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Al “Buzz” Preston, who has enjoyed success from Honolulu to South Bend and has coached in every American time zone, begins his eighth season in Atlanta as Georgia Tech’s wide receivers coach.
In just seven seasons on the Flats, Preston has developed five NFL wide receivers -- Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos), Stephen Hill (New York Jets), Kevin Cone (Atlanta Falcons), DeAndre Smelter (San Francisco 49ers) and Darren Waller (Baltimore Ravens). Thomas was an NFL first-round draft pick in 2010, while Hill was chosen early in the second round in 2012. Smelter (4th Round) and Waller (6th Round) were both selected in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Thomas, who made remarkable strides under Preston, left Tech as one of the most prolific receivers in Georgia Tech history. In just three seasons Thomas caught 120 passes for 2,339 yards (fourth-most in Tech history) while averaging 19.5 yards per reception. Thomas had 15 career touchdown receptions and caught at least one pass in 29 consecutive games. Hill collected more than 1,200 career receiving yards to go with nine touchdown receptions. As a junior in 2011, he led the nation in yards per reception (29.3).
In 2014, Preston tutored Smelter, who became the 21st 1,000-yard receiver in school history. Smelter was Tech’s most productive wide receiver in each of his two seasons on the football field. Waller also had a breakout year as a senior in 2014 under Preston’s watch.
Entering the 2012 season, Preston faced an interesting situation: he had no receivers with a career reception. Under Preston’s guidance, however, two sophomores and a true freshman combined for 563 yards receiving and two touchdowns. The wide receivers played a large role in Georgia Tech breaking the school record for total offense yards in a season.
Since Preston’s arrival, Tech has led the ACC in total offense three times. Preston came to Tech after serving one season at New Mexico, where he helped lead the Lobos to their first bowl victory in more than 45 years. As New Mexico’s running backs coach in 2007, Preston coached Lobo junior running back Rodney Ferguson, who earned first team All-Mountain West Conference honors for the second straight year after rushing for 1,177 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Preston has 34 seasons of collegiate coaching experience, including two stints at Stanford (1999-2001, 2006). During his first three-year run with the Cardinal, Preston was part of two bowl teams that were also two of the best squads in Stanford history. He helped coach the Cardinal to the 1999 Pac-10 title on its way to the 2000 Rose Bowl. In 2001, Stanford put together a 9-3 record and was ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation during the year before playing in the Seattle Bowl against Georgia Tech.
Following his three seasons at Stanford, Preston went with coach Tyrone Willingham to Notre Dame for three more seasons (2002-04) to coach the running backs and serve as special teams coordinator. He helped lead the Irish to appearances in the Gator Bowl in 2002 and the Insight Bowl following the 2003 regular season.
Under Preston’s tutelage, Julius Jones rushed for 1,268 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior at Notre Dame in 2003. Jones also had 1,568 all-purpose yards and a school-record three 200-yard rushing games in ‘03 en route to honorable mention All-America honors. Jones went on to be selected in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. In 2002, Irish running back Ryan Grant eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as well. Before coming to Stanford for the first time, Preston was the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator/QB coach at UNLV in 1998. Prior to that, he coached running backs at Washington State from 1994-97. During his four-year term at Washington State, Preston was part of a coaching staff that guided the Cougars to the Pac-10 championship in 1997 and its first Rose Bowl appearance in 67 years. The Cougar offense broke the Pac-10 record for most total yards in a single season. One of Preston’s pupils, Mike Black, gained 1,157 yards rushing and was named All-Pac 10. The Cougars finished 10-2 overall and were ranked ninth in the nation.
Preston also coached at his alma mater, Hawai`i, from 1987-93, when he served on the same coaching staff with Paul Johnson. He had several roles during his tenure with the Rainbows, including coaching the offensive special teams, receivers and defensive backs, while also serving as the strength and conditioning liaison.
Preston’s seven-year stay at Hawai`i was highlighted by the first two bowl games in school history and the first Western Athletic Conference title ever for the program. In 1989, Hawai`i participated in its first bowl game, losing to Michigan State in the Aloha Bowl. The Rainbows won the WAC championship in 1992 and went on to defeat Illinois in the Holiday Bowl.
Preston’s first full-time coaching job came at Southern Illinois from 1984-86 when he tutored receivers and the defensive backfield. During his three seasons in Carbondale, SIU’s defense improved dramatically -- from eighth to second in the conference -- while nine of his pupils received all-conference recognition.
He was a graduate assistant at Hawai`i in 1980 and 1981, a part-time coach at UH in 1982, and a graduate assistant at Washington in 1983. During his career, Preston has also been a guest coach for the Toronto Argonauts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles.
A native of Los Angeles, Preston received a bachelor’s degree in speech from Hawai`i in 1982. He was a two-year letterwinner (1978-79) with the Rainbows football team. Preston is a 1975 graduate of Banning High School in Los Angeles. Preston and his wife, Audrey, have three children: Amber, Evan and Quinn. They also have a son-in-law Will Brown and a grandson, Joseph Roman (J.R.) Kanoa Brown.