Coach Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech

The Internet message boards were busy after the Music City Bowl.

“Fire Paul Johnson!”
“We can’t win with that high school offense!”
“We’ve got to start beating Georgia!!”

Hey, I understand. I’m a Tech grad, former cheerleader, and 32-year GT football season ticket holder. Losing to Georgia again and losing another bowl game hurts.

But to get rid of Paul Johnson would be a mistake.

He’s been a very good coach at Georgia Tech. He’s been a great coach in the context of post Bobby Dodd GT football. And I think he’s just one or two pieces away from being an outstanding coach for the Jackets, as he has been at his previous schools.

Let’s take a look.

The Record

In six seasons at Georgia Tech, Johnson is 47-32, a 59.5% winning percentage.

Since Bobby Dodd retired, Tech has had 9 head coaches*, including Johnson. Only ONE, George O’Leary, has a higher winning percentage than CPJ. In 7 years, O’Leary won 63.9% of his games. That’s a difference of 3 wins.

* Bud Carson, Bill Fulcher, Pepper Rodgers, Bill Curry, Bobby Ross, Bill Lewis, O’Leary, Chan Gailey, and Johnson. I included O’Leary’s end of season mop up after Lewis was fired in Lewis’ record. I included Mac McWorter’s one game in with O’Leary and Jon Tenuta’s one game in with Gailey.**

** I want to acknowledge that am I blatantly stealing this asterisk italics side note format (the Posterisk) from one of my favorite writers, Joe Posnanski. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Paul Johnson has three ACC Coastal Division titles, and 1 ACC championship to his credit. Chan Gailey has one Coastal title. O’Leary has 1 ACC championship (before divisions).

Of course, Bobby Ross has the biggest prize, a national championship, to go along with his one ACC championship (also before divisions).

(It should be noted that Carson, Fulcher, and Rodgers were not eligible for any conference championships during their careers, and Curry was only eligible during his last 4 seasons.)

In terms of end of season AP national rankings O’Leary had 5 Tech teams ranked, Johnson 2, and Ross and Curry both had 1.

By any measure, Paul Johnson’s record at Tech is very good.

The Triple Option

Tech folks like to complain about the Triple Option.

Complaint: “It’s a high school offense.”

It is.

So are the pro style, the spread, the spread option, the run and shoot, the pistol, and the wildcat. They’re all high school (and college and pro) offenses.

And the point is?

Complaint: “It can be stopped by a good defense.”

Isn’t that the definition of a “good defense”?

But is that really true? Here’s what happened this season.

Georgia Tech’s 2013 FBS opponents averaged giving up 377 yards and 25.5 points per game this year. The Jackets averaged 413 yards and 29.1 points against these FBS opponents, better than average for both stats.

Tech gained more yards than their opponents’ average in 7 of 11 FBS games. And in three of the games they were below average, Virginia Tech*, Miami, and Pitt, Tech gained 96%, 94%, and 98% of those defenses average YPG. Pretty close. Only Ole Miss held the Jackets to significantly fewer yards than their defense usually gave up.

In terms of points, Tech scored more than the other team’s average against 7 out of 11 FBS defenses. Not surprisingly, 3 of the 4 were the same as the below average yardage teams, VT*, Pitt, and Ole Miss. BYU was the fourth.

* I thought the VT game was Tech’s worst offensive performance of the year, but I believe Tech had to use a real patchwork offensive line in that game due to injuries. Not trying to make excuses, but I just made one.

So Johnson’s Triple Option did pretty well in both yards and points against FBS opponents. And including all games this year (not just FBS), Tech was 26th in scoring offense and 44th in total offense out of 122 teams ranked by the NCAA.

That’s what I’d call a “good offense”.

Complaint: “We can’t recruit good players while running the Triple Option.”

I’d argue that the Triple Option is an advantage for Tech on offense, and not an issue on defense.

If you’re a high school player in one of the current “hot” offenses, the spread, spread option, or pro style, Georgia Tech would probably be 15th or 20th on your list of places to play football – if Tech was running one of those offenses, and if your decision was strictly a football one. Several “football factory” teams would almost certainly be higher on your list.

But if you’re a Triple Option QB, running back, or lineman, Georgia Tech has a good chance of being very high on your list, maybe even at the top. With regard to offensive players, Tech is going after different players than the big name schools. I think that’s a good thing.

And defense? I had a former FBS defensive football player sitting behind me at one of the games this year, and he told me he wouldn’t play at Tech because he wouldn’t want to practice against the Triple Option. I asked him, “During the season, don’t you practice against the scout team, which would be running the opposing team’s offense?” Well, yeah, he said, but you wouldn’t be doing that in Spring practice.

