Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Paul Johnson / GT Simpatico

Many you read the story that came across the wire yesterday from Dennis Dodd over at CBS Sportsline - click here. It's truly one of those pro-Paul Johnson, stick-it-to-you attitude type stories. Dodd did a nice job making a case for Johnson against all the detractors. It's certainly one of those stories that stirs up the emotions for Jacket fans. Reading it a few things struck me:

First, Paul Johnson has been quoted recently in quite a few non-AJC stories saying some things I hadn't heard him say. Here is a smattering from Dodd's article:

On schools that got away from the option:

"Bob Stoops has done a great job, but they haven't been near as successful as when Coach (Barry) Switzer was running the option," Johnson said.

"Alabama hasn't been near as successful (since it ran the option)," he said. "Auburn hasn't been near as successful. It took Texas forever."

When Georgia Tech's leading returning receiver James Johnson said "... we're going to hope that Coach does not do all that much running. We just hope he's saying all that to trick people," Johnson came out firing.

"He caught 30 balls (actually 25) and they went 7-6," Johnson said. "If something wasn't wrong, if what they were doing was so great, we wouldn't be here. It's not like we're coming in here and dismantling this high-powered machine that was lighting everybody up."

That was an interesting one, because I remember James Johnson's quotes, and I remember thinking - James, wake up and smell the Napalm. However, I never remembered PJ's response being quoted (do you?), unless that was something he said this week.

I'd be willing to bet a few former players are feeling a bit stabbed in the back over the last PJ comment. However, facts are facts. Technically, PJ is spot-on about not being a high-powered offense. We often were at the top of the ACC in rushing yards but rarely ever near the top in points per game. That's really the offensive stat that ultimately counts the most. We had the ACC's leading receiver in the same season that we were near dead last in passing efficiency, yardage, completion percentage - you name it. I mean, Calvin Johnson was something like 30-40% of our offense that year.

"If I'm at Washington State or Stanford and I'm trying to beat USC, what possesses me to think I can beat them doing the same thing they do," he said. "If I'm at Ole Miss or Vanderbilt or Kentucky, how am I going to beat Florida, LSU, Alabama and Georgia? I'm not going to beat them in recruiting."

Summing up the ACC offensively, the coach said: "A lot of schools just kind of run football's best 20 plays, (an) NCAA offense."
He's right about that one. Face it - offensively, the ACC has not been too good. Now, the spin on that one is obviously "strong defenses" with the proof being a record setting number of draft picks from one conference. Could be absolutely true, but regardless of how good the defensives have been - the offenses never caught up.
"We have some issues here in recruiting because of the academics," Johnson said. "If we can't recruit such-and-such a kid what are (the recruits) going to say, 'I can't get in at Tech?' They're going to say, 'I don't like that offense,' or 'I don't like the coach,' or 'They didn't do a good job recruiting me.'"
"All these rankings are a joke anyway," he said. "We're probably not going to get a receiver who wants to catch 100 balls here. But if catching 100 balls is more important than winning, I don't want him anyway."

Here's a paraphrase of a PJ quote from an interview he did for the site:

After running through his team’s schedule, Johnson let it be known that six wins for the Yellow Jackets is far from a guarantee.

Pointing to the away games on the schedule - at Boston College, Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina and Georgia, Johnson said it will be a “big challenge” for his “young team that is only returning nine starters on both sides of the ball.”

I will tell you this. Georgia Southern fans, and particularly Navy fans are right now saying to themselves - classic Paul Johnson right there. Hang on to your hats, because Paul Johnson pulls no punches. He's hard on his team, hard on the players who don't give what they are capable of, and he has no qualms about letting people know about it. Don't get me wrong - he is not wreckless in his statements, but he is blunt. He is to-the-point. There's not a ton of coachspeak with PJ.

Now, as to PJ and how he thinks of himself, here's a quote from him being asked how his personality stacks up versus Dodd, Curry, Ross, O'Leary, Gailey.....
“Gosh, I don’t know. I’m probably a little of all of them,” Johnson said, sliding into a smile. “I try to be a teacher, but sometimes you have a lot of intensity if it calls for that, and sometimes it doesn’t require that, and you have to just do what you think needs to be done. Players can tell you [about my personality] better than I can. I don’t know what their perception of me is.”

All this talk about the triple option. We've had more than our fair-share of triple-option posts on this site. We see the positives in the system. However, all the talk about the "system" loses sight of something that's easy to overlook - Georgia Tech is getting a very good football coach......... who happens to know a lot about how to win football games........ and it's more than a "system".

