If you’re thinking of getting Paul Johnson a Christmas gift, you might want to steer away from buying him a suggestion box.
The Georgia Tech coach, in the midst of a season that has been a cocktail of disappointment and inferior play, isn’t in the market for advice.
“I’ve managed to survive for 34 years doing what I’m doing without getting fired and we’ve won a lot of games,” Johnson said on his Wednesday night radio show. “If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down doing what I do and knowing what I know.”
The Yellow Jackets, whose season continues Saturday at Maryland, were expected to challenge for the ACC title and improve on their 8-5 season in 2011. Instead, they’ve stumbled. They’re 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the ACC, in danger of ending their bowl-game streak at 15 games and their 17-year streak of finishing .500 or better in conference games, an ACC record.
Tech has given up 40 points in four out of its past five games, a first in school history. The team has repeatedly faltered in crucial situations. If message boards and blogs can serve as a barometer – a proposal of questionable merit – Johnson’s approval rating among fans is hurtling downward.
Fingers are being angrily pointed at recruiting, quarterback Tevin Washington and the defense, but mostly at Johnson. This week, from the platform provided him through his weekly news conference and his hour-long radio show, Johnson responded. His main contention was that Tech’s season isn’t that far from being considerably different. Tech has lost two games in overtime, to Virginia Tech and Miami, games that the Jackets led in the final minute of regulation. In Tech’s other ACC loss, to Clemson, Tech led in the fourth quarter before breaking down.
“If you win those two (overtime) games, you’re probably looking at a whole different scenario,” he said. “But if If’s and but’s were candy and nuts … we didn’t get it done. And sometimes that happens. I don’t think you panic and throw the baby out with the bathwater all because you didn’t (win).”
If the losses were by wide margins, “then you might be looking at wanting to make some changes in what you were doing and the way you were approaching and all that,” he said. “In my mind, anyway, we’re not that far away.”
Johnson offered no excuses for the 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State, saying the team “no-showed.” While acknowledging the Jackets played poorly in all three phases against BYU, which beat Tech 41-17 last Saturday, Johnson also asserted the Cougars are far better than their record indicated and are loaded with seniors.
To Johnson, Tech’s senior shortage has been part of the challenge. Six start and there are 12 total. By comparison, nine or 10 juniors will start Saturday and there are 23 on the roster. Johnson concedes that intensity has been an issue. With so few seniors, he said, “we have a hard time staying focused. The maturity level is probably not what you’d like all the time.”
It may not be a particularly satisfying explanation, and may even carry the whiff of an excuse to some. For what it’s worth, N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien gave validation to it this week.
“Some younger guys say, ‘I got one or two more years to play,’” O’Brien said. “There isn’t a sense of urgency when you don’t have a senior (heavy) football team, I think.”
One of those seniors is Washington, whom many want replaced in favor of backup Vad Lee. Tired of the abuse directed at him – Washington and the offense were booed after he threw a costly interception against BYU – Johnson said that he “is busting his tail doing everything he can for Georgia Tech.” Beyond that, he said, he has played Washington because he felt he has given the Jackets a better chance of winning.
“I see those guys every day we practice,” Johnson said. “I know there’s a lot of people that can do my job better than I can. I gotcha. I understand that. But pardon me if I’m not going to listen to everybody who tells me who I should be playing, what I should be doing.”
Perhaps earplugs would be a more useful gift.
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Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog