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A 'humbling opportunity': Gainesville High grad Andrew Thacker eager to hit the ground running as football defensive coordinator for Georgia Tech
Cartersville native returns to home state with chance to revamp Yellow Jackets program alongside Geoff Collins
Andrew Thacker — a Gainesville High graduate — is introduced as Georgia Tech's defensive coordinator during a basketball game at McCamish Pavilion. — Photo by Danny Karnik

With the extensive background Andrew Thacker has in football, it’s hard to imagine that Georgia Tech’s newest defensive coordinator nearly chose to steer clear of the sport as a child.

A soccer, basketball and baseball player early in grade school, Thacker didn’t give much thought to football because of the influence of his father, Mickey Thacker. The injuries and other health scares associated with the sport were things Thacker’s dad didn’t want for his son.

That all changed during Thacker’s fourth-grade year, when his mother met and married Bruce Miller, one of Georgia’s most esteemed high school coaches who would later bring Gainesville High its first and only GHSA state championship.

From there, a young Thacker’s introduction to the sport led to him strapping on the pads as a sixth-grader.

“I was a little ball boy in the locker rooms at a young age, and never really looked back,” said Thacker, who was a standout player for Miller at Gainesville High, and a member of the Red Elephants’ 2002 state semifinal team.

Thacker’s positive relationship with his stepfather played a vital role in Thacker’s upbringing as a coach as well.

“I just always admired the way he treats people, and the amount of impact he was able to have on young men,” Thacker said. “(Bruce) always felt like he had a purpose in what he did, and I was able to live that, experience that and most out of anything, just observe that.”

Now, things have come full circle for the 32-year-old Cartersville native. 

Thacker, hired as the Yellow Jacket’s defensive coordinator on Dec. 31, 2018, said bringing his wife Liza and their two small children back to Georgia has been a blessing. 

“It is a unique situation, and a humbling opportunity to be relative to home," Thacker said. "It’s not always an easy thing to do in this profession, to be at the place you’re really excited about and be close to family, so really unique and really cool.” 

He also finds himself in the unique position of being one of the younger coordinators to oversee a Division I defense. But to Thacker, age is just another number. It’s more about what you’ve done with the opportunities and time that you’ve been given, he said.

Temple’s defensive coordinator in 2018 also reunites with Yellow Jackets head coach Geoff Collins, another product of the Owls’ coaching tree.

“Coach Collins’ energy and excitement for everything is the way he always is, and has a way of filtering down to everybody in the building,” Thacker said.

His return to Georgia also means access to arguably the biggest college recruitment hub in the country. Thacker indicated Miller’s reputation around the metro-Atlanta area has played a part in him building solid rapport with coaches, a major aspect of the recruitment process. 

Ranked 48th in the nation and 10th in the ACC by 247Sports, the Yellow Jackets currently stand with 17 commitments for the 2019 recruiting class. Thacker and the remaining staff plan to keep those numbers growing as they turn their focus to the 2020 class, with the team’s Junior Day soon approaching in the coming weeks.

And before the team can dive into defensive formations, Thacker said the staff’s first priority involves the intangibles — establishing a new team culture. In 2018, the Yellow Jackets finished 7-6 overall and second in the ACC Coastal division, ranking 46th in the nation in terms of total defense for Paul Johnson's final season at the helm.

“Even to the kids, we’ve made a huge emphasis on stating the fact that — nothing is to be derogatory to coach (Paul) Johnson and the previous staff, we’re right and they’re wrong — it’s just different,” Thacker added. 

“Just implementing energy and passion and desire for these young men to walk in the building with a smile on their face and knowing that having an unbelievable amount of energy and juice is not exclusive to them working really, really hard to get where we want to be.”

A double major in college, Thacker participated in a number of internships in addition to being a four-year starting safety at Furman University. But once that chapter ended, Thacker couldn’t imagine doing anything besides coaching. He craved one day returning to the same football environment Miller fostered.

Thacker was influenced greatly by a group of coaches during that trek, getting his first opportunity as a graduate assistant for Collins at Central Florida from 2008-09. Thacker slowly worked his way up the ranks during stops at Southern Mississippi (2013), the Atlanta Falcons (2014) and Kennesaw State (2016). 

As a linebackers coach, Thacker played a role in the KSU Owls leading the Big South in scoring defense and rushing defense and ranked second in total defense in 2016.

He then moved to Temple, where he helped produce one of the American Athletic Conference’s highest-ranked defenses. The Owls ranked in the top 3 in terms of total defense (second), passing defense (second), three-and-outs (second) and scoring defense (third). As linebackers coach in 2017, Thacker had a hand in Temple ranking among the top teams nationally in both sacks (11th) and tackles for loss (11th).

“I’ve been incredibly blessed, fortunate to be around elite mentors and elite programs,” Thacker said. “And so much of this process, I’ve been around just great people. They invest in you, teach you and mold you. ... I am a product of great people I’ve been around, to have an opportunity like this.” 

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