(UPDATED: 1:30 p.m.)
Dan Radakovich is leaving as athletic director at Georgia Tech, where he had thousands of empty seats at football games and needed to search between couch cushions for funding, for the same job at Clemson, where he won’t have to worry about either.
So don’t blame Radakovich for leaving. He has been rumored for previous vacancies — most recently Tennessee and Texas A&M — and the wonder is that he didn’t leave before for a more lucrative option. The fact Radakovich is filling a position at another ACC school may upset some Tech fans, but it’s a slam dunk of a career move.
The question many already are asking is: What does this mean for Paul Johnson?
The answer: Probably nothing. At least in the short term.
Nor should it.
Tech is having a bad season: 3-5 overall, 2-3 in the ACC and coming off a 41-17 home loss to BYU. This follows going 2-5 down the stretch last season after a 6-0 start. Johnson has fired two defensive coordinators during his tenure and the fact the Jackets failed to score an offensive touchdown against BYU just raised the volume level of those who never liked his offense to begin with.
Radakovich recently gave Johnson a vote of confidence. That vote obviously means nothing now that he’s not on campus any more. But in declaring Johnson “the right person for the job,” Radakovich also said a few weeks ago: “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. That’s the thing about sports now. People can express their opinion quickly.”
He is right, of course. Ask Mark Richt.
In any profession, there is a level of discomfort when the boss who hired you leaves. But no matter who takes over as Tech’s new athletic director, he (or she) is going to be dealing with the same situation that Radakovich did. That person is unlikely to make an immediate coaching change, and there are at least two significant reasons:
• 1) Johnson’s four-plus-season resume is largely positive, even if the records are going in the wrong direction: 9-4, 11-3, 6-7, 8-5, 3-5. He won 20 games in his first two years and an ACC championship in his second season. He had no role in the NCAA’s decision to void that conference title based on its investigation. In short, it’s too early for anybody to jump ship, even if so many people commenting on message boards and blogs believe the world would be better off if they were running it.
It doesn’t take long for the “Fire him!” inferno to start in today’s media world — about the time it takes to type seven letters on Twitter. But it would be premature to make that move now. The new A.D. will want at least one year to evaluate the health and direction of the program.
• 2) Firing Johnson would cost way too much, particularly at a school that is barely in the black in athletics. (Radakovich did a good job just getting the Jackets out of the red and in fundraising for new facilities.) Remember, the athletic department is still doubled-over from Paul Hewitt’s $7 million buyout, and it’s not like either the football or basketball teams are selling out.
Johnson’s contract was rewritten twice in his first two seasons. It runs through 2016. His salary averages out to about $2.6 million annually. A firing after this season would cost the school in excess of $10 million.
That’s not happening.
The Jackets will need to go 3-1 in the last four weeks just to become bowl eligible. Projecting: a win over Maryland next week; games at North Carolina and home against Duke that can go either way; a loss at Georgia. That’s anywhere from 4-8 to 6-6, nothing for a Tech fan to cheer about.
But making a change isn’t a subject the new athletic director will, or should, visit for at least another year. If even then.
By Jeff Schultz
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