The office might be new and the responsibilities different, but when Todd Stansbury accepted the Athletic Director position at Tech, he was not just taking another job; he was coming home.
He was coming home to Bobby Dodd Stadium, where he played football under coach Bill Curry for four years. He was returning to the Georgia Tech Athletic Association, where he served as the Assistant Athletic Director for Academics for seven years, earning a national championship ring.
Stansbury, a former banker, followed an unusual path to his current position.
“When you come to Georgia Tech, you’re kind of programmed that you’re going to go to Wall Street or something,” Stansbury said with a laugh in a one-on-one interview. “It wasn’t until I had been in banking for a couple of years that the opportunity, and even the idea, of working in athletics presented itself. But once I did it, I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”
When Tech’s search committee called, Stansbury responded.
“This was something that … throughout my career, the idea would be that hopefully I’d have the opportunity to come back to Tech,” Stansbury said. “Of course, you just never know … whether you’ll get the opportunity or what the timing will be. So for this to be presented at this time in my career is a real blessing.”
Stansbury’s arrival might well be a blessing for Tech, too. While the Jackets have posted academic figures that rival national leaders, their performance in key revenue-generating sports like football and basketball has lagged behind that of their rivals.
Meanwhile, questions remain as to whether the money Tech athletics has is being allocated appropriately. Tech basketball is now paying three head coaches.
There is Paul Hewitt, a coach who so irked administration that the school agreed to buy out his contract. His successor was Brian Gregory, who was fired last season after a mediocre campaign. Moreover, this spring, the Tech administration announced that Memphis recruiting maven Josh Pastner would be the next to try his hand in the role.
As a result, Tech has been unable to muster the cash necessary to attract and keep great assistant coaches. Entering this season, LSU’s staff made a combined $5.5 million annually, courtesy of USAToday.com. Tech’s made a paltry $2.5 million.
Expecting the Jackets to keep up with foes across its conference and nationally with half the funding is a futile exercise. The issues go beyond personnel.
“You guys, look, you don’t have to ask me. Do you think we have the same things Clemson does?” asked football head coach Paul Johnson after the team’s loss to the Tigers, courtesy of myAJC.com. “How can the expectation be to beat them?”
Stansbury might be able to solve these issues thanks to his experience with similar positions at Oregon State University and the University of Central Florida.
“I don’t know that you could get more extreme [in terms of differences between UCF and Oregon State]. … UCF is a relatively new school … to Division I athletics. Oregon State is a land-grant university on the West Coast that’s been around for 150 years. … They have similar challenges for different reasons.”
So far, Stansbury has distinguished his institutions by adding distinctive cultural features to his stadiums. At UCF, it was a tiki bar built on the premises. At Oregon State, it was a terrace that would host craft beer and showcase the cuisine of the Northwest.
Every day, Stansbury said, was different. He might arrive to the office expecting to address a certain issue and leave not having considered it at all. Day-to-day challenges were variable.
“You’re trying to push the longer agenda, or the … more strategic aspect of what you do at the same time you’re doing your day job,” Stansbury said. “That’s the balance you have to make as an athletic director.”
For Stansbury, that long-term focus could be a number of things.
“I think initially, I’m … going to be in the learning-listening mode for a little while, just because I’ve been gone for 20 years.And so just because I think I know the culture well and I really understand Georgia Tech, I don’t necessarily know what we do on a day-to-basis and the ‘why.’”
A key priority, though, is the Tech brand: “embracing who we are … and using that to our advantage” as Stansbury put it.
For Tech’s ninth athletic director, there remains work to be done in Corvallis, Ore., in order for him to leave Oregon State and focus his attention in Atlanta.
“The [thing] I’m trying to do there [is] helping the interim athletic director … basically help her transition,” Stansbury said. “So I will be, for the most part, in a very low-profile position of really just making sure that nothing falls between the cracks … and [the incoming athletic director at Oregon State] can hit the ground running when they arrive.”