Firing assistant after 11-3 season says a lot about Johnson

Paul Johnson knew long before walking off the field following the Orange Bowl that he needed to make a change.

Paul Johnson knew long before walking off the field following the Orange Bowl that he needed to make a change. (AP photo)

Paul Johnson is not like most head coaches. Georgia Tech just won its first conference championship in 19 years and went to its biggest bowl game in 43.  Most head coaches react to this by pushing for raises for his assistants. Johnson reacted by giving Dave Wommack a pink slip.

Nobody likes to see people lose jobs, especially nice guys like Wommack. He’s one of those old school coaches who show up for work at 4 a.m. and looks a lot older than his birth certificate suggests. He’s 53 but looks 63. He gets too little sleep and lives with too much stress for too few successes.

But Johnson’s decision to fire his defensive coordinator should make most Tech fans smile because it reaffirms what we already knew about the man: He’s not the settling type.

Johnson acknowledged he had made this decision a while ago — sometime during an 11-win season. Contrast that with Georgia’s Mark Richt, who seemed to be the last person in Athens to acknowledge that defensive coordinator Willie Martinez needed to go. Richt made that decision over five weeks ago. At least two of his top candidates have turned him down (Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster and LSU’s John Chavis). How will it go over if Johnson fills his staff opening before Richt does his — and does it with a long-time impressive defensive coach like Al Groh, a rumored candidate?

There is no guarantee Groh takes the job, either. He certainly doesn’t need the money (Virginia, which fired him as head coach, still owes him $4.33 million over the next two years). If he decides to work, he might prefer returning to the NFL. But Groh’s a competitive guy who is quite enamored of the Jackets’ offense and the job Johnson has done at the school. It probably wasn’t just a coincidence that he watched a Jackets’ pre-bowl practice two weeks ago. At 65, the defensive coordinator’s job at Tech could be a nice way for him to slide into retirement.

Dave Wommack's defenses allowed 30-plus points in eight of Tech's last 16 games. (AJC photo/Johnny Crawford)

Dave Wommack's defenses allowed 30-plus points in eight of Georgia Tech's last 16 games. (AJC photo/Johnny Crawford)

Johnson denies that he already has offered Groh the job. When asked about his candidacy, he said: “I have no idea. There’s probably going to be a lot of candidates. … I would think he’s a guy who would be a great candidate if he’s interested. But I don’t know if he is. He’s collecting a lot of money up there [from Virginia].”

This much is certain: Whether Groh comes to Atlanta or not, Johnson sees an opportunity t0 do something special at Tech over the long term. He quickly grew weary of wins being so dependent on how many touchdowns his option offense produced. This was never intended to look like the Arena League (first team to not score loses.)

To some degree, Tech will go as the option goes. But weekly cataclysmic developments on the defensive side of the ball was getting old. The defense doesn’t need to allow 14 points or less to win games. It just can’t star in any more cartoons.

The Jackets scored 45 points at Georgia last season and won by a field goal. They scored 49 points at Florida State and won by five. Tech opponents this season scored 30 or more points six times. Including the final two games of last season (Georgia and the 38-3 loss to LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl), Wommack’s defense has allowed 30-plus points in eight of the last 16 games.

There’s only one statistic more stunning than that: Tech still went 5-3 in those games. But Johnson didn’t hide his displeasure with the defense, even after the wins.

Winning coaches often shift their program into auto pilot. But great coaches don’t rest. They don’t settle. The auto pilot button doesn’t exist on Johnson’s dashboard.

554 comments Add your comment

Duke Blue

January 8th, 2010
5:12 pm

He should hire Jim Mora a perfect fit for Tech…

Maddog

January 8th, 2010
5:14 pm

What type of defense does CPJ want to run? That will have a lot to do with who he hires.

We Ruin This State

January 8th, 2010
5:17 pm

3rd, I’m so excited. Actually with a decent defensive effort Tech would have been undefeated until Iowa. Iowa, I still say, is the best team I’ve seen this year. Loses from Miami and UGA could have been avoided.

South DeKalb Hurricane Alumni C/O 92

January 8th, 2010
5:18 pm

buzz is wiser

January 8th, 2010
5:21 pm

Groh would be a nice hire. One would have to assume he was at practice for a specific reason. But doesn’t he run a 3-4. I thought the reason we wanted to go to that 4-2-5 or wolf with Taylor because it was thought we weren’t deep enough at linebacker. And isn’t our D-line too small for that system?

