Georgia Tech Football: Grading The Head Coaches Since 1980.


Georgia Tech’s football team has fielded its share of quality coaches since it’s inception in 1892.  The most notable names prior to 1980 are John Heisman, William Alexander, and Bobby Dodd.

All three coaches led the Ramblin’ Wreck to national championship glory.  Heisman in 1917, Alexander in 1928, and Dodd in 1952.

Following Dodd’s departure following the 1966 season, the team fell into a dry spell where their best season was finishing 9-3 under then coach Bud Carson.

Homer Rice was hired in 1980 to reinvigorate the team by joining the ACC, in hopes of leading the team back to a National Championship.

Since 1980, the Yellow Jackets have won three ACC Conference Championships, along with the 1990 National Championship.  Let’s take a look at each head coach sine 1980.

Bill Curry (1980-1986):  C

Curry was hired in 1980 to begin Homer Rice’s quest to improve Georgia Tech’s misfortunes.  Unfortunately, the team went 2-19-1 during his first two seasons.

The team improved to 6-5 in 1982, but failed to follow-up on that success in 1983, finishing the season 3-8.

After defensive coordinator Don Lindsay created the “Black Watch” defense prior to the 1984 season, the Yellow Jackets finally found success, finishing 6-4-1 in 1984, 9-2 in 1985, and 5-5-1 in 1986.

Following the 1986 season, Bill Curry accepted a position with Alabama.

Bobby Ross (1987-1991):  A

Bobby Ross was a coveted head coach in Atlanta, having already won four ACC Conference Championships while coaching at Maryland.  His first season at Georgia Tech was rough, as the team struggled often throughout the 1987 season, finishing 2-9.

Following a loss to Wake Forest and an outpouring of unhappy fans, Ross considered retirement.  He stayed on instead, leading the team to another dismal losing season (3-8) in 1988, before turning the team’s fortunes around in 1989, when the team finished 7-4.

Georgia Tech ended 1989 on a four-game winning streak that would stretch through to their 1991 Citrus Bowl win over Nebraska (45-21).  Following their Citrus Bowl win, Georgia Tech finished the 1990 season 11-0-1 and Co-National Champions.

Georgia Tech finished Ross’ final season (1991) 8-5, and defeated Stanford 18-17 in the Aloha Bowl.  Ross departed the team following the 1991 season for the San Diego Chargers, but he had re-established Georgia Tech as a National Championship and ACC Championship contenders.

Bill Lewis (1992-1994):  F

Lewis had big shoes to fill following Ross’ departure.  Unfortunately, during his tenure with the team, Georgia Tech would finish both 1992 and 1993 with a losing record of 5-6.

In his final season with the Yellow Jackets, Lewis coached the team to a horrific 0-6 start prior to being fired halfway through the season.

Defensive Coordinator George O’Leary was promoted to head coach, but the team would go on to finish the 1994 season 1-10, tied for worst in team history.

George O’Leary (1994-2001):  B

Promoted to full-time head coach in 1995, George O’Leary led the Yellow Jackets to a 6-5 winning season.

During his second season (1996) at Georgia Tech, O’Leary inserted quarterback Joe Hamilton for struggling starter Brandon Shaw.  Georgia Tech would also finish the 1996 season 5-6.

In 1997, O’Leary led the Yellow Jackets to a 7-5 record, resulting in the team’s first bowl appearance in six seasons.  The Yellow Jackets defeated West Virginia 35-30 in the Carquest Bowl.

Prior to the 1998 season, offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen tinkered with his offensive system, which now included option reads along with a deceptive passing attack.  Joe Hamilton flourished in this system, and the team finished the 1998 season 10-2, which included a huge Gator Bowl victory over Notre Dame.

The Yellow Jackets finished Hamilton’s final season 8-4, which included a tough 28-13 Gator Bowl loss to the Miami Hurricanes.  Despite losing Hamilton, Georgia Tech went on to finish the 2000 season 9-3, including a 28-14 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl.

Following his sixth winning season with Georgia Tech in 2001, George O’Leary attempted to accept the head coaching position at Notre Dame.

Chan Gailey (2002-2007):  B

In the spring of 2002, Chan Gailey was hired as head coach, with hopes he would continue the success George O’Leary had brought the team during his tenure at Georgia Tech.

Gailey’s debut season in Atlanta saw the Ramblin’ Wreck finish the season 7-6, including a heartbreaking loss to Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Bowl.

In 2003, the team was decimated by eleven players being found ineligible by the NCAA.  Despite these losses, Gailey led the Yellow Jackets to another 7-6 finish, with Tech embarrassing Tulsa 52-10 in the Humanitarian Bowl.

In 2004, Georgia Tech saw the debut of star receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.  In what some view as a disappointing season following a strong off-season of recruiting, the Yellow Jackets finished the 2004 season 7-5, and would duplicate that record in 2005.  Gailey led Georgia Tech to an ACC title game in 2006, but was fired following the 2007 season.

Paul Johnson (2008-current):  B

In his debut season as head coach, Johnson installed the flexbone/option style offense he used while at Navy.  Starting quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, running back Jonathan Dwyer, and receiver Demaryius Thomas helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a 9-4 season.

Despite losing to LSU 38-3, the competitive feel established by Gailey did not diminish.  In 2009, Johnson led Georgia Tech to its first win ever against Florida State as ACC opponents.  They finished the season 11-3, and won the ACC championship with a 39-34 victory over Clemson.

Following a disappointing 2010 season, Georgia Tech would finish the 2011 season 8-5, followed by a 7-7 season in 2012 which culminated into an ACC title game loss, and a 7-6  record last season, which concluded with a loss to Ole Miss at the Music City Bowl.

Suffering only one losing season thus far, Paul Johnson is certainly etching his name into the Yellow Jackets history of success.