Paul Johnson and his tenure at Georgia Tech will always be loosely connected to NC State and Tom O’Brien. In December of 2006 when O’Brien was ultimately hired at NC State, it was generally believed that Johnson was the primary “other candidate” for the job. Since NC State made the decision to go with the more experienced O’Brien over Johnson, some Wolfpack fans have tracked and compared the results and production of both coaches. SFN has generally avoided those conversations and debates and will continue to do so.
Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Mark Bradley penned an interesting piece on the current state of Georgia Tech’s football program and Johnson’s recruiting philosophy. (When I first read the headline I think I joined a majority of readers in expecting the topic of the piece to be Johnson’s abrasive personality that leads many to consider him to be a real jack ass.)
I found this article of particular interest since one of the primary criticisms Tom O’Brien takes from many is also related to weak recruiting. Maybe the two coaches are even more linked than was originally believed.
Because Paul Johnsonâ€™s stylized offense has become the public image of Georgia Tech football, itâ€™s tempting to blame his creation whenever Tech loses. (Which, not incidentally, it has done seven times in its past 11 games.) But hereâ€™s where numbers rear their pesky head. The Jackets scored 36 points and gained 419 yards against Miami on Saturday. And we pin this loss on the offense?
Right about here, youâ€™re probably expecting some Al-Groh-has-to-go screed. If so, youâ€™ll be disappointed. Has this coordinator elevated Techâ€™s defense? Those 42 points and 609 yards yielded Saturday are all the answers we need, but to finger Groh and the D is to miss the bigger picture. Whatâ€™s dragging Tech back to mediocrity is â€¦
Yes, heâ€™s the same coach who went 20-7 his first two seasons here, beating Georgia in Year 1 and winning the ACC title (since vacated) in Year 2. Thatâ€™s the trouble: Heâ€™s still the same coach, and heâ€™s coaching the same way.
Whenever youâ€™d see Johnsonâ€™s teams at Georgia Southern or Navy, your first thought was, â€œWhat it would look like if you ran that offense with real Division I-A talent?â€ For two years we saw. We saw Joshua Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer and Demaryius Thomas and this offense score 45 points in Athens and 49 in Tallahassee and 39 against Clemson in the ACC championship game, and we hailed Johnson for taking Chan Gaileyâ€™s players and winning bigger than Gailey ever had.
Then Gaileyâ€™s players began to leave, as college players will. From the 20-7 of those two giddy seasons, Tech has since gone 16-14 overall, 10-9 in ACC play. An even more salient stat: With Nesbitt as starting quarterback, Tech was 23-11; since Nesbitt broke his arm at Virginia Tech in November 2010, Tech is 11-10.
Those who criticize the scheme have it backwards. If you took these same players and put them in a pro-style offense, Tech might finish next-to-last in its division. Johnsonâ€™s offense is the only thing that makes Tech worth mentioning. (Lest we forget, that offense stacked 56 points and 594 yards on Virginia only nine days ago.) But Johnson is not just some scheming offensive coordinator: Heâ€™s the head coach of a proud and distinguished program, and too often it seems the program exists only to prop up his offense.
Johnson might think recruiting rankings donâ€™t matter â€” he has said as much â€” but weâ€™re seeing now the limits of a team that has talent closer to Georgia Southernâ€™s than, say, Georgiaâ€™s. So long as Johnson can outsmart somebody and his offense can run free, Tech can win. But you canâ€™t outsmart everybody, and the better teams wonâ€™t let that offense go unchecked. So then itâ€™s down to execution, and Tech has lost five of its past six games decided by 10 or fewer points. The exception came against Duke.
Johnson might say his team is two plays away from being 4-0 and leading its division, and heâ€™d be correct. But plays must be made by players, and Tech doesnâ€™t have enough of those. What it does have is a stylized offense. And thatâ€™s about all.