenged the staff to push the boundaries of imagination in motivating the players to do so.

“I think the biggest thing is trying to be creative and innovative and find ways to best handle the situation,” Collins said in a media conference call last week. “It’s safety first, but then the best way to make sure the unbelievable gains that our football program has made obviously over the last year — but in particular over the last three months — [is to] try to be creative and innovative in finding ways to make sure we keep that momentum going, while also keeping everybody safe and providing care for anybody that’s in need. The way we set up our communication is very technologically driven, so I think those kind of things that we are already predisposed to do can kind of help us navigate this unprecedented situation, maybe a little better than some other coaching staffs. It’s a new world and we’re trying to make sure we’re handling it with class and with care and make sure we’re putting people’s best interests at the forefront of everything that we do just like we always do, but definitely in these times.

“You’ve been around us and seen how we interact with our players, even seen how we interact on social media,” he added. “It’s real. We love our players. We care for our players. They know that and so the flow of communication is really positive.”

The players have been on their own, with any communication being virtual since the Atlantic Coast Conference suspended all activities in response to the coronavirus on March 12 and Georgia Tech students left campus for spring break a day later. Ironically, earlier in the day on March 12, Collins invited the media to observe him and his staff in action as part of the program’s annual Media All-Access Day.

The Yellow Jackets had completed six spring practices and were planning to do their “Bon Voyage” practice on March 13, the last day prior to everyone going their separate ways for spring break. No one could have known how long-lasting that separation would be.

Recognizing the situation, Collins responded. Early in the week of March 15, he took the lead and delivered what may turn out to be one of the most important talks he’ll deliver as Yellow Jackets head coach.

In it, he offered a gameplan that, unlike his usual gameplans, had nothing flashy, innovative or even slightly risky. This plan called for playing it safe, being careful, washing hands and keeping social distance. But in the end there was the usual genuine, heartfelt passion to keep a positive mindset and an eye toward the bright future ahead.

“We’re inspired by the leadership of our institution. [President] Dr. [Angel] Cabrera does a great job with that and tries to be as transparent as possible. [He] just wanted us to provide some kind of insight and maybe even some advice and some hope,” Collins said. “I think we were one of the first ones to do it nationally and it was something that was important to the leadership of our institution. Obviously, I want to help as much as I can to be a positive voice and any influence that I can constantly have to help the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia or the Southeast navigate these unprecedented times. Maybe one person hears and makes a really good decision that helps save somebody or helps keep somebody from contracting the virus or spreading the virus. I think that’s the right thing and the right mindset to have. I need to display it first if I’m going to expect anybody else to follow suit.”

Collins even found a little humor in the making of the video, which he did with the help of his wife, Jennifer.

“My wife actually was the camera person and the director for that PSA,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I know ‘Morpheous’ [Georgia Tech football brand manager Santino Stancato) gets a lot of credit a lot of time. I think he got a little nervous with how well my wife did directing the PSA.”

Actually, the entire coaching staff and team have been doing plenty by way of technology to keep the team together.

“There are so many group [chats] that are already built into our culture, group messaging, pathways that are already in place and have been in place for a long time. It’s really cool that they’re able to continue organically,” Collins said. “I’ve got a strength staff setup, a recruiting setup, ops, academics, a nutrition training room. We separate our team into 10 different offseason teams — I’m in a group message with all those captains of those teams. We are constantly in touch with our guys, motivating them, inspiring them, connecting with them, making sure they and their teams are safe and protected. So I think we’re predisposed to be able to handle this time really well.”

The staff has even literally gotten involved in the training.

“I think [football strength and conditioning Head] Coach [Lewis] Caralla has gone viral no less than six times over the last two weeks with his messaging, with his workouts, with the way he engages,” Collins said, with a laugh. “I’m on a message with the strength staff probably 15 times a day, just to try to be innovative and creative. Obviously, we can’t make any of the workouts mandatory and we don’t, but I think the cool thing about having such a young, energetic coaching staff is that our coaches are actually doing the workouts that Coach Lew and his staff provide to us. I think that’s motivating and inspiring when our players know that the coaches are in it with them, like we always are. Our coaches are in there working out with them, engaging with them and sharing any of the adversity that comes through the hard workouts that we do. I think our guys have done a good job of engaging our players, motivating them, inspiring them.”

Collins pointed out that the team has reached, and at many positions surpassed, the offseason goal of adding around 10 pounds per man. That includes gains of almost 20 pounds per man on the offensive line, 16 for receivers, 18 for tight ends and 16 for defensive ends. There also have been tremendous gains on the bench press, where at least six players can put up 225 pounds more than 30 times and nearly half the team pushes it up at least 20. That’s up from three total members of the program — which included Caralla — who could achieve the feat last spring.

“Those strength gains are significant,” Collins said. “[We’re] just trying to find creative ways to make sure we’re keeping that going. It goes back to the relationships and the trust and the love and the care that our guys know our staff has for them, in wanting them to get better in every single phase of their lives, and the strength piece is just a component that’s visible.”

Less visible, but just as important, has been the supporting roles played by the members of the athletic administration in helping with nutritional and academic needs (virtual classes began at Tech on Monday.

“Our nutritionists, Leah Thomas and Chandler [Knox] do a great job with our football players,” Collins said. “We were able to get the approval — and this is for every school across the country — to go ahead and send out supplemental nutritional boxes of food to some of our guys.”

“We’ve been very diligent in our communication with our academic staff,” he added. “(Assistant A.D. for student services) Chris Breen, (director of football academic services) Brandon Pottebaum and their staff do a great job, having great foresight and making sure our guys have a plan, home-office set-ups. We’ve been having our players take pictures of their home-office set-ups so we can make sure it’s good, make sure they have a secure, good Internet connection so they can access the classes. I think us being creative and innovative and having such good relationships with our guys allows us to make sure that they handle this seamlessly and have success at one of the top five academic schools in the country in now what is going to be a virtual classroom setting [and] a ‘virtual’ tutoring and study hall setting.”

Collins, who added he’s learning Microsoft Teams to keep up with communications within his team and the athletics department, also hinted that creativity and innovation has been part of recruiting, something obviously hindered by the inability to make in-person visits.

“Everybody’s in a phase of trying to be innovative and creative. I think that is one of the really good things about our DNA as a culture and what we do as a process,” he said. “We try to be on the cutting edge, we try to be proactive, we try to be innovative in all the things that we do. I do think we’re doing a lot of things on the recruiting front that are on the cutting edge. It’s a well-thought-out, creative plan. We’re engaged every day while still being very, very, very sensitive to any of the situations that the young men that we’re recruiting, their families are going through in this trying time.”

Collins has found all this extra time with Jennifer and their daughter, Astrid, who’s approaching her fourth birthday, fun and that they’ve grown even closer. About the only notable negative is a different growth of his own making.

“Normally when I go on spring break, I let my hair grow out on my face in beard form, this time I let it grow out in mustache form. It looks absolutely terrible,” he said, with a laugh. “I try to be a really good dude and a really good husband whenever I’m off and spend significant amounts of time at home, but the mustache piece really annoys my wife. My daughter loves it. I think she loves it so much because she knows it kind of pokes fun at my wife. I know it looks awful, but with me trying to be a good husband and a good father and being very engaged and positive, if it’s the one and only thing that annoys my wife, I know I’m doing something good. If she’s worried about other things that I’m doing wrong, then I know the mustache has run its course. So I’m trying to have that be the only thing she’s annoyed with me about.”

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