Paul Johnson is going into his 10th season in the same job and has won more football games than any coach in Georgia Tech history except for the three guys who have buildings and/or a trophy named for them: Bobby Dodd, William Alexander and John Heisman.
This always seems worth pointing out because most stories about Johnson tend to frame him as ol’ grumpy gills or mock his offense or ignore the fact that he has gone to three ACC title games and won three conference coach-of-the-year honors and – bang – won three times in Athens.
There remain questions at Georgia about what kind of head coach Kirby Smart will be, but there shouldn’t be about Paul Johnson.
“I’ve said this all along: People outside our program appreciate what we’ve done more than people inside our program,” Johnson said.
“There’s a lot of revisionist history. It’ll be the same here. We’ll be (remembered as) much better after I leave than when I’m here. But I don’t think we have to apologize for what we’ve done here.”
“I wonder if I had been coaching 59 years whether I’d still have to answer a question about the offense.”
Georgia Tech opened preseason camp Thursday. The Jackets have been picked to finish third in the ACC Coastal Division (behind Miami and Virginia Tech). They’re buried in the “also receiving votes” category in the just-released preseason Top 25 coaches’ poll (at 43rd among all teams that received votes) – behind Appalachian State but at least ahead of Tulsa and Wyoming and several welding schools.
It turns out that returning 16 starters from a team that finished 9-4 last season doesn’t count for much. Las Vegas pinned Tech’s over/under win total at 6.5, even though the Jackets have averaged nearly eight wins under Johnson.
Athlon magazine, which annually puts out a college football preview edition, recently went the sleaze route of running conference previews with nothing but anonymous quotes, allegedly from conference coaches talking about opponents.
With that as a dubious backdrop, here’s one printed comment about the Jackets: “They had a freshman back (Dedrick Mills) that is going to be pretty good. But other than that their personnel is probably towards the bottom of the league.”
If you take recruiting rankings as gospel, that quote might have a kernel of truth. Johnson never has. It’s an amusing signing-day tradition of his to bash Scout and Rivals and other self-appointed recruiting gurus. Nor does he believe any ACC coach would ever say that about Tech. He said nobody from the magazine spoke to him or any of his assistants about the other conference teams.
“We were laughing about it in the staff room today,” he said. “They just make that (stuff) up. I think it’s pretty funny.”
Back to Tech: I’ll take the over on 6 ½ wins.
Replacing Justin Thomas at quarterback won’t be easy. But expected starter Matthew Jordan came off the bench at Virginia Tech last season and engineered an upset of the No. 14 Hokies. There’s a fair amount of talent at the skill positions, including Mills, and the defense (with eight returning starters) improved down the stretch last year when the Jackets won six of their last seven games.
So, yes, there’s reason to feel good about things on North Avenue. At least until the opening kickoff against Tennessee at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Labor Day night.
“This team is composed a little like our 2014 team with a new quarterback and a couple of new guys, but the majority of them have played,” Johnson said. “We’d like to have the same result we had in ’14.”
Tech finished 11-3, including an Orange Bowl win, that season and wound up No. 8 in the rankings.
The Jackets’ over/under for wins that season: 6.5.
Johnson probably is right. His achievements at Tech won’t be fully appreciated until after he’s gone. But he’s in somewhat of a comfort zone for the first time in several years. He was hired by former athletic director Dan Radakovich (now at Clemson) but didn’t love his replacement, Mike Bobinski (now at Purdue). Bobinski balked at giving Johnson a contract extension a few years ago. Morale in the department dropped to unforeseen lows.
The atmosphere has changed under new athletic director Todd Stansbury, a former Tech player who was hired away from Oregon State in September. Stansbury understands the Tech culture and appreciates what Johnson has accomplished.
“Everybody has a different style,” Johnson said. “When I first came here I was hired by Dan, and we had a great relationship. We talked all the time. The next guy came along, and it wasn’t the same type of deal. It wasn’t the same type of leadership style. Todd is somewhere in between.”
(Note Johnson’s reference to, “The next guy.” Continuing now …)
“(Stansbury) has been a great fit for Georgia Tech. Clearly he loves the place, and he wants to provide us with everything we need to be competitive. To this point I’ve had a great relationship with him. We talk and go through things, and I feel like he’s listening.”
Johnson denied ever feeling pressure from the previous administration. But he added, “At times I felt like I was on my own. And I shouldn’t say that (about) the whole administration, just from (the athletics department).”
The only coach in the ACC or the SEC who has been at one school longer than Johnson is Nick Saban (11th season at Alabama). Whether you’re an admirer of Johnson’s, there’s probably a message there, even if it tends to get lost this time of the year.
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