Tech alumnus, letterwinner takes reins after exemplary performance as interim head coach
THE FLATS – Brent Key, a Georgia Tech alumnus and football letterwinner, has been officially named the 21st head coach in Tech football history, Institute President Dr. Ángel Cabrera and director of athletics J Batt announced on Tuesday.
Key takes the reins of the program after leading the Yellow Jackets to a 4-4 record over the final eight games of the 2022 season as interim head coach. The four wins included two road victories over nationally ranked opponents – a 26-21 win at No. 24 Pitt in his first game at the helm on Oct. 1 and a 21-17 triumph at No. 11 North Carolina on Nov. 19. The Jackets overcame a plethora of injuries – including to its top two quarterbacks – to finish 5-7 overall and 4-4 in Atlantic Coast Conference play after a 1-3 (0-1 ACC) start. The overall and conference win totals were Tech’s highest since 2018, as was its fourth-place finish in the ACC Coastal Division standings (the Jackets defeated all three teams that finished ahead of them in the division standings – North Carolina, Pitt and Duke).
“I am very excited that Brent Key will be our next football coach,” Cabrera said. “As an alum, he understands and cares deeply about this place and our extraordinary student-athletes. He’s not only incredibly competitive but will do everything he can to make sure students grow as athletes, professionals and human beings. I also want to thank A.D. J Batt for his dedication to our program and all the time and care he’s invested in the past few weeks to evaluate our program, conduct a thorough national search, and make sure we found the right football head coach.”
“I’m honored to officially name Brent Key the 21st head coach in Georgia Tech football history,” Batt said. “Since I arrived on campus earlier this fall, I have observed first-hand Coach Key’s leadership, passion, energy and genuine care for our student-athletes, our football program and the Institute, as well as how his players and staff responded to his leadership and the genuine care that they have for him. There was strong interest from across the country to be the next head coach at Georgia Tech, and we conducted an exhaustive national search. At the beginning and end of the search, it was clear that the best choice for Georgia Tech is Brent Key. Please join me in congratulating Coach Key, his wife, Danielle, and his daughter, Harper.”
A 2001 Georgia Tech graduate (management), Key is the fifth Tech alumnus to serve as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach, joining William Alexander (1912 graduate; head coach from 1920-44), Bill Fulcher (1956; 1972-73), Pepper Rodgers (1955; 1974-79) and Bill Curry (1965; 1980-86). Key played offensive line for the Jackets from 1997-2000.
“I am so proud and grateful to be the head coach at my alma mater, Georgia Tech,” Key said. “I can’t thank President Cabrera, J and everyone that had a hand in the search enough for the faith that they have in me to lead our program. Like I’ve said many times over the past two months, I love this team, and I couldn’t be more excited to be their head coach. We will work unbelievably hard to make our fans, alumni and former players very proud of this program. Thank you to everyone who has supported our team over the past two months, and we thank you in advance for your continued support as we begin working towards next season. Go Jackets!”
Prior to being named Georgia Tech’s interim head coach on Sept. 26 of this season, Key was in his fourth season as the Yellow Jackets’ assistant head coach, run game coordinator and offensive line coach. In his four seasons at his alma mater, Georgia Tech’s run game produced an all-American, three all-Atlantic Coast Conference honorees and finished in the top half of the ACC in rushing offense twice. Key has also mentored a pair of all-ACC offensive linemen.
Despite battling a rash of injuries across the offensive front throughout the season, 2021 marked the second-straight season that Tech’s rushing offense ranked in the top half of the ACC under Key’s watch, with tackle Devin Cochran earning honorable-mention all-ACC recognition before going on to sign with the National Football League’s Cincinnati Bengals.
In 2020, the Jackets ranked fourth in the ACC in fewest sacks allowed (2.3 per game) and fifth in the league in rushing (190.8 yards per game), all with a true freshman (Jordan Williams) starting 9-of-10 games at right tackle.
Despite a multitude of injuries, the Jackets’ offensive line improved throughout the 2019 season, as it went through the monumental transition from an option-based scheme to a pro-style, spread attack. During a one late-season three-game stretch, Tech faced teams that ranked first (Pitt), fourth (Miami) and eighth (Virginia) nationally in sacks. Tech’s offensive front allowed just five total sacks in those three games, including none against eventual ACC Coastal Division champion Virginia. In all, the Jackets didn’t surrender a sack in two of its final four contests.
Key came back to his alma mater after three seasons as offensive line coach at Alabama (2016-18), where he helped lead the Crimson Tide to two Southeastern Conference championships, three College Football Playoff championship games and the 2017 national title.
