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15 Questions with Coach Brent Key, IM ‘01: What You May Not Know About Georgia Tech’s Head Coach

Brent Key, Georgia Tech Football’s 21st Head Coach and Scheller College of Business alum, talks about his love of Georgia Tech, football, and his life outside coaching.

With spring training starting in March and the White and Gold game scheduled for Saturday, April 15, Georgia Tech Head Football Coach Brent Key has his hands full.

It's been a little over three months since the Scheller College of Business alum took the reins as the 21st coach of the Georgia Tech Football team. Four games into the 2022 season, Coach Key stepped in as interim coach and led the Yellow Jackets to a 4-4 record over the final eight games. Before being named head coach, aside from being the interim head coach, he was also offensive line coach and run game coordinator for over three seasons.

As a student, he played for Tech from 1997 to 2000 on the offensive line, graduating with a bachelor's degree in Industrial Management in 2001.

Key's enthusiasm for the game, his players, and his steadfast commitment and loyalty to Georgia Tech are contagious, as anyone who listens to him talk about the game and his alma mater or watches him coach can see. When we sat down with Key for an interview, it was clear that his outlook on life is just as impressive as his love for the game.

Here are 15 things you may not know about Coach Brent Key

1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where my mom taught at Birmingham Elementary School until I was 13. Around that age, we moved to Clay, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham, and my mom taught elementary school there. I graduated from Hewitt-Trussville high school.

2. What are some of your favorite childhood memories, and what were you like growing up?

Many of my childhood memories are of playing sports and going to the beach with my mom and my grandparents. I was always wrapped up in sports, playing basketball and baseball. (He has been collecting baseball cards since he was around seven years old). As a kid, I almost always had a dog too. I'm an only child; it was just me, my mom, and my grandparents, and we were a close family. I went to church every Sunday, and we'd either go out to eat after church or go to my grandparents' house and have steak and baked potatoes.

As far as what I was like growing up, where do you draw the line? At what age? No, seriously, I was a good kid. As the only child and grandchild, I really had no choice but to be good. Plus, my mom was a schoolteacher, so there's that too. I remember the first "B" I made in school. It was not good. There were rules, and I followed them. For example, when I started driving at sixteen, I had a 10:00 curfew. If it was 10:01, it might as well have been 1:01 in the morning!

3. What made you choose Georgia Tech?

While I was in high school, I was recruited by small schools and by Ivy League schools like Brown, Penn, and Harvard, the good ones up northeast. All I knew was that the Ivy League schools were supposed to be good, and I didn't know any different. Then came Furman, Vanderbilt, and the University of Southern Mississippi. I had a really good relationship with the coach at Brown and a really good relationship with the coach at Furman.

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I got a call from the coach at Georgia Tech, and I thought someone was playing a joke on me. He introduced himself as Coach Thompson from Georgia Tech, and I was like, "Yeah, right, whatever," and I hung up on him. Then he called me right back and said, "No, I'm serious. We saw your film, and we want to invite you over for the Georgia – Georgia Tech game," which was on Thanksgiving Day.

I came to the game. It was the first time I'd ever visited Tech. It was 1995, five years after they'd won the national championship. I was in awe. Georgia Tech was a bigger school than a lot of others. Also, when you come from Birmingham, you're so inundated with Alabama, Auburn, and the SEC, that, aside from winning the national championship, I never really followed them.

But I wanted to be an engineer—dead set. I wanted to be a mechanical engineer and came here and loved it. Then, I think it was the following Monday when the coach came to my high school. He wanted to know what I thought about the school. I told him I loved it, and he asked me if I would come to play for them. I asked if they were going to make me an offer, and they offered me a full scholarship. I signed right then and there. To me, it was a no-brainer. I could care less if they were 0-10 or 10-0. I wanted to play football and have a great academic experience working towards being an engineer.

4. Why did you choose a business degree?

I did really well in high school and was a good student. In my first quarter at Tech, it was 1996. A lot was going on in Atlanta with the Olympics, and Atlanta was bustling.

In my first quarter, since I had been such a good student in high school, they put me in Chemistry, Calculus, English, and a few others, so I had two five-hour and two three-hour classes. It didn't go well. I thought it was a fluke, so the next quarter came around, and that didn't go well, either. I worked hard, and the summer came around, and I was off probation. Then fall quarter came around, my grades were up, and I was 3.0 on the Dean's list.

In my second year, I'll never forget this event. At the Edge Building, outside the cafeteria, there was a notice board with a note that read, "Brent Key. See Coach O'Leary asap," and I thought, "Oh gosh, am I in trouble?"

So, I went to see him, and he asked me if I'd ever thought about changing my major, and I said, "No, I want to be an engineer." And he said, "Well, I'd never drive over a bridge you built," and suggested I change my major to stay eligible, and I said, "Okay." I was 19, so I really didn't know what I wanted to be, so I changed my major to business and ended up loving it.