GT Fan

January 8th, 2010
5:21 pm

Thanks Coach for moving fast to fix the problems. Thanks also for exciting season.Hope you get a good D-C and sign some big boys to fill the holes. Fire Paul Hewitt ASP.

Marsha

January 8th, 2010
5:23 pm

Dave Wommack is a nice guy, but he just wasn’t getting the job done. I wish him well.

hastethechariot

January 8th, 2010
5:24 pm

It’s Biggest Bowl in 43 years? What about the citrus bowl to win the national championship in 1990?

Marsha

January 8th, 2010
5:25 pm

And I agree with GT Fan – Paul Hewitt should be the next one to go. He’s totally incompetent. I doubt if he could even coach at the high school level and win. Someone get the tar and feathers ready,.

flagboy?

January 8th, 2010
5:26 pm

hahah! i love it! CPJ doesn’t put up with anything! That kid commits to us, then wants to visit somewhere else! And what does Johnson do! HAHA, pulls that scholarship quick! i love it! Because it’s all about loyalty baby!

wait. . . . wrong blog post. my bad.

Be Careful What You Ask For ...

January 8th, 2010
5:29 pm

The ONLY problem with CPJ acting so fast … The next possiable DC may think long and hard before he takes that job. One bad year due to a few mistakes or lack of talent and he is out of work. There is something to be said for the way CMR did it … as painful as it was … Which coach would you want to work for – one that has a quick tigger finger or one that gives you amble opportunity?

flagboy?

January 8th, 2010
5:31 pm

buzz is wiser

January 8th, 2010
5:21 pm
Groh would be a nice hire. One would have to assume he was at practice for a specific reason. But doesn’t he run a 3-4. I thought the reason we wanted to go to that 4-2-5 or wolf with Taylor because it was thought we weren’t deep enough at linebacker. And isn’t our D-line too small for that system?
__________________________________________

Not that my opinion, or anyone else’s on here matters a hill of beans. . .BUT. . if Groh gets the job after showing up at tech practice while Wommack was still there, Johnson has just taken a few steps down as far as respect goes.

That would be pretty low down.

AND, if you’re not deep at LB. . . .recruit some.

YOU EARNED THE RAZZING

January 8th, 2010
5:32 pm

Well Schultz is at it again giving CPJ the Genius a man hug article. He kicks ass even in a winning year. Well give him a medal for doing his job. He may hire someone before CMR. Huh?

Said another way, “Tech’s defense sucked and the guy should have been fired and who care who hires someone first… it’s the quality of the hire that counts.” And for that matter UGA can beat Tech even with Willie Martinez as DC.

30 to 24 maggots. It won’t matter who you hire we are gonna take you to the woodshed this year in Athens…

barf

January 8th, 2010
5:33 pm

Groh is a loser. For a defensive coach, his defenses at UVa weren’t anything worth bragging about. I also don’t understand all the talk about him being a great recruiter. I live in VA and all the talk here is about how he’s out in Charlottesville is because he couldn’t recruit. And he’s a pompous crank. Ga Tech can do better. Or maybe not.

cattle dawg

January 8th, 2010
5:33 pm

I just saw Al Groh walk by the varsity.

Old Dawg New Trick

January 8th, 2010
5:33 pm

As a GA. fan I would like to Congratulate GT on a great season. it is impresive that CPJ is taking the strides and being proactive to make his team better. Dispite set backs in this season actions like this only lead me to belive that tech will continue to improve and raise the stock of the ACC.

Dawgs2010

January 8th, 2010
5:34 pm

The new DC had better watch out or he might get punched in the mouth!

JSS

January 8th, 2010
5:34 pm

Jeff Schultz, left you a note on the previous blog…
And will ask Johnson if he is finally going to seriously implement the passing segment of his scheme now that he’s been shutdown in 2 bowl games… I like Johnson by the way, I just wonder?

Herchel

January 8th, 2010
5:35 pm

You are correct. It does say a lot about Johnson. The “genius” is responsible for the offense, which scored a whopping 14 points against freaking Iowa. Indiana lit them up. Long live coach Johnson and his middle school offense.

Jeff Schultz

January 8th, 2010
5:36 pm

Duke Blue — No, thank you.

