In his first formal introduction to the rest of the ACC, Brent Key made it abundantly clear: he is focused on consistency and is uninterested in expectations.
At ACC Media Day in Charlotte, reporters wanted to understand Key’s perspective on the team’s 4-4 record under his tenure to close out the 2022 season.
When asked about how the team achieved such a turnaround despite a 1-3 start and coaching change, the first-year head coach bluntly stated, “we stopped expecting something bad to happen and started expecting to win.”
Key also cited player ownership as a key factor, which he has defined as taking responsibility for poor execution rather than pointing fingers at others.
If the ownership the players showcased last year translates into 2023, that can only help them improve.
However, Key also indicated it is going to require more than a mindset shift for real improvement to occur.
When asked about the key areas of improvement, he cited the need for the team to “focus on the details” both on and off the field.
While part of said focus refers to cutting down on penalties and mental mistakes, it also refers to all of the strength and conditioning work that all of the players are putting in. Through succeeding in the details, Key and the coaching staff expecting to create a more consistent football team.
The new director of football strength and conditioning, A.J. Artis, will be critical in ensuring that the team is physically capable of performing to their ability, and in Key’s opinion, the early results in summer have looked promising.
Last season’s wins against ranked ACC rivals like UNC and Pittsburgh have created a lot of optimism around this year’s team — optimism breeds external expectations.
Key could have confidently predicted competing for the ACC title and generated a lot of fan buzz; however, he remained measured in his answers to several questions about the expectations he and his staff have for several impact positions on the roster.
“The expectation is that they play collectively,” Key said.
“We expect them to go out every day and do everything that they can. My expectations aren’t defined by wins, losses or stat predictions,” said Key.
For this staff, the main priority appears to be growing from being the ACC’s second-worst offense and third-worst defense in all conceivable ways.
To that end, Key rarely spoke about the competition or status of specific positions. It is an interesting choice, considering the ongoing three-way competition between Haynes King, Zach Gibson and Zach Pyron at the
team’s quarterback spot. His only specific reference to a position group came in his discussion of the wide receivers, which Key highlighted as being unknown. Transfers such as Chase Lane, Dominick Blaylock and Christian Leary profile as helpful additions to a room led by Malik Rutherford and complemented by D.J. Moore and Avery Boyd.
While he assessed the group as “young and inexperienced,” Key considers the position important in new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner’s elaborate scheme, telling reporters that “the easiest way to explosion is through the receiving game.”
From a philosophical standpoint, this aligns nicely with Faulkner’s skills as a former offensive quality coach who helped devise a potent passing game at UGA.
Tech fans should watch this receiving core throughout the season, as their progression is directly tied to the team’s offensive success.
Key also appeared on ACC Huddle to further delve into his approach to coaching and
evaluation of the team.
He provided more specifics on his view on the roster’s areas for improvement, noting that the team needs to be more consistent in running and throwing the ball while also putting an emphasis on getting the ball in the
hands of the playmakers.
He also grouped the linebackers alongside the receivers as a group that needs to develop, which makes sense given that both groups lost established starters and gained multiple new additions through the transfer portal and are relatively unsettled.
Key is aware of the work that needs to be done this year, and it is reassuring that he sees specific areas for improvement.
Tech fans should also be excited by his response to a question about the difference between his interim and current position.
He stated, “I really felt I was able to take more ownership of the situation and pass that down to the kids. Giving the kids the ownership of the team is a priority for me.”
In a sport that is becoming more dominated by politics and personalities, it is refreshing to see that Key’s focus remains on doing everything he can to support a team and staff that remains proud and accountable for their results.
While there are bound to be growing pains in the season and moments where outside opinions of the team may turn critical, Key’s comments throughout his ACC media tour indicate he expects the team to build consistent habits in 2023 that will drive success for years to come.