Slow news day from a college football standpoint, unless you’re wrapped up in the Heisman vote, so I might as well throw in my two cents about Georgia Tech hiring Paul Johnson, aka The Coach formerly known as The Highest Paid Employee of the Federal Government.
My brother, the Tech fan (who told me that Johnson was the #1 target when Chan was fired), is thrilled. Thrilled but realistic. He doesn’t think that Tech is going to regain the upper hand in the series with Georgia, but he does believe that Tech can get back to a level of winning 30% of the time (which after 0-6 is a pretty decent accomplishment). More importantly, though, he thinks Johnson can make Tech a consistent player in the ACC.
Obviously, it’s impossible to provide a complete assessment yet – we haven’t seen the staff that Johnson will assemble. (From here, keeping Giff Smith looks like a priority.) But my gut feeling is that this is going to turn out to be a pretty good hire for Tech.
Take a look at the data Brian at MGoBlog assembled on Johnson. Prior to arriving at Navy, the Midshipmen compiled a ten year winning percentage of .36066. After an ugly transition year, this is what they’ve accomplished under Johnson: records of 8-5, 10-2, 8-4, 9-4, and the current 8-4. And remember that in the last four years, we’ve had that little thing in Iraq going on. The service academies are getting great human beings, of course, but they’re not likely to get anyone who has an interest in playing football on Sundays.
In other words, what he’s done in his last five seasons is fairly remarkable. And don’t forget his accomplishments at Georgia Southern, either, where he won five conference titles, four national coach of the year awards, and two national titles. This guy can coach a little. That’s not something even Tech can screw up.
There are a few knocks on Johnson – who knows if he can recruit, he’s on the gruff side personality wise and Tech’s neighborhood is much tougher than it’s been.
The recruiting question is a fair one, which, again, is why I think that retaining Giff Smith (who played at GSU when Johnson was an assistant coach there) may be as big for Johnson as keeping Rodney Garner was for Mark Richt. But there are two things to keep in mind here. First, Navy is one of the few places on the planet where recruiting is even more difficult than it is at Georgia Tech; second, regardless of his sales skills, Johnson is obviously very good at talent evaluation. I doubt Tech will seriously challenge Georgia over time in recruiting, but I think they’ll be as competitive as they need to be. It’s unlikely they’d be any worse, especially if Smith stays.
As for Johnson’s personality, if he wins, I don’t think the warm and fuzzies are going to matter very much. If nothing else, I can’t imagine he’d be dumb enough to say things like this to recruits. And unlike his predecessor, at least he had the sense to say this right off the bat:
“That [Georgia game] is a game Georgia Tech needs to win,” Johnson said. “I embrace that.”
And as for the level of Tech’s competition, yeah, Georgia has certainly elevated itself under Richt. But the ACC? When Kyle writes that “…Chan Gailey had to deal with Tommy Bowden’s Tigers, Ralph Friedgen’s Terrapins, Chuck Amato’s Wolfpack, Al Groh’s Cavaliers, and Jim Grobe’s Demon Deacons…”, don’t you have to chuckle, even a little bit? Certainly Virginia Tech has developed into an elite program over the past decade, but Miami and FSU (who Kyle conveniently omits from his analysis) are mere shells of their former selves these days.
Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit “A” on the state of the ACC: Wake Forest, 2006 Champions. Now, Jim Grobe is an excellent coach, but I honestly think that Johnson is at least as good at what he does as Grobe and there’s no comparison between the resources at Wake Forest and Georgia Tech (as much as we Dawg fans would like to joke otherwise). It’s anything but farfetched to suggest that Johnson can’t make the Jackets consistently competitive in that conference.
Bottom line? While there may be an awkward transition year (Taylor Bennett running the triple option isn’t likely to strike fear into too many defensive coordinators’ hearts), look for the era of 7-5 and trips to the Humanitarian Bowl to end under Paul Johnson. And I suspect it’s gonna be a bit of a shock the first time Georgia loses to Tech. We’ve gotten a little spoiled with Reggie and Chan.