5. Did your business degree help you in your coaching career?

Oh, heck, yes. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the best decision I made. The absolute best decision. I just thought I wanted to be an engineer, but it would have been the worst decision ever. I might have graduated in engineering, but I would have been doing something else. 

Coach Brent KeyGeorgia Tech teaches you how to solve problems because you have to figure things out. It teaches you how to overcome tough times. If you make a bad grade on a test, it teaches you how to overcome that score; if you get into a hole, it teaches you how to dig yourself out. That grit I've learned here at Tech has helped me the most in life.

The classes I probably utilize most now are the finance and accounting classes, and I like marketing too. Recruiting and sales are also what I do now, so marketing fits in with that.

6. What words of advice do you have for students interested in attending Georgia Tech?

It will be the best decision of your life. It's the absolute best decision I made outside of marrying my wife, Danielle, and having my daughter, Harper. Everything I have in this life is because of Georgia Tech.

When you graduate from Georgia Tech, you're in a unique club. There's a very, very unique set of people who have graduated from here, and it's different from any other school regionally in the South. It's special, and when you find out somebody you know graduated from Tech, you share a common bond because you know that person; you know they've figured out some things along the way.

They've learned how to get over some humps. Yes, it's hard and challenging, but I don't see how you could be anywhere else and have that sort of relationship. Twenty years later, maybe I haven't seen someone since school, but when I see them again, I'm right back there again. That's the beauty of Georgia Tech. It's like a small family; you know that person has something special about them.

7. What advice do you have for students interested in business school?

My goodness, to be able to go to Georgia Tech, a school known for its engineering and architecture, to name just a few, and you can get a business degree from a technology school, that's impressive. The world we live in is technology-driven.

Suppose you want to be in business, whether it's finance, marketing, accounting, or whatever it is, to be able to get that business degree from a school that is at the forefront of all technology schools in the world, you're getting the best of both worlds.

8. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Go to Orange Beach in South Alabama. I like to offshore fish. I love to cook, grill, smoke, and fry. I probably have as many cooking tools as my wife does. I cook a lot of meat, and I mean a lot of meat. Cooking is therapy for me, and I like trying new things and different ways to cook. I started cooking steaks, but from there, I started cooking all sorts of other things; soups, stews, chili. I just made homemade turkey noodle soup recently, which was really good.

9. What are some things people would be surprised to learn about you?

I talk softly. I also love to read. During the non-vacation times, it's usually something around leadership, and on vacation, I read to relax by reading books by John Grisham or James Patterson. Maybe a Jimmy Buffett book.

I'm a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. I think I've seen him 26 times now. Huge, huge, huge Jimmy Buffett fan. He's from Mobile, and his sister Lulu has a big restaurant in Gulf Shores called Lulu's Gulf Shores. I started listening to him when I was about 10 or 12. His songs tell stories, and they're not just songs. I love storytellers. They intrigue me.

10. If you weren't coaching, what would you be doing?

In a perfect world, sitting on a beach listening to Jimmy Buffett while sitting on a deck chair. I'd also have no problem being a construction worker. I love doing construction, and I love doing projects.

In real life, I'd probably be in finance or marketing, or real estate development. I worked in commercial real estate for a year and a half after I graduated, so I'd probably be working in real estate finance or development. The fun life would be Jimmy Buffett, and the real world would be something to do with real estate and real estate development.

11. Do you have any pre-game rituals?

I always tried to think there was one, but they've never worked. So now I'm just looking at what's best for the guys. Now, I do have a routine, but as far as what I do, there are no rituals at all. I don't believe one second in any of that.

The game of football is played in practice leading up to the game. It's how well you're prepared and has zero to do with any sentimental thing. I believe in practicing and preparing well.

12. Which athlete influenced you when you were growing up?

Bo Jackson. I was young when he was in high school, setting all the records. He was like a myth to me; to see him playing baseball and pro football at the same. I never really wanted to be like anyone else, but I thought he was just really cool.

13. What is your biggest pet peeve?

I'll keep it simple. Not being organized. Not having a routine. People that fly by the seat of their pants. I am a "black and white," "squares," "rectangles," and "triangles" kinda guy. I do not live in a world of circles. I don't like "maybe," "I don't know," or "sometimes." I cannot function in that space. But really, not being organized or detailed and not having a routine absolutely drives me bonkers.

14. What is the best advice someone gave to you?

"And this too shall pass," from my grandmother.

15. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I believe in "be where your feet are." I don't really have a plan. You plan for the future, but as soon as you try to control something you can't control, you're going to lose control of what you can. 

Watch as Athletics Director J. Batts introduces Coach Brent Key to the players as Tech's 21st Head Coach.

Watch the introductory press conference with Coach Brent Key on December 5, 2022.

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