Sunday, April 20, 2008

T-Day or D-Day?

Fans looking for offensive brilliance Saturday were once again left disappointed and bewildered. The annual spring game, "T-Day", really wasn't a grand unveiling of a shiny new sports car. It was more like opening up a sick patient, exposing what was wrong for the world to see.

The offense was clearly dominated by the defense, and it started in the trenches. That wasn't a new development as the O-Line has been run over and run through most of the spring. There were yet again loads of fumbles and dropped pitches. The various offensive combinations really didn't move the ball much on Saturday, although it got a bit better in the 2nd half. B-Backs weren't too successful, A-backs were out-of-position, and assignments were missed by many.

It's really no wonder Georgia Tech officials decided not to let the game be filmed for CSS in it's entirety. I think Paul Johnson knew that this thing is still a work-in-progress. There will be a one-hour special with highlights from the game shown in between interviews and spotlights on players. That's probably a better idea, having seen what many saw. Sounds like there were enough highlights to stitch together a show.

For me, I had planned on going to the game with my family. I was at the Duke University business school all week at a leadership training course, given by a bunch of Harvard Business School professors. I got home Friday night and unfortunately found a gaggle of sick people in my house, so we stayed home. From the sounds of fans who did attend, the event was not organized too well, with long lines, expensive food that ran out and long waits for the kids activities. Of course the fan turnout was in the neighborhood of 10,000 people (officially 8500). Not sure anyone planned for that many, and maybe it showed.

Getting back to the game, there are different ways of framing Saturday in your mind as we wait for fall. Somewhere between optimism and worry is a realistic expectation level. But where is it? At the extremes it's the "this will work in the fall" or "this won't work" mindsets. The more realistic approach focuses on when it will work, not if it will work. Some fans were fully expecting this offense to be clicking by the end of the spring. Others think it's going to take at least one season and maybe two. So what is the right level of expectation? From my perspective there are a few data points that figure in to building an expectation level:

We did not just change coaches. We changed the entire philosophy of the organization. We're talking a Lou Gerstner IBM type-turnaround. The offense might be the most visible change, but Paul Johnson has been changing the entire organizational philosophy.

Johnson is transforming the organization from a culture of personal responsibility (Gailey) to a culture of personal accountability (Johnson). Under Gailey you were responsible for making good decisions, for managing your own business, schedule, and focus. Under Gailey it was assumed you were responsible and you needed to take care of your own business. Under Johnson it is more about accountability, not just to yourself, not just to your teammates in your field unit, but to the entire team and organization. You earn rights by what you do. With Gailey, you were given rights up front. With Johnson you are held accountable for every single movement you make on the field. Make a mistake and there are immediate consequences. Cause..... effect.

The shift may seem subtle, but there is a difference between personal responsibility and personal accountability. To me it's the difference between a more individual mindset and a team mindset. Going through that shift will take a little time. However, it is difficult to figure out how it translates to the football field. It is a serious cultural shift though, and cannot be discounted.

At the end of the day, this team has had about 14 practices with an incredibly different offensive philosophy. That's not many. We may want them to be showing out as an offensive juggernaut, but realistically, that's almost not possible after only 14 practices. It may be completely unrealistic to expect a lot more in season #1. I just don't know, but if repitition is key, then you can't replace reps with anything else. There is no osmosis in this case. It's all about reps over time. Reps over time. Reps over time.

Let me ask you a question. If the offense was dominating the defense this spring, how would you feel? How would you feel if Michael Johnson, Daryl Richard, Vance Walker and Derrick Morgan were getting run over and run through? I tell you how I would feel - panicked. We have one of the most talented D-Lines in the conference. If that line is not getting penetration and pressure on a set of banged up, inexperienced offensive lineman trying to learn a completely different way of blocking, then I become extremely worried.

Knowing what we know about the time and repetition it takes to install a good spread offense, I am glad to see that our defense dominating. Now, I don't like to see all the fumbles and dropped pitches, because they aren't all because of the defense, but by in large it means more to me to see a great defense than a great offense after 14 practices. Yes, the defense is under-going a scheme shift, but it is quite evolutionary compared to the revolutionary changes we are seeing in the offense.

Navy went 2-10 in Paul Johnson's first year. Now, they barely won any games the prior two years, but Johnson's turnaround at Navy took more than one complete season. They won their first game against SMU, then proceeded to lose 10 games in a row. It wasn't until they beat Army in their rivalry game that people started to believe. Here's what Paul Johnson's wife Susan had to say:

“When we beat Army [58-12] to end the year, it gave everyone hope. It almost single-handily wiped out the previous ten losses,” noted Susan Johnson

Here's the thing though. Paul Johnson worked that situtation tirelessly until he figured it out:

“He and the staff were at the office all the time, even at the peak of dawn on Sundays, but there was really no second guessing about [the decision] to come to Annapolis,” remarked Susan Johnson

That season was the first and only losing one in Johnson's career, and even his daughter could barely handle it:

“But I’m the worst person after a loss,” said Johnson’s daughter.

“Kaitlyn will cry, she can’t help it,” said her mom. “Fortunately we haven’t lost that much…but that first year [at Navy] she didn’t know how to act.”

We know Georgia Tech has better athletes compared to Navy. We also know we have a better defense. We also know we will play a tougher schedule. We just can't lose sight of the fact that Paul Johnson is not a scheme. He's a football coach, and a dang good one. He's got fire in his belly and a chip on his shoulder.

Paul Johnson is not immune to losing. However he is immune to continued losing.


One thing to remember about the offense you are seeing. Our defense has been practicing against it for weeks now. They know the drill. They know the calls. They know the checks. They know which side the play will be run to. The opponents won't know any of that stuff. That will make a difference.

So in the end, where on the continuim should we drop our expectations? Mine are this.

1. The offense will work at the IA level........ and work well.
2. Paul Johnson will win at Georgia Tech
3. Season 3 will be way better than season 2 which will be way better than season 1
4. We'll win somewhere between 5 and 8 games in year 1
5. I'm very optimistic and very realistic at the same time.

What are your expectations after watching or reading about Saturday?