Check out this quote from senior Jahi-Word Daniels:
“We’re still trying to get to know Coach Johnson, but we already can tell that he’s a no-games coach,” said cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels. “He sticks to the rules. He’s all about doing the right thing, and he wants perfection, and he wants to get the best out of us every time we hit the field. I’m sure we’ll learn more about him as the spring, summer and season goes on. But you can tell right now that he won’t accept anything less than the best from us.”
........ or this one from LB Coach Brian Jean-Mary:
“Make no mistake about it. You knew who was in charge at South Carolina. You knew Lou Holtz was the captain of the ship. When he walked into a room, he had everybody’s attention without saying a word. That’s the same thing I’d say about Coach Johnson.”
Coach Johnson has more than a "system". He has a structure for practice. He has an approach to discipline. He has an approach to following academics. He has specific teaching methods. He has an approach to developing young men. He adapts the "system" to the talents of the players. He has resume of winning. He has a track record of being a master in-game tactician. Bottom-line.......He has a plan, and he has a vision for what he wants............... and people are drinking the Kool-Aid. They are buying into it.

With Paul Johnson, we are getting a football coach - not a throw-back "triple option expert". To say it's all about the system discredits the man. The "system" is the differentiated on-the-field product. The "better" mousetrap on game-day. But it's the organization Paul Johnson is building to support, develop and grow that product off the field that Tech fans hopes truly differentiates the final results.

Heck, we know every coach has his own http://www.firecoach/?????.com. But how many coaches have fan sites from opposing schools dedicated to getting him to BE their head coach. I dare say not too many, but Paul Johnson does:

Which brings me to this............

Reading the Dodd article made me realize that maybe there's another reason Paul Johnson seems to resonate so well with Tech faithful (well, aside from the fact that he's not Chan Gailey). Paul Johnson has a chip on his shoulder. In some ways he's been answering the naysayers his entire career. You can do it at I-AA, but not in the big-boy leagues.
“I think that people have gotten too carried away with the triple-option, because that’s only one phase of the offense,” Johnson said. “If we have 75 plays, we’re not going to run 70 times. There’s a run-and-shoot package. There’s a play-action package. There’s different running plays besides the option. And, certainly, there are all kinds of options — counter option, speed option. We’ve got a sprint-out passing game. We’ve got draws. The key will be to come together with what our personnel here can do best.”

I'm sure he's felt the subtle brushback from some of the coaching fraternity that privately poo-poo what he does as "gimmiky". PJ is out to prove something......... and he's chosen to do it here at the house that Dodd built.

Tech fans, particularly alumni, have a bit of a chip on our shoulders as well. There's the general fight for respect on the national stage in the big sports. There's the success and concentrated fan support of our neighbors in Athens, who seem to get more limelight. There's the academic rigor, and the limitations that naturally go along with it. There's the "nerd" factor, which is part fact, part fiction. There's the smaller, spread out fan base. There are just a lot of reasons Tech fans seem to get defensive more than we really need to when it comes to college athletics.

So PJ has something to prove. Tech fans often feel like they have something to prove. It could be a marriage made in heaven.

One thing about this offense is that it's pretty wild. Running does not equal boring. Yet somehow we think the "spread option" is more sexy, when it's really a run-dominated offense run from the shot-gun. Whatever. Certainly PJ thinks it's going to be fun:

“Everywhere I’ve coached, we’ve set attendance records,” Johnson said. “It’s an exciting offense. It’s fun to watch. You don’t know where the ball is all the time. It’s also pretty fast.”

It's true about following the ball. There have been many people attending practices and the Saturday scrimmage that found themselves watching who they thought was the ball-carrier, only to find the play breaking somewhere else on the field.

Again from the Dodd article:

Despite running 86 percent of the time last season, Navy had 13 scoring drives that lasted a minute or less. That is total for the third most in the country. It had 16 scoring plays that went at least 25 yards. Only Florida has a longer current scoring streak of at least 30 points (seven games) than Navy (six).
Of course this Paul Johnson quote about says it all:

“You know what I’ve found? If you win, they like it.”

The unfortunate part about all this is that we have to wait so long to see the finished product on the field. It's going to be a long summer. Add to that the reality of losing so many talented starters and implementing new offensive AND defensive systems and you have to think expectations should be tempered somewhat. Guess all we can do is wait.