Johnson’s start proves it can be done at Georgia Tech

Paul Johnson has led Georgia Tech in ways almost no other coach has. (Johnny Crawford/AJC.)

Paul Johnson has led Georgia Tech in ways almost nobody else has. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Georgia Tech has been playing football since 1892, and in that time only one football coach in 117 years has had a better start to his career than Paul Johnson.

Not Bobby Dodd, who has a stadium named after him. Not John Heisman, who has a trophy named after him. Not Bill Lewis, who … well, not Bill Lewis.

Johnson has coached 20 games at Georgia Tech. He is 15-5. The lone coach to open more impressively: William Alexander (18-2) in the 1920s. The world was different then. College football was different. Academics were different. There weren’t recruiting pressures or scholarship limits or a possibly defensive athletic director telling the world that you just can’t win consistently at places like Georgia Tech.

So do seasons of 9-4 and 6-1 count?

“If you have the right people and the right support mechanisms in place,” athletic director Dan Radakovich said, “you can be successful here.”

His comments this week echoed those of two years ago. It was the first time I had a chance to sit down with Radakovich for any length of time since he replaced Dave Braine, who made the very public mistake of saying the Yellow Jackets “will never” win consistently because of the school’s high academic standards. Braine’s intent was to take some pressure off of his coach, Chan Gailey. Instead, he cut him off at the knees in recruiting and alienated fans.

Radakovich came in with a different philosophy. He met briefly with his coaches before his introductory press conference in 2006. He told them, “Guys, I don’t have a whole lot of time here. There are only two things that are important to me: Win and don’t cheat.” His belief: It could be done at Tech.

Heere's Chan Gailey at his firing, flanked by the ghosts of William Alexander (left) and Bobby Dodd. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

Here's Chan Gailey after his firing, flanked by the ghosts of William Alexander (left) and Bobby Dodd. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

We can’t foretell the future. This is only a 20-game sampling. But think about this: Johnson came in with a relatively foreign offense and he is winning largely with Chan Gailey’s recruits. The thought of slipping significantly any time soon doesn’t seem likely. He is universally embraced by his players, students and alums. It’s a comfort level Gailey never experienced.

Hard to imagine, but Johnson’s biggest challenge now might be keeping the masses grounded. The Jackets are coming off an upset of fourth-ranked Virginia Tech. Fans stormed the field. They tore down the goal post, paraded it down the street and hacksawed it into pieces for souveniers. You would’ve thought a Ph.D. on campus had just learned how to manufacture jet fuel from leftover mu shu and banana peels.

Fortunately, keeping everybody grounded isn’t difficult for Johnson. His look back on win over Virginia Tech was typical of all others: moments of praise punctuated by three-punch verbal combinations of what everybody did wrong.

“We’ve played pretty good at times,” he said when asked if he ever has been fully satisfied after a game. “I remember winning the national championship [at Georgia Southern], 59-24, and gaining like 640 yards and they had about 240. We played pretty good. But you’re always striving for the perfect game. When you become satisfied and lower the standards, I don’t know if you’re doing the kids a service. You’re doing them a disservice. You have to keep raising the bar and pushing that this is what you’re looking for. If we had won every game this season, that would be different. But we haven’t.”

He considered for a moment that, “I probably need to do a better job of accentuating the positive sometimes.”

But seconds later,  it was as if the Paul Johnson mini-me sitting on his shoulder slapped him on the head.

“I don’t care if they think I’m never gonna be satisfied,” he said.

There is no wrong answer. His methods work as well as his offense. Twenty games in at Georgia Tech, he is nearly without peer. There goes one perception.

