When the notion of hiring a special-teams coordinator was broached last fall by this helpful correspondent, Paul Johnson called it “ridiculous” and contended that, in divvying up assignments, his program was doing as most big-time programs do. Left unacknowledged was the reality that few big-time programs were less special on special teams than Georgia Tech.
Conclusion: Paul Johnson has succeeded in negotiating the fine line between stubbornness, which can have its virtues, and silliness, which has none.
Two of last season’s losses — at Miami, where a botched punt became one Hurricanes touchdown and a long kickoff return generated another, and against Utah in the Sun Bowl, where Tech missed three field goals — could be traced to the kicking game. This was after a 2010 season in which the Jackets lost at Virginia Tech on a kickoff return for a touchdown, at Georgia after missing a tying extra point and to Air Force in the Independence Bowl after muffing two punts.
Running the numbers, we note that five of Tech’s past nine losses — that’s more than half — could be traced to failures of kicking, covering kicks or fielding kicks. We also note that the Jackets were 54th last season among 120 FBS teams in net punting, 59th in kickoff-return defense, 61st in punt returns and 106th in kickoff returns. Tech’s longest field goal of 2011 spanned 41 yards.
As much fun as it was to hear Johnson fuss about his kicking game — and he’s a fusser of the first rank — it also made you wonder: Why didn’t he try to do something besides fuss?
Now he has, and good for him. The addition of Dave Walkosky from the Canadian Football League can’t possibly hurt. Tech’s special teams had gotten so shoddy as to damage the entire operation. Kicking and its offshoots tend to be given short shrift by colleges — the pros, by way of contrast, leave nothing to chance — and that approach has never made a lick of sense. Given that kicking can win or lose games, why chop up the responsibility and have different coaches handle different aspects? Why render an essential function an afterthought? Why not put one man in charge?
To his credit, Paul Johnson thought hard about his special teams and concluded that doing it the way most others do it was no longer tenable for Tech. To his credit, he tabled his resistance and did what needed doing. This doesn’t mean the Jackets will never miss another field goal or yield another long return, but it does mean that future failures won’t stem from a lack of oversight.
By Mark Bradley