GIVE ME A BREAK

January 8th, 2010
5:37 pm

Great positive move. Thanks CPJ and Dave Wommack for a great and exciting year. Looking forward to next year. GO JACKETS!!!!

Jeff Schultz

January 8th, 2010
5:37 pm

Maddog — Pretty sure he doesn’t care about scheme, just about success.

GT Trumpet

January 8th, 2010
5:38 pm

@ Be Careful What You Ask For…
CPJ has been here for 2 years, and both years Wommack failed to keep almost any teams offense in check. This wasn’t a one year decision. CPJ is quick to pull the trigger, but he will give you many opportunities to improve yourself. When Wommack didn’t improve at all week to week, that’s when CPJ decided to release him.

Jeff Schultz

January 8th, 2010
5:39 pm

Hastethechariot — The Orange Bowl is bigger than the Citrus Bowl, even though the win in 1990 gave Tech the UPI title. (FYI — the Orange Bowl that year included Colorado, which won the AP title).

Asheville Dawg

January 8th, 2010
5:39 pm

Good decision by CPJ. You can’t give up that many points and be serious about winning championships consistently. Now who gets the better DC in the state will tell the story.

Jeff Schultz

January 8th, 2010
5:41 pm

JSS — I was a little surprised he didn’t try to throw more vs. Iowa when run was shut down so well by Iowa, but fact is that Nesbitt missed some throws and Iowa defensive front did a great job throwing him off his rhythm.

Goergia will ALWAYS dominate GT!!!

January 8th, 2010
5:43 pm

((((((((((((((30-24))))))))))))))

I RUN THIS STATE!!!

Jealous Nerdy Fools

Georgia will ALWAYS dominate GT!!!

Ted Striker

January 8th, 2010
5:44 pm

I see Paul Johnson as overrated, but more than that — destined to go the way of Mike Leach, Mark Mangino, and Jim Leavitt. That said, kudos to him for making a strong move at the right time.

I haven’t changed my view that Paul Johnson will eventually wear out his welcome by making the wrong move…but he just played a very good hand.

Good for him.

flagboy?

January 8th, 2010
5:44 pm

Jeff Schultz

January 8th, 2010
5:41 pm
JSS — I was a little surprised he didn’t try to throw more vs. Iowa when run was shut down so well by Iowa, but fact is that Nesbitt missed some throws and Iowa defensive front did a great job throwing him off his rhythm.
_________________________________________

then stop putting Nesbitt in situations where it makes it harder to throw. You’re admitting your O-Line doesn’t stack up against the big boys. . . put Nesbitt in the shotgun and give him an extra second or two.

buzz is wiser

January 8th, 2010
5:44 pm

flag dog, I don’t think CPJ takes a step back if Wommack had already known that his days were numbered. If he didn’t know yeah you may have a point, but if he wins no one cares about respect. As far as recruiting LBs that is the easy answer, looking at who is coming in this year there is not one LB on the list, last year there were only two and J. Burnett actually received some playing time. I’m sure it could work because of the number of DEs we’ve signed the last couple of years but just strange.

GT Trumpet

January 8th, 2010
5:45 pm

Good job spelling Georgia wrong “Mr. Goergia will ALWAYS dominate GT!!!”. Classic uga fan.

Brunswick-Tech

January 8th, 2010
5:45 pm

wow, he must be serious. I love old school hard ass’s, they make great football coaches.

buzz is wiser

January 8th, 2010
5:46 pm

I’m sorry flagboy?

Duke Blue

January 8th, 2010
5:46 pm

It sucks when you have to share a national title……….

8-1 in the last 9 games

January 8th, 2010
5:48 pm

NO D COORDINATOR WILL BE SUCCESSFUL WHEN HIS D ALWAYS HAS TO PRACTICE AGAINST TRIPLE OFFENSE ALL YEAR AND THEN GOES AGAINST PRO STYLE AND SPREAD OFFENSES. WE WILL START TO SEE A “REPLACEMENT” TREND SOON.

BUWAHAHAHAHAHA

Brunswick-Tech

January 8th, 2010
5:48 pm

not as bad as not having one. Duke Blue

Andre "Pulpwood" Smith

January 8th, 2010
5:48 pm

OMG, Super Genius Paul Johnson is the greatest football coach in the history of Western civilization!

