AJC: Paul Johnson’s approach hurting Georgia Tech

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 Johnson’s stylized offense has become the public image of Georgia Tech football, it’s tempting to blame his creation whenever Tech loses. (Which, not incidentally, it has done seven times in its past 11 games.) But here’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, you’re probably expecting some Al-Groh-has-to-go screed. If so, you’ll be disappointed. Has this coordinator elevated Tech’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. What’s dragging Tech back to mediocrity is …

Paul Johnson.

Yes, he’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. That’s the trouble: He’s still the same coach, and he’s coaching the same way.

Whenever you’d see Johnson’s teams at Georgia Southern or Navy, your first thought was, “What it would look like if you ran that offense with real Division I-A talent?” 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 Gailey’s players and winning bigger than Gailey ever had.

Then Gailey’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. Johnson’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: He’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 don’t matter — he has said as much — but we’re seeing now the limits of a team that has talent closer to Georgia Southern’s than, say, Georgia’s. So long as Johnson can outsmart somebody and his offense can run free, Tech can win. But you can’t outsmart everybody, and the better teams won’t let that offense go unchecked. So then it’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 he’d be correct. But plays must be made by players, and Tech doesn’t have enough of those. What it does have is a stylized offense. And that’s about all.

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20 Responses to AJC: Paul Johnson’s approach hurting Georgia Tech

  1. lupus occidit arietem 09/26/2012 at 2:23 PM #

    They are almost twins…

    Don’t need talent to win, can’t get/don’t want talent after they do win…

    They field slightly above average teams by the only stat that matters.

    Only difference is knee surgery is not a given after playing TOB

  2. 808WOLF 09/26/2012 at 2:35 PM #

    Hard to have a top notch defense no matter what caliber of players, when you can only practice defending the triple option. Norm Chow changed the offensive scheme at Hawaii so that the defense could practice against something they would see in a game.

  3. baxter 09/26/2012 at 2:53 PM #

    The issue isn’t the talent of the players, its just that the league has become accustomed to playing GT year in and out, the option is one of the simplest schemes to plan for. Its man to man defense, you tackle your assignment and blow up the interior line and its typically game over for the option.

  4. Hungwolf 09/26/2012 at 3:18 PM #

    When you a jerk or an idiot the media can be very unkind. Will not be surprised with the media problems UNX already has that they soon will be tired of Larry “Full of Bull” Fedora. He rubs people the wrong way and I don’t see the wine and cheese crowd warming up to him. The media does not like it when you give bull answers to their questions or don’t answer their questions.

  5. eas 09/26/2012 at 4:22 PM #

    I don’t know if GT has better recruits or not. All I know is GT is a Big and physical team. I have always found it interesting when we play them that they are normally much larger than our guys at nearly every position.

    The triple option is normally a live or die offense. Kind of like the Princeton B-ball offense. When it is working it is a machine and when it doesn’t it sucks.

    I just know GT puts together some SEC sized teams. Talent seems to be hit or miss for them though.

  6. highstick 09/26/2012 at 7:20 PM #

    It will be interesting when they play Clemmy. Ball control and good D might pose a problem for Dabo.

  7. BJD95 09/26/2012 at 8:20 PM #

    It’s a middle school offense. There’s a reason Oklahoma and Nebraska don’t run it anymore. Hell, most self-respecting HIGH SCHOOLS avoid it, as better players want no part of an offense that does ZERO to prepare them for the next level.

    Army runs it because it’s all they can muster with the level of talent they can get. No major public university should touch it with a ten-foot pole.

  8. BJD95 09/26/2012 at 8:22 PM #

    At least TOB doesn’t cost us a fortune to not recruit well enough for the high D-1 level, and won’t eventually leave with a roster wholly unsuited to a college-level scheme. Boy, is their next coach ever in for a frustrating rebuild.

  9. triadwolf 09/26/2012 at 8:36 PM #

    ^ You’re spot on BJD. Herb Sendek is a great parallel to Paul Johnson; because Herb recruited more to his system (a flawed one for a major program in my opinion), any coach that followed was in for a rough road. Unfortunately we chose not to hire a coach to replace Herb, but that doesn’t change that fact that the cupboard was still bare upon his departure.

