Georgia Tech’s Key and Louisville’s Brohm aim to deliver 1st-year spark to alma maters

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Interim Head Coach Brent Key looks on before the college football game between the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Georgia Bulldogs on November 26, 2022, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA. (Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sp

Brent Key grew accustomed to the days as an assistant coach with Georgia Tech players popping into his office, plopping down on the couch and venting a bit.

Now that he’s the Yellow Jackets head coach? Not so much.

"All of a sudden, I get named head coach and it’s like my door’s locked," Key quipped. "It’s like, ‘We ain’t coming in there.’"

Consider it one of the changes for Key and Louisville’s Jeff Brohm as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s two new football coaches. They’re back at their alma maters, eager to provide a spark to middling programs now competing in a division-less league.

The hope is the familiarity that comes with being an alum — or in Key’s case, interim coach through much of last season — might help get things moving quickly.

"In today’s age of college athletics, it’s about winning now," Brohm said Tuesday at the league’s "ACC Kickoff" preseason media days.

Their arrivals mean nearly half the league’s coaches have turned over in the past two seasons since all 14 returned for the 2021 season. Last year there were four new coaches in Duke’s Mike Elko, Miami’s Mario Cristobal, Virginia’s Tony Elliott and Virginia Tech’s Brent Pry. Boston College’s Jeff Hafley and Florida State’s Mike Norvell were new in 2020.

Of that group, only Elko — with nine wins as The Associated Press league coach of the year — won a bowl game in his first season.

A former Georgia Tech offensive lineman who graduated in 2001, Key took over last year for fired coach Geoff Collins in September after coaching the line for three-plus seasons. Key went on to lead the team to a 4-4 finish, including road wins against No. 24 Pittsburgh and No. 13 North Carolina . The Yellow Jackets won just three games in each of the previous three seasons.

And he’s keeping it simple: "That’s my job: graduate players and win, bottom line."

"He’s kind of been acting like the head guy even last year, that’s how we looked at him when he was promoted to interim coach," defensive back LaMiles Brooks said. "Now that he has the job, it’s kind of the same thing. It’s really about building upon what he established last season."

By comparison, Brohm is reconnecting with Louisville after a longer absence.

He had spent three years at Western Kentucky (2014-16) and the past six at Purdue, including a nine-win season in 2021 and a trip to last year’s Big Ten championship game. The former Cardinals quarterback (1989-93) still ranks among the program leaders in career touchdown passes, total offense and passing yards while having his No. 11 jersey honored by the program.

The coaching staff includes his brother Brian, another Cardinals former quarterback.

Jeff Brohm returned when Scott Satterfield left after a sometimes-bumpy tenure to take over at Cincinnati. The current Cardinals have checked out the tape from his playing days.

"I’ve seen several highlights of Coach Brohm when he played at Louisville," offensive lineman Bryan Hudson said. "There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of new energy around the building with him being back. It’s been a lot of fun."

That history is a strong selling point for Brohm. He knows the buzz that comes with his return to the program where he made his name as a college player. It was something he has gotten to chat a bit about with Key and Cristobal — also leading his former college program at Miami — since taking the job.

There is no doubt he feels a little extra pressure to avoid letting people down.

"I think it’s beneficial that the fan base knows that I’m invested in the program myself, that it’s going to mean something to me," Brohm said.

"I didn’t have to come back, but I wanted to. And I wanted to help elevate the program the best I could," he added. "Because of that, there’s excitement now. And of course, with that, you’ve got to build on that. ... So we’ve got to do our part."