Georgia Tech head coaches through 20 games
William Alexander (1920-22) 18-2
Paul Johnson (2008-09)      15-5
John Heisman (1905-07)      14-4-2
Bobby Dodd (1945-46)        12-8
Pepper Rogers (1974-75)     12-8
Chan Gailey (2002-03)       11-9
George O’Leary (1995-96)    11-9
Bill Fulcher (1972-73)      10-9-1
Bill Lewis (1992-93)        10-10
Bud Carson (1967-68)        8-12
Bobby Ross (1987-88)        5-15
Bill Curry (1980-81)        2-17-1

272 comments Add your comment

Reggie Ball

October 21st, 2009
5:03 pm

KB

October 21st, 2009
5:04 pm

Paul Johnson = AWESOME

KC

October 21st, 2009
5:05 pm

I am glad we have Paul Johnson as our head coach. He is equal parts geeky offensive nerd, bad-a$$ John Wayne, and crazy river-boat gambler. He is the perfect combination of what is needed at the right time. CPJ arriving after Chan Gailey is like waking to sloppy wet BJ after a long nightmare. It gets no better than Paul Johnson right now.

Big Things Popping on the Flats…

G-Man

October 21st, 2009
5:05 pm

Very good article, Jeff. It’s hard to believe that one man (plus his assistants of course) can make this much difference. But you see it time and time again (although maybe not to the degree PJ has done it). There simply is not substitute for having the right general in place. Expectations must be tempered, however – everyone else is trying to win too. Great time to be a Yellow Jacket – Go Tech!

bugsquacher

October 21st, 2009
5:08 pm

what are ya’ll smokin’? Jeff S. must be importing the stuff. National Championship….. not in your life time….look at the patsy schedule….look at the inferior players….look at the nerdy fans…..please…fly back to pluto…
.

jackette

October 21st, 2009
5:10 pm

CPJ can win a NC at Ga Tech, what a goal to strive for, 2 NC’s in one state. What we do know is that CPJ won’t be satisfied until he goes 14-0 or more if a playoff system is implemented. The Alabamas and Floridas of this world, look out, it can happen at an engineering school with an enrollment of 18,000 without all the talent you other guys recruit every year.

KC

October 21st, 2009
5:11 pm

The Dogs schedule a real OOC schedule 1 year and now that’s all they can talk. Please start playing SE Lousiana State again so you have your imaginary 4-2 or 5-1 record and we won’t have to hear from you.

BTW. Crompton just ran another bootleg and hit a wide open WR for 30 yards. Worry about yourself.

CMR Wins the 2009 George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open

October 21st, 2009
5:13 pm

Hey bugsquacher (sic)

October 21st, 2009
5:14 pm

you have enough to worry about with your own bullpups…you guys win enough…can we not be happy as well?

CMR Wins the 2009 George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open

October 21st, 2009
5:14 pm

CMR Wins the 2009 George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open

October 21st, 2009
5:14 pm

Burdell

October 21st, 2009
5:19 pm

Jeff, no jet fuel from mu shu yet (nice cheap shot), but this PhD on campus is making biofuel from switchgrass and/or southern pine!

GO JACKETS!!! BEAT THE WAHOOS!!!

reck style

October 21st, 2009
5:20 pm

you Dawg fans make up your minds..before each game and especially the VT game, you run your mouths how GT is going to get killed…and then after we win, it is “oh you do not play anybody and it is a weak conference”…you cannot make any of you up! What is truly funny is that CPJ can win two NC’s in one state and neither one was at U of GA…hahahahahahahaha

Where have you gone Jim Bob Cooter ?

October 21st, 2009
5:26 pm

Jeff , good article. You pointed out something that needed saying , especially about Braine. But…
Really this just shows that you can’t throw money ,effort or enthusiasm at a problem and win the day. You have to throw talent ,and at every stop in his professional life ,Paul Johnson has shown that he has it. That is the real story here. The guy is just darn good at what he does and he has brought that work ethic combined with know how to the right school at the right time. I guess he’s fortunate that his players have bought into his way of doing things and have been rewarded on the field for doing so. I am not a Tech fan ,but I love to see his teams play football. I wish him success.

PMC

October 21st, 2009
5:26 pm

Every win is a thumb in the eye to Dave Braine.

PMC

October 21st, 2009
5:29 pm

Well and it’s not hard to stay grounded when you know the team hasn’t won since Scott freaking Sisson in Charlottesville. That’s reason enough to be humble.