In each of his three seasons at Alabama, Key’s offensive lines were finalists for the Joe Moore Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top offensive front, and was the only group in the nation to receive the honor all three seasons. He also coached four All-Americans (including two unanimous picks – tackle Cam Robinson in 2016 and tackle Jonah Williams in 2018) and nine all-SEC selections (including seven first-teamers) during his time with the Tide. In addition to being unanimous All-Americans, Robinson won the 2016 Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman and Williams was a finalist for the award in ’18. They also won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy (SEC’s top offensive lineman) in ‘16 and ‘18, respectively.
Seven linemen that Key coached in his three seasons at Alabama went on to be selected in the National Football League Draft — Jedrick Wills (No. 10 overall, Cleveland Browns, 2020), Williams (No. 11 overall, Cincinnati Bengals, 2019), Alex Leatherwood (No. 17 overall, Las Vegas Raiders, 2021), Robinson (No. 34 overall, Jacksonville Jaguars, 2017), Ross Pierschbacher (fifth round, Washington Redskins, 2019), Bradley Bozeman (sixth round, Baltimore Ravens, 2018) and Deonte Brown (sixth round, Carolina Panthers, 2021).
Key was also lauded for his work on the recruiting trail at Alabama. He was tabbed as the nation’s No. 2 recruiter by 247Sports for his work in landing the Crimson Tide’s 2019 class and the No. 1 recruiter in the nation for his efforts with the 2020 class.
Prior to his three-year stint at Alabama, Key spent 11 seasons at UCF (2005-15). He started at UCF as a graduate assistant and worked his way up to assistant head coach (2012-15) and offensive coordinator (2014-15). He also coached tight ends for three seasons (2006-08), offensive line for six seasons (2009-14), running backs for one season (2015), was special teams coordinator for one season (2008) and recruiting coordinator for six seasons (2007, 2010-14) with the Knights. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Key was nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football.
During Key’s 11 seasons at UCF, the Knights won four conference championships (2007, 2010, 2013 and 2014), highlighted by a 12-1 campaign in 2013, which culminated with a 52-42 win over No. 6 Baylor. The Knights beat two top-10 teams in ’13 (Baylor and No. 8 Louisville) and Key’s offensive front, which did not allow a sack against Penn State, Louisville, UConn or Baylor, helped pave the way for UCF to average 441.5 yards and 34.6 points per game, both among the highest marks in program history. His offensive line also provided protection for American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year Blake Bortles.
In his six seasons as UCF’s offensive line coach, eight different linemen earned all-conference recognition a total of 16 times and four went on to play in the NFL, including 2011 third-round draft pick Jah Reid. He also coached an NFL draft pick at tight end in Mike Merritt (2008).
During his time at UCF, Key coached under his head coach as a student-athlete at Georgia Tech, George O’Leary.
Key got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech in 2001-02 and served as tight ends and running backs coach at Western Carolina in 2004.
Key was a four-year starter in his four seasons as a student-athlete at Georgia Tech (1997-2000). While making 44-straight starts at right guard, Key was a part of a senior class that led Georgia Tech to four-straight bowl appearances for the first time since 1953-56. As a sophomore in 1998, he helped lead Tech to a 10-2 record and a share of the ACC championship. During his junior campaign in 1999, the Jackets ranked No. 1 nationally in total offense (509.0 ypg). He was voted a team captain and all-ACC as a senior in 2000. In all, he was a key cog in an offensive front that helped the Yellow Jackets lead the ACC in rushing three times.
A Clay, Ala. native, Key, 44, was an all-state performer at Hewitt-Trussville H.S. He and his wife, Danielle, have a daughter, Harper.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT BRENT KEY
“I watched very closely this season as Brent took over and saw things move in the right direction. It was clear that the team responded to the changes he made and played hard for him. Congratulations to Brent – I know he’ll do an outstanding job. President Cabrera and J made a great decision, and I look forward to watching the success Brent will have at Georgia Tech.”
– Former Georgia Tech and UCF head coach George O’Leary
“Brent did a great job for us at Alabama and was fantastic as the interim head coach for Georgia Tech this year. I know he is excited to lead his alma mater, and he will do an excellent job as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach. Brent is a very passionate coach who works tirelessly at his craft. His players love to play for him, and he does a great job of putting them in situations to be successful. Brent has a wonderful family, and we are so very happy for him to have this opportunity at Georgia Tech”
– Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Competitive Drive Initiative
In a unified endeavor, Georgia Tech, the Georgia Tech Foundation, Georgia Tech athletics and the Alexander-Tharpe Fund have come together to accelerate funding for student-athlete scholarships with the launch of the Competitive Drive Initiative. The initiative kicks off with the Accelerate GT Match Program, where any new gift to the A-T Fund’s Athletic Scholarship Fund made through Dec. 31 will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Georgia Tech Foundation, up to $2.5 million. Should Accelerate GT reach its $2.5 million fundraising goal, the matching gift would result in a $5 million impact for Georgia Tech athletics. To learn more and to contribute online, visit atfund.org/accelerate.