Shayne Simon remembers exactly where he was when he first started to hear the rumors of then-Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly accepting the LSU head coaching position. He was sitting in the team facility, surrounded by some teammates.
As the rumors intensified on social media, Simon himself scrolling through his Twitter feed to catch up on the reports that his head coach would be leaving Notre Dame for LSU in the coming days, it came to the point where reports confirmed Kelly would be leaving South Bend, Indiana.
The facility was abuzz as players discussed the rapidly unfolding situation. ‘Did you hear this? Did you hear that?’
Kelly set up a 7 a.m. team meeting the following morning through the team group chat, arrived at the late scheduled team meeting the next morning and spoke for anywhere between two to seven minutes before ending it. He was headed off to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to become LSU’s next head coach.
“It was definitely a flash,” Simon said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. ‘It was probably even more of a flash because it wasn’t like we came off a loss, it wasn’t like we were playing bad, I think we had just beaten Stanford, and we were praying on being able to go to the playoff.”
Simon, who was a Notre Dame linebacker at the time, before transferring to Pitt in the winter, acknowledged that the situations between Kelly’s departure and Geoff Collins’ firing at Georgia Tech are different. There was just one game left in the season for Notre Dame. There are eight games left — including the bulk of ACC play — for Georgia Tech.
“Sounds like new leadership down there,” Pat Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “And again, my thoughts go out. It’s never easy. Geoff Collins is a great guy. I know you guys talk about the handshake, probably, but he’s a good dude. He was mad at the officials. He’s intense. He’s a really good football coach.
“You never like to see that happen to anybody, I don’t care who it is, what their record is. He’s got a family. You look at — he’s done a nice job down there in the time he’s been here. We were hoping he was going to get up to Pittsburgh at least once and come to Acrisure Stadium.”
The news that Collins had been fired first appeared on social media Sunday night, but it wasn’t until a Georgia Tech board meeting on Monday that Collins and athletic director Todd Stansbury were officially let go. Collins went 10-28 in his three seasons at Georgia Tech, and a 1-3 start to the season was enough cause to be axed.
Brent Key, associate head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach, has been named as Georgia Tech’s interim head coach going forward. While an adept assistant at both UCF and Alabama, it will be Key’s first taste of head coaching.
When Narduzzi spoke Monday, Georgia Tech had not yet announced an interim head coach. He was, however, very familiar with offensive coordinator Chip Long and defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker. Narduzzi’s team doesn’t have any plans to proceed forward with a different mindset or mentality. It’s business as usual for Pitt.
However, a midseason coaching change does change a lot of things for Georgia Tech. Narduzzi likened it to going back to the first game of the season with Pitt’s matchup against West Virginia, with the unknowns stronger than ever, but he still believes that the offensive and defensive schemes will largely be the same.
“But you never know,” Narduzzi said. “There’s going to be different things that maybe they’re allowed to do that they couldn’t do before. So, you really don’t know. And I’ve never been in that situation. So I don’t know what the preparation will be like. I don’t know their kids. I don’t know where the focus will be.”
When it came to Simon and Notre Dame in the transition from Kelly to Freeman, he felt like the team rallied around Freeman. It was a galvanizing time as the Notre Dame player rallied around their new coach ahead of the New Year’s Six bowl game. It was a situation that got Notre Dame fired up, but it remains to be seen how it will impact the Georgia Tech players.
“Everybody has a different team, everybody has different chemistry,” Simon said. “So, they’re probably talking it differently, I’m not sure what it’s like in their camp right now, but they’re going to be ready for us on Saturday.”
Narduzzi is looking at it as any other game. Pitt is preparing for its first ACC matchup as it would if Clemson or Wake Forest was coming to town. He doesn’t care who the coach is. Ryan Manalac can certainly see it potentially being a weight off the shoulders for Georgia Tech — maybe a new chance, a new excitement level. And while the GT offense hasn’t been ground-breaking this season, there’s always the potential for the unexpected.
“I guess you never know,” Manalac said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I think the offensive scheme will be in intact, but we’ll prepare as we always do for the unexpected. And look at their body of work and try to figure out the best plan we can and go from there.”
Manalac pointed to being able to make adjustments. In-game, at halftime, whenever. The preparation continues all the way up until kickoff, considering Georgia Tech could unleash new looks and schemes, but it’s on Pitt’s coaching staff to navigate in-game. And Tiquan Underwood agrees.
“You just gotta go off what you see on tape,” Underwood said Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I’m sure there’s gonna be some things that we won’t be prepared for because the head coach isn’t there. They may change some things up. You’ve just gotta adjust on the fly on game day, and that’s our job as coaches.”
It may be a road game — at night — against a ranked opponent, but it gives Georgia Tech a chance to shock the college football world with a new identity. Karter Johnson recognizes the opportunity for GT, but he’s approaching it as any other football game.
“I’m sure they’re gonna be fired up,” Johnson said Wednesday. “But at the end of the day, it’s just a football game.”