In his first two seasons at Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson went 20-7, including 12-4 in the ACC, and won a conference title (the whims of NCAA investigators notwithstanding).
In the 2½ years since, he is 16-16, including 10-10 in the ACC, and has lost nine of his past 13. He also just fired his second defensive coordinator, hoping to salvage a season that has some fans grumbling and wondering if those early results were some aberration.
Yet to be determined: Is this merely a step back before another eventual ACC title run (most optimistic) or ugly foreshadowing of a Bill Lewis collapse (most pessimistic).
Welcome to today’s sports world, which can be best summed up as: What a beautiful morning/Wait I felt A Raindrop/The Sky Is Falling! (Elapsed time: 12 minutes.)
For what it’s worth, the sky isn’t falling in Dan Radakovich’s office. The Georgia Tech athletic director affirmed Tuesday that he has not lost confidence in Johnson as the school’s football coach, nor has he given any thought to making a change in that office.
“I know there’s some erosion in support right now, but the Falcons are 5-0, and there was erosion in their fan base last year, too, when they didn’t win in the playoffs,” Radakovich said. “That’s the thing about sports now. People can express their opinion quickly.
“I have confidence in Paul. He’s the right person for this job, and he will continue to move the program forward. We have to get through this bump in the road. We still have six games left for a chance to have a positive season.”
In at least one respect, being a football coach isn’t different from any other job: When somebody’s tenure begins with signs of very-good-to-greatness, the boss is more likely to give that employee the benefit of the doubt.
Johnson has earned that benefit.
What he accomplished in his first two seasons, including Tech playing in its first BCS bowl game and a first-season win at Georgia, went far beyond what anybody could have projected.
Critics suggest he has made consecutive defensive coordinators, Dave Wommack and Al Groh, scapegoats for his own failings. But apply some logic here: Wommack was fired after the 2009 ACC title season (hence: not a scapegoat). Groh was fired after a three-game losing streak that saw the Jackets score 36, 28 and 31 points but allow 42, 49 and 47. There were late-game defensive collapses both this year and late last season.
Is this really the time to pin Tech’s problems on the triple-option offense?
For as much as Johnson’s offense tends to be a lightning rod for criticism in these just-chuck-it days of football, the Jackets have scored fewer than 14 points in seven of 59 games under Johnson and fewer than 20 in 14 of 59. Overall, they have scored an average of 30.5 points.
Is Johnson ultimately responsible for whether his team wins or loses? Of course. But Radakovich doesn’t see any of the other signs an athletic director looks for when contemplating a coaching change, most notably a lack of effort or hopelessness. “It’s not like we’re getting blown out,” he said. “It’s not like we’re being physically overmatched every week.”
He said he understands the criticism. He expected it. He fields questions at booster functions and reads weekly critiques in his email’s inbox. He just doesn’t agree with them.
“Paul has demonstrated to me that he can coach and he can pull a team together,” Radakovich said. “And it’s important to note that it’s not just here. His entire career [including Georgia Southern and Navy] to me has been as big a positive as anything. He has shown that he’s able to sustain success in an organization over a long period of time.”
Radakovich and Johnson speak daily. The AD was a sounding board for him when Johnson was considering firing Groh.
Radakovich: “It was not an easy decision for Paul, and I look at my role as being someone who can give him a 360-degree view of things. But he’s the head football coach, and I want to give him the opportunity to have the staff that he sees fit.”
If the losses continue, it’s logical to assume that Johnson ultimately would pay a price. But Tech isn’t nearly at that point yet.
By Jeff Schultz
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