Burdell

October 21st, 2009
5:30 pm

F. Dave Braine.

Radakovich is the best AD around! He got rid of Chan and got us The Man! Too bad his previous employer got the best of us in the Chicken Bowl…

Nativebird

October 21st, 2009
5:34 pm

Just think how good he’ll be when he actually recruits a Quarterback that can operate this offense fully? For example, imagine someone with 1/2 of Tebow’s skills at the helm. UNSTOPPABLE.

Thank goodness he has a good defense this year.

surfrider

October 21st, 2009
5:34 pm

What a list of coaches. Too think Bobby Ross was so down after 20 games and then to have the program to watch in the 90’s is something. We could tell he was building something back then. Bud Carson was younger than most coaches when he headed Tech only too go the NFL and become one of the greatest DC’s there (Steel-Iron Curtain). Without Curry maybe the rebuilding could not have started and materialized. Pepper had the fans buzzing when he arrived from UCLA/Kansas. PJ has taken things to new level of earlier than I can remember and the above charts show why. To think this is the best start in 85 years is something but we need to focus on one game at a time.

1Jacket7

October 21st, 2009
5:35 pm

Great article Jeff. GT has had the flu since 1990-91 and CPJ is the Flu shot in the arm that stings but gets the job done. I am so happy to finally get someone on the Flats that represents what TECH is all about. My experience there was just that. Respect the opponent but don’t fear him. Play to your level and above and leave the field with no regrets. There is no better place for a student-athlete than at “The Institute”, Georgia Tech, that will prepare for life’s rugged mountains and jagged edge pot holes. Finally, the pieces are now in place to help our boys pass calculus as well as mediocrity. Let’s act and think like champions and take control of our destiny starting this Saturday in Charlottesville. To be a winner you have to win. It is as simple as that. I got my hardware Jackets, now go get yours. Go Jackets!!!

Paddy

October 21st, 2009
5:37 pm

bugsquasher… those so called inferior players beat my Dawgs last season. CPJ is a great coach and just right for Tech. I wish he was coaching somewhere else. You my quasher friend are wearing blinders around those rose colored glasses!

Roger

October 21st, 2009
5:39 pm

Have a look here http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/polls/119
Jackets have a strength of schedule of 12th in the nation…and bugsquacher/others are ragging on that?

GT9

October 21st, 2009
5:45 pm

Beat Virginia!
During the Florida State game, COACH grabbed #92 by the jersey and melted his facemask with a few words of correction. One week later, #92 deflects a pass at the line of scrimmage then makes a Lynn Swann dive for the interception.
Beat Virginia!
COACH can make any kid in America a better football player. Last year, bugsquacher was saying that COACH’S offense wouldn’t work on the BCS level. Last year, that offense outscored the nation’s preseason #1 who sported two NFL first round picks. This year, #4 in the nation goes down to the offense that will not work. Put some wisdom on us, bugs. Fluke?
Beat Virginia!

1Jacket7

October 21st, 2009
5:48 pm

Roger, What’s interesting is that, Florida has a SOS of 6 and they play 4 teams that we also play they also added Troy, College of Charleston and FIU. Those three would lose to Wake Forrest, Duke and Virginia but we have a SOS of 12.

Gordon

October 21st, 2009
5:51 pm

Watch out Paul Hewitt. It’s “win and don’t cheat.” You’re doing the second one well. You better get working on that first one, because Dave Braine is gone.

StingerSplash

October 21st, 2009
5:58 pm

Yes, Jeff, you can have more Kool Aid. There’s plenty to go around. Drink all you want.
We’ll be making more.
Seriously, I’ve been waiting for the moment PJ would take over the Tech program. There was no doubt what he could there. Let’s see if the rest of the college football nation takes notice.
Now, about the basketball program….

GTSteve

October 21st, 2009
5:59 pm

Hey Roger if SOS is so important, how come UGA isnt ranked higher…their SOS is 20….

Oh , because they are not 6 and 1…..now I get it…….lol

GR82BAG8R

October 21st, 2009
6:08 pm

Beat UVA and then we’ll talk about whether Johnson’s arrival has changed Tech. Tech has a knack for winning a statement game then laying an egg. Look at last year’s Georgia game followed by the loss to LSU if you want proof.