I find it hard to believe a defensive player would not choose GT because he’d be playing against the Triple Option during Spring practice. Non-issue.

Georgia

There’s no spinning this one. It hurts.

Johnson is 1-5 against them. That “1” is Tech’s only win in the last 12 years. Since 1956, Tech has won just 15 times in the series.

Based on those stats, it’s not surprising that no Tech coach in the Post Bobby Dodd Era has a winning record against Georgia. Only Bobby Ross (2-3) and George O’Leary (3-4) came close*.

* Both of Ross’ wins came against Ray Goff. All of O’Leary’s wins came against Jim Donnan. ‘Nuff said.

The only Georgia Tech coach to beat Mark Richt? Paul Johnson.

And Johnson’s teams have come close 3 other times.

1) In 2009, Tech was driving at the end of the game, and Tech’s best receiver dropped a fourth down pass that hit him right in the hands. It would have been a first down deep in Georgia territory. Six point loss.

2) In 2010, Tech scored the tying touchdown with 5 minutes to go in the game, except Tech’s kicker missed the actual “tying” extra point. Eight point loss after we let (literally) UGa score a touchdown so we’d get the ball back one more time.

3) And of course, this year the game went to double overtime. If either the offense or defense makes one play, Tech comes away with a win. No doubt Georgia wasn’t at full strength due to injuries, but that’s part of the game.

I’d argue that all three of those games were winnable by Tech. And if Paul Johnson were 4-2 against Georgia? No one would be calling for his job.

Bowl Games

Johnson is 1-5 in bowl games as well.

The plus side of that: He’s Gone To 6 Bowl Games In 6 Years!

I know, I know… There’s a lot more bowl games now than there used to be and it’s easy to get an invite.

Except you know what? Only two teams in the entire country have a longer bowl streak than Tech. So it ain’t THAT easy.

And if you look at the Post Dodd Era coaches, only one other Tech coach besides Paul Johnson posted bowl eligible records in every season*. Every other coach had at least one losing regular season.

* Chan Gailey. Yeah, I was surprised too.

Of course, the Triple Option is frequently blamed for the bowl game losses. The theory is that when teams have a month to prepare, they can stop it. I think the month long layoff hurts our timing on offense more than it helps the other team’s defense, but certainly the combination of the two hasn’t worked out well for the Jackets.

It should be noted that Tech’s Post Dodd Era bowl record isn’t very good no matter what offense the team is running. For coaches with at least 2 bowl games, Ross was 2-0 and O’Leary was 3-2. No other coach had a winning bowl record.

Whatever the reason, Johnson’s bowl record isn’t good and needs to get better, but at least he’s playing in them.

The Future

Georgia Tech Athletic Director Mike Bobinski posted a “state of the athletic program” video on YouTube yesterday. In it, he was asked if 6 or 7 win seasons are as good as it can get for Georgia Tech football. He said it was not.

Forty-seven years of history say maybe it is. Tech is averaging 6.1 wins per season since Bobby Dodd left the sideline. Only three coaches since 1967 have averaged more than 7 wins per season. George O’Leary (7.5), Chan Gailey (7.3), and the coach with the most average wins per season, Paul Johnson (7.8).

Given the current state of college football, I do think there’s a limit to what Tech can accomplish. Tech will never compete with the major football programs in terms of budget, facilities, or fan support. But I do believe Tech can consistently win 8 or 9 games, and be a regular top 15 or top 20 program. Every few years, when the ball bounces right, 10 or more wins and a lofty ranking are not impossible.

And I think Paul Johnson is very close to doing just that.

Some people say he hasn’t had the right quarterback since Josh Nesbitt. Maybe it’s getting the right A back or B back. The defense has been downright atrocious some years, although it improved a lot this year under Ted Roof.

If any one of those things change, with just some incremental improvements, I think Paul Johnson’s teams get back to the 9 and 10 win seasons he started off with.

I also think Tech can get back to beating Georgia on a regular basis. Will Tech win 11 out of 12? Probably not. But 1 out of 3, or 4 out of 10, seems entirely possible. Johnson has already had very real chances to do even better than that.

And the reason he deserves – no, has earned – the patience of a few more years to make that happen is that today he’s still better than pretty much every Georgia Tech coach in the last 47 years.

Note: Tech coaches’ career records, bowl wins, conference championships, and Georgia game results are from Wikipedia (and my ability to add properly). FBS opponents’ 2013 defensive stats are from NCAA.com. Georgia Tech 2013 game stats are from RamblinWreck.com.

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