There’s a reason Georgia Tech fans love Paul Johnson. Actually, there are two, and the second one is a no-brainer: He beat Georgia. But Tech fans loved PJ long before that rainy day in Athens, and they love him because he says what every single fan wishes his/her coach would say.
He doesn’t sugarcoat. Except for the boilerplate assertion that his stylized offense is never as bad as it might look, he doesn’t seek to cover his assets. (And you can almost excuse that excess, seeing as how he invented the offense.) When his team stinks, he doesn’t remind you of his career record or of what might have happened four years ago. He says, “We stunk.” Only he says it in richer detail.
Like this: “Miami is an outstanding football team, but it wouldn’t have had to be the way we played.”
Also: “The way we played, the way we coached, it was a group effort.”
And: “We’re not really good at anything right now.”
These are snippets from Johnson’s Tuesday press briefing, which was as blunt as any coach’s Tuesday press briefing ever gets. Of an illegal block that wiped out a Tech touchdown in Miami, Johnson said: “It was very poor technique. I don’t know what the guy was doing, really.”
Of Tech’s false starts: “If you can’t go on the snap count — the other team doesn’t have anything to do with that. That’s you.”
Of Tech’s defensive collapse: “We had too much in. Anytime you can’t do what you’re supposed to be doing, you’ve got too much in.”
Of coordinator’s Dave Wommack’s assertion that his defenders will switch to a 4-5-2 alignment for Saturday’s game against North Carolina: “We could play a 4-12-9, but it won’t matter what we play if we don’t get our face on somebody and our eyes where they should be.”
Some among you might call this empty bluster. I’d call it the sort of candor rarely seen in an industry in which head coaches make millions and assistants hundreds of thousands.
Some also might say Johnson is being too hard on his players. I would not. For one thing, he stops short of naming names. For another, he knows those players are all he has: “It’s like having a kid. It’s OK for me to say he’s bad, but I get mad if someone else says it.”
Then this: “You set the bar where you want it, and you don’t give in until you get there. You can’t run from expectations.”
For the record, he didn’t feel his offense, at least schematically, was the culprit in Miami. “I probably shouldn’t get into this,” he said. Then, one beat later: “But let me. Go back to our Clemson game, where we played [according to some] so poorly on offense. Did you see what Clemson just did [against Boston College]? Fifty-four yards and four first downs [allowed]. Let’s give Clemson a little credit. Four hundred twelve yards [Tech's yield was 418, actually] doesn’t look so bad compared to that.
“On the first series against Miami we had two missed assignments and kicked a field goal. On the next series — or it may have been the third [it was] — we had a touchdown called back and missed a field goal … If you only have 50 plays in a game [Tech had 54], you’re not going to get 500 yards. [Tech had 228.] Can we get better? You bet. But that’s the least of my worries right now.”
And that’s the other part of a Paul Johnson briefing. You never come away thinking he’s all that worried. You come away thinking he figures he’ll figure it out. He probably will.