Cuttysark

October 21st, 2009
6:08 pm

“Well this offense won’t work in a BCS conference.” Now listen to everyone. The Bandwagon the 1st year right after the hire was smaller than a row boat. The man has won championships with this offense at Georgia Southern University. You don’t think he can be successful coaching a more athletic player in the ACC?. Why is everyone so surprised? He is the best coach in college football and his halftime adjustments are simply outstanding. “Dag Gum Wishbone.”

Go to http://isportsweb.com for Georgia Tech Football articles and look for a preview of the UVA game tomorrow. Also check out the Paul Johnson article from August 17, 2009 Go Jackets!

Tommy

October 21st, 2009
6:09 pm

Did ja hear Lorne smith on the Dog network say Frank Beamer and BeamerBall was too much for the Yellow Jackets to handle+

me

October 21st, 2009
6:15 pm

Someone explain how Iowa has a sos of 3… I don’t see it….

Yellow Fuzz

October 21st, 2009
6:15 pm

GR82BAG8R

Beat Florida, Auburn, Kentucky or us and then we’ll talk about whether your opinion means JACK SCHITT to the Tech Nation. Win a statement game of your own then you can criticize us.

me

October 21st, 2009
6:16 pm

Oh, and go jackets!

GT

October 21st, 2009
6:18 pm

Great article. Coaches now days receive so much money and then Gailey pulls the old, “we can’t expect to win because we have to go to class” routine. Then don’t take the money coach or take less like the rest of the college payroll that can’t help the football team win either. I get so tire of coaches like Bill Curry who practice saying the right things but use that as a excuse for their lack of success. They have their own little smug self righteousness, they have found a meal ticket like a preacher above this winning and losing thing. Not only does it discourage the academic schools from fielding a good football team , it encourages the rogue school that uses it as their excuse for “it is a dog eat dog world and if we don’t do it we get eaten ourselves.” I can remember siting in the Tech stands hearing fans wishing Tech would cheat so we could stop losing to Georgia, like that was the missing ingredient. Believe it or not there are many schools that would rather have a winning football team that a strong academic rep, and when the two come into conflict the academic suffers. And thirdly it gives the pollsters the idea that Tech cannot be that good, instead of shoveling the spin like 99% of the SEC, Tech lays out a case of why they should never be considered for a top 10 rating. I think till this day that glass ceiling is being created by a lazy previous coach who felt more comfortable personally with low expectations and a high paycheck, but who wouldn’t? Paul Johnson would be one of a very small group who wouldn’t.

Delbert D.

October 21st, 2009
6:26 pm

Yellow Fuzz – That guy allegedly is a UF fan “Great to be a gator” is how the ID translates. I would enjoy seeing UF beat themselves, again. Like against Ole Miss last year.

ICMIII

October 21st, 2009
6:32 pm

I’m a UGA Fan and alum. I think Paul Johnson is great. Tech landed one hell of a coach. His teams play hard, and they play smart. And if they don’t, CPJ puts his foot up their butt. Wish we had a little more of that in Athens.

Delbert D.

October 21st, 2009
6:35 pm

Paul Johnson is very old school. Mark Richt seems more like hoity-toity prep school. That’s about as nasty as I get.

collegeballfan

October 21st, 2009
6:48 pm

As I believe Paul Johnson would say – “lets keep our feet on the ground here…”. Tech is 6 – 1. Great! They were 6 – 1 last year. Then went out & lost to Virginia. Ended up losing 3 of the last 6 games.
You are only as good as the outcome of your next game.

I really think Johnson is a very good football coach. They have an opportunity to have a very special season. But it is only an opportunity. The coaches & players must deliver. The last game does not matter, only the next game.

k-money

October 21st, 2009
6:49 pm

Wait about 2 or 3 more years when CPJ actually has recruited to fit his system. It’s going to be scary. These are not option o-lineman. Jordan Luallen may win a heisman after he takes over for Nesbitt.

bradley

October 21st, 2009
6:54 pm

Yeah…but he will not be at Tech long. Check it, he continues to refuse to sign any contract extension that contains a heavy buy-out. Who would want to stay at Tech? It is a stepping stone. The only positive may be low expectations.