    With basketball you can recover a lot quicker with only a dozen or so players on the roster, but in football you’re looking at a 4-5 year project to break out of that mold.

  10. choppack1 09/26/2012 at 9:39 PM #

    bjd is spot on. Triadwolf – you’re offbase.

    Lowe’s best overall team was his first year. He didn’t inherit a bare cupboard – heck, his 2nd year, the team was pre-season top 25.

    You can’t really compare what Paul Johnson is doing to a successful basketball coach. Basketball teams can be turned around very quickly – you only need 5 guys, and most teams already have a couple.

    Football is a different story. Unless I’m a running back or I want to be an engineer – there’s no way I’d consider playing for PJ. As BJD notes, your QBs, OL and WR’s won’t be learning the skills they need for the next level.

    The defense plays against a washed up offense.

    Still, PJ is close to a savuant (sp?) with his option and he’s a winner. It’s a good thing…it will be very interesting to see how well things go in the future.

  11. triadwolf 09/27/2012 at 7:48 AM #

    Chop, we’ll just have to agree to disagree, but I want to make a couple points:

    – I realize basketball can be turned around quicker than footbal and stated as much in my post;

    – Sendek had trouble recruiting quality players (in particular point guards and centers) because they did not want to play in his system – the one’s he did get, he had trouble keeping. Very similar to what PJ is experiencing. I exaggerated a bit by saying the cupboard was bare, but there were gaping holes in roster directly resulting from Sendeks’ system/philosophy;

    – I really can’t believe you use one short, end of season run by Lowe’s first team and a totally bogus top 25 rating to prove your point – Lowe’s first team consisted of a 6 player rotation (barely 6) with no center, and a shooting guard playing point (injured most of the year) with no backup – the next two years we didn’t have one guard that could even bring the ball up the court.

    – That successful basketball coach survived a cup-cake schedule each year to barely limp into the tournament. BTW, if the selection committee had the same emphasis on strength of schedule as they do today those teams most likely would have only made 1 or 2 tournaments vs. 5 because he rarely beat any quality teams. His system did not consistently work against top 50 RPI type competition.

    That’s the last I’ll say with regard to this comparison; I should have never went there.

  12. ryebread 09/27/2012 at 8:48 AM #

    Paul Johnson and his washed up offense and poor recruiting have more ACC titles than Jimbo Fisher at FSU, TOB at NC State or Miami in the entire time they’ve been in the league. I know a lot around here hate him, but he’s done more at GT than we’ve done since 1979.

    PJ didn’t inherit some monster team either. If you read the article linked from that article about recruiting, you’ll see that GT had exactly ONE top 25 recruiting class in a decade prior to Johnson’s arrival. That class was ranked #19 and was the one that admittedly had the QB that turned out to be perfect for the option. PJ’s recruiting is actually in line with what GT has done every year but that one. He’s recruiting in the 40s, just like GT did prior to him getting there. Hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good slam of lack of recruiting prowess.

    The reality of GT is that this is one of the toughest BCS jobs. They are a small school with a limited scope of programs and really don’t have a lot of place to hide athletes. They routinely have double digit attrition due to academics entering the season. I think one year recently they had 19 players that couldn’t play. That’s worse than USC on probation!

    It’s fine if you don’t like the option. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of it. I think it is tough if you are playing from behind, and I think it is less effective if a team has a lot of time to prep for it (like a bowl game). In that respect, I agree with the Princeton offense comparisons, though I don’t think that is exactly fair. I think the shotgun spread stuff that we run is more like the Princeton, because it is home run balls or nothing — very hard to have long, sustained drives. The triple option offense is sort of like trying to dunk every time in basketball. High percentage, but it’s kind of ramming it in there every time.

    The point that people are missing though, is that I’ll watch 3 yards in a cloud of dust any day if it wins. I’d much rather do that than watch the Oakland Raiders throw the bomb on every play and lose. I suspect the fans that fill the seats and pay the bills do as well.