Not Disappointed

January 8th, 2010
5:49 pm

That’s great News Jeff. Just got from Miami. In-laws. The best news since winning the ACC!

Teddy KGB

January 8th, 2010
5:49 pm

As a dawg fan I have a serious question for you Tech fans, I’m not trying to stir the pot. As a result of your success this year do you think your opponents will spend more time trying to break you down on film this offseason? Honestly, if I were you I’d be a little worried. It seems as though that whenever you play someone who has had the time to give you guys a good look you have a hard time moving the ball. Your thoughts?

Seriously

January 8th, 2010
5:49 pm

Jeff I’m not sure I understand the adulation for a guy that knows absolutely nothing about the passing game, has never put a quality defense on the field in his entire coaching career, and is a postseason punching bag. Have things been so bad for so long at Tech that this is what they call a messiah.

Elmo

January 8th, 2010
5:50 pm

Say Jeff – next time I need to throw somebody under the Bus – damn sure want you there to toss flowers.
The Head Coach can “amputate ” his Staff all he wants – but the responsibility MUST rest on the Head Coach to a far greater degree that your “Love for Johnson” will allow.

flagboy?

January 8th, 2010
5:52 pm

buzz is wiser

January 8th, 2010
5:44 pm
flag dog, I don’t think CPJ takes a step back if Wommack had already known that his days were numbered. If he didn’t know yeah you may have a point, but if he wins no one cares about respect. As far as recruiting LBs that is the easy answer, looking at who is coming in this year there is not one LB on the list, last year there were only two and J. Burnett actually received some playing time. I’m sure it could work because of the number of DEs we’ve signed the last couple of years but just strange
____________________________________

I don’t care of Wommack had packed his bags and rented a U-Haul, if Groh gets the job, that’s classless. And as for “no one cares about respect”. . . you don’t hold on good assistants without respect. And without good assistants, you’re not winning. It eventually got Tubberville canned at Auburn.

and for recruiting. . . they get to decide who they target. If tech only has 1 LB coming in this year, whose fault is that?

JSS

January 8th, 2010
5:52 pm

Yeah, I watch while waiting for the ticket agent to get my boy a reschedule flight on Tuesday to Michigan. I just amazed how well Navy throws in comparison to Tech. It is amazing as well as Nesbit threw in HS, his footwork now is just scary now… Johnson is stubborn, but it is not a stupid stubborn, interesting to hear what he is feeling with some hindsight, not second guessing…

Georgia will ALWAYS dominate GT!!!

January 8th, 2010
5:52 pm

Thanks, missed it…..

To busy with,

(((((((((((((((((30-24)))))))))))))))))))

I RUN THIS STATE!!!

Orange Bowl or not, WHO’S YOUR DADDY?

Jealous nerdy fools…

Georgia will ALWAYS dominate GT!!!

cattle dawg

January 8th, 2010
5:53 pm

Dont really think Al and Paul will mesh good together. CPJ has a ego bigger than Jim Mora. But thats part of what makes him good. The other part is he sleeps on a bed of nails.

8-1 in the last 9 games

January 8th, 2010
5:54 pm

TECHS OFFENSE SCORES 10 POINTS IN LAST TWO BOWL GAMES AND THE DEFENSE IS TO BLAIM?

BUWAHAHAHAHAHA

JSS

January 8th, 2010
5:55 pm

Ewwwww!!! “watched”
See. only being mean (with you) about the Hawks and Thrashers with you this part of the New Year!

Supersize that order, mutt

January 8th, 2010
5:55 pm

“Blaim”??? Where did you dig up that word? Oh, I forgot, you’re a mutt and you are by definition ignorant.

8-1 in the last 9 games

January 8th, 2010
5:56 pm

WHY ARE ALL THESE THIRD TO FOURTH ROUND PROJECTED “PLAYAS” FORGOING THEIR SENIOR SEASON AT TECH?

BUWAHAHAHAHA

buzz is wiser

January 8th, 2010
5:57 pm

Teddy KGB, its very rare that a “dawg” fan says something that is well thought out and I thank you for that, but the short history has shown that time is the true indicator in shutting down our offense. LSU, Iowa, Miami the only exception was UGA last year. With that said I don’t think the regular season will be an issue, I see a bright future in the ACC but bowl games could be a problem with a month off. Only time will tell but I put my faith in CPJ to change the trend.