GR82BAG8R

October 21st, 2009
6:58 pm

Delbert is correct, Yellow Fuzz. I thought you Techies were supposed to be smart. It is indeed “Great to be a Gator”. Florida has won two out of the last three BCS NCs as well as two basketball NCs. If Tech had done the same you would be feeling as great.
Now back to the question at hand, can Tech get the UVA monkey off its back? There is something about playing in Charlottesville that seems to put Tech off its game. How else do you explain loss after loss after loss since 1990.

Johnson has done some impressive work since his arrival to your school. He has really gotten the Bulldog fans attention to the point they spend more time trying to denigrate Tech than they do explaing why Georgia can’t seem to beat Florida.

Good luck Saturday in Charlottesville. You’re going to need it. Virgina is not the same team that lost to William&Mary.

jacket3

October 21st, 2009
7:00 pm

The Dawgs would love to have CPJ. What college program in 1-A wouldn’t. He made believers in 2-A as well.

Love his attitude, and his swagger. AND he did this with Gailey’s recruits! Wait ’till he gets his own group on the field…look out Dog fans…there is a new sheriff in town for Division 1-A. Certainly now the Jackets have someone with style, intelligence and class.

We’ll see how well you do Nov 28th and the next year, and the next year…..yeah, we’ll lose a game or two, but not many for a long, long time.

Go Jackets.

Paul( high school offense) Johnson

October 21st, 2009
7:07 pm

One complete pass in the whole game !!! You might can win the acc with this high school offense but if you think you can win a national championship doing nothing but running the ball i think you are a couple marbles short.It looks good with a lead but what happens next time you are down in the 4th and have to pass?Turn it over to your qb and watch him complete 1 out of 12?

Brian

October 21st, 2009
7:08 pm

Delbert D.

October 21st, 2009
7:10 pm

GR82BAG8R – Actually, I would not like to see the Gators lose like that. I’m just generally pi$$ed off about something today. I think it was the Tiffen article in the AP. Tebow has my respect.

UVA is a nightmare that keeps me waking up in a sweat. “Laying an egg” is putting it nicely. They and UNC are my must win games, or I’m messed up for months. Can’t stand the “plantation owner” mentality of the UVA and UNC grads I’ve worked with.

GR82BAG8R

October 21st, 2009
7:12 pm

PHSOJ, remember that Johnson does not have his full complement of players yet. You also have not seen his complete offense. Don’t kid yourself that he will not use the pass, and just run, run, run. The complexity and simplicity of his offense drives defenses crazy. Just when you think you have figured it out, and covered all the run options, he will pass and it will be for a long gain.

Tech may indeed one day play for a NC under Johnson. But first, they must beat UVA.

Jackets Keep Rollin'

October 21st, 2009
7:14 pm

6-1 is a great start — Same as last year. With so many games yet to be played, there’s no point trying to write the chapter on this season…yet. With a few more crucial wins we can be a historic team. But there is a lot more football to come! Go Jackets!

GA Tech Insider

October 21st, 2009
7:31 pm

bradley, you should check you facts before making stupid statements. Paul Johnson just signed an extension after last season. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on your part, but Paul Johnson is planning on being on the Flats for a while, and the Jacket Nation, including yours truly, is more than willing to “belly up to the bar” to keep the man happy enough to stay.

Paul Johnson is already proving he can compete for championships at Georgia Tech. That was all he was looking for when he decided to leave Navy. There shouldn’t be a reason to make another move as long as we take care of him, and show him how much we appreciate what he’s doing for us.

Dan

October 21st, 2009
7:44 pm

PHSOJ, didn’t we complete one pass last year against U(sic)GA and still beat the preseason #1 team in the land? But don’t let facts get in the way of your point…

fladawg

October 21st, 2009
7:45 pm

I am glad for GT to finally be winning some games…but there is no comparison to CMR. Regardless of the weak minded dawg fans complaining this year so far, clear thinking Dawg fans are very happy to have CMR. We will see how many of you still love your coach and program when he has a down period or when more teams successfully defend the option offense.