    Johnson may be and probably is a jerk. That’s a reason to dislike people. If people dislike him then, they should definitely dislike Rich Rodriquez, who has been a far, far bigger jerk and Mike Leach as well.

  13. primacyone 09/27/2012 at 8:54 AM #

    That offense is averaging 42 points a game so far this year and they havn’t been playing Southern Alabama and The Citdal defenses . . .

    Doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the offense when it comes to winning/losing football games or the talent level on that offense.

    Seems to be 100% on the defensive side of the ball and I just don’t see how in the heck the tripple option has any effect at all on defensive recruiting.

    Unlike baketball where a bad/unpopular Herb Sendeck type system effects recruiting and performance on both ends of the court, PJ’s offensive system only effects one side of the field and there is nothing wrong with the performace on that side of the field at GT.

    They need a sharp, energetic, enthusastic defensive cordinator that top recruits want to play for on that side of the ball.

    Give GT a defense as good as their offense and they would be ranked in the Top 15 right now.

  14. Alpha Wolf 09/27/2012 at 9:52 AM #

    I’d say it’s quite fair to point out that Georgia Tech’s number of ACC titles under Paul Johnson is officially zero. They’re still probation, and they had their 2009 title taken away because of the Demaryus Thomas fiasco…which they only made worse thanks to the misdeeds of their AD, Dan Radokovich.


  15. packalum44 09/27/2012 at 10:49 AM #

    GT’s title was stripped over bs. PJ won an ACC championship, something that TOB hasn’t done (Big East included) in 16 years of coaching.

    TOB is a loser. But its okay b/c we are just lucky he’s not an even worse loser.

    The fact that we have to compare him to PJ is sad enough as is.

  16. Alpha Wolf 09/27/2012 at 3:33 PM #

    “GT’s title was stripped over bs. ”

    By that logic, UNC’s current probation is “BS” because both GT and UNC’s case centered on impermissible benefits.

  17. JSRy2k 09/27/2012 at 7:40 PM #

    TOB is 20-10 (9-7) in his last 3 seasons including this year after going 16-21 (9-15) in his first 3 years. There has been significant improvement. And let’s remember that Chuck went 3-9 (2-6) in his final season and – forget about injuries – early matriculation was ridiculously high at the end of his tenure and the beginning of TOB’s, which only compounded TOB’s uphill battle. Right now that progress is looking significantly better than PJ’s.

  18. choppack1 09/27/2012 at 10:47 PM #

    triadwolf – it’s ironic then that the best PG play Lowe ever had was from Atsur.

    Look, my point was this, you can’t compare what Sendek left Lowe with to what PJ will leave GaTech’s next coach with. Sendek left enough talent for a good coach to be able to 7-9/8-8 in conference…it wasn’t his fault that Lee Fowler took 60 days to hire a new coach, and that when he did hire coach, that coach couldn’t recruit immediately because he hadn’t taken the tests necessary to be an NCAA coach. (Compare his “transition” to Gottfried’s to see what happens when actually hire someone who has the slightest clue what he/she is doing.)

    Regardless, GaTech’s next coach will inherit a team that’s basically executed only a handful of plays, and its personnel will reflect that.

    There were pros and cons to hiring each coach. I wanted PJ at the time simply because he’s won everywhere he’s been, and he hasn’t just won, but he’s hung banners. While TOB won at BC – he didn’t win titles, and made a lot of his hay early playing teams like Temple and a then crappy Rutgers team.

  19. ancsu87 09/28/2012 at 6:28 PM #

    packalum44 I get it that you (and others) don’t think that TOB is a good coach and NC State deserves better.

    I expected better things from him in that I thought we would be back to the Dick Sheridan years. We are close but not there and it disappoints me. However he is certianly better than Mike O’Cain and “the Chest”.

    However it really shows a lack of class to continue and write “TOB is a loser”. The man is far from a loser.

  20. ancsu87 09/28/2012 at 6:29 PM #

    Ryebread don’t write posts like that. The logic, facts and common sense are confusing.

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