The last few weeks have put me back on the fire Paul Johnson train, and really, I never should have gotten off. I was blinded by the bright lights and shiny objects that were distracting us from the truth of this program while we beat Georgia and won the Orange Bowl.
Most defenses of Paul Johnson begin with bringing up the ACC championship in 2009, the two victories against Georgia (one of which occurred in 2008), and the trio of 9 win seasons culminating in a top 25 post season ranking (Two of which came in 2008 & 2009) during his tenure.
That’s wonderful. Except this is college football, where once the players under the old coaching staff leave, they must be replaced by those of your choosing. You cook and buy the groceries in college football. Being able to make gourmet meals out of what someone else brought into the kitchen is nice. But then what? What do you do when you have to buy the groceries and then make the meals? Being the sous chef in someone else’s kitchen is one thing. Running the show yourself is a different ballgame.
And what we’ve found is Paul Johnson does a fabulous job of taking someone else’s ingredients and preparing them in ways far superior to what his predecessor managed to accomplish. We’ve also found that when Paul Johnson buys the ingredients himself, he can’t prepare anything above a mediocre meal found at Applebee’s.
The numbers, simply put, do not lie. When Paul Johnson arrived at Georgia Tech he inherited a pretty talented roster thanks to Chan Gailey’s ability to recruit due to his NFL background and the fact that Tech was one of the upper echelon programs in the ACC. For the first two years of his tenure with guys like Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt, Roddy Jones, Derrick Morgan, Mario Butler and Morgan Burnett, everything was roses, or oranges, as Tech not only snapped a seven-year losing streak to Georgia in year one under Paul Johnson, but also won an ACC championship in year two as they compiled a 20-7 overall record and went 12-4 in the ACC, with the victory over Clemson in the ACC championship game.
But something happened after that. Those players that Gailey recruited were leaving. The cupboard was bare of the talent brought in by Gailey and Paul Johnson was going to have to rely on his own players going forward. To say the results have taken a nosedive off the cliff would be a slight understatement.
Just consider his numbers since beating Clemson in the 2009 ACC Championship game (which, really, doesn’t actually even count anymore, just to throw even more fuel on that fire) in Tampa.
Overall Record: 41-33
Record vs ACC: 25-15 (two ACCCG losses to Florida State)
Record vs FBS Opponents: 34-32
Record vs Power 5 (ND/BYU): 29-31
This does include the first six games of the 2015 campaign, which, with any reasonable look at the next six games and at best one could see Georgia Tech going 3-3 in those games, with the distinct possibility of going 0-6 being a legitimate fear. But yep, you’re reading that right. Against the big boys of college football, the teams that really matter, Paul Johnson, since winning the ACC championship with Chan Gailey’s players, including the Orange Bowl loss to Iowa that season, is two games under .500 against Power 5 teams and BYU and Notre Dame.
And lets not forget who some of these losses came against. There was the loss in 2010 to a Kansas team that is the definition of atrocious program, and finished 3-9 that season. Both BYU losses came against a Cougars team that wound up 8-5. And of course there’s the real kicker, the blowout loss to Middle Tennessee State in 2012. And no, this wasn’t a Middle Tennessee State team that was a mid major school having a banner year. The Blue Raiders went 8-4 that season and lost to Louisiana Monroe and Arkansas State.
And the rivals?
vs Miami: 1-4
vs Virginia Tech: 1-4
vs Clemson: 2-4
vs Georgia: 1-4
And these numbers of course INCLUDE the 11-3 record in 2014 that looks more and more like an anomaly. Can you imagine what these numbers would look like if for giggles we just ignored them (which, you should ignore the outlier when analyzing statistics) and took them out of the equation? Well, imagine no more.
Overall Record: 30-30
Record vs ACC: 19-13
Record vs FBS Opponents: 24-29
Record vs Power 5 (ND/BYU): 21-28
Not to mention, wipe out the only wins against Georgia, Virginia Tech and Miami.
If you look back at Georgia Tech’s recent coaching history, all of it since Bobby Dodd, actually, you can see that Johnson really doesn’t compare all that favorably to the better names on that list. In his first seven seasons Johnson has had three six loss campaigns. Only William Alexander and Bud Carson have more, and once the Jackets drop their sixth game this year, Johnson will tie Carson for the second most six loss seasons in school history. And he’ll have done it in just 8 years on the job by accomplishing the feat in half the seasons he’s been on The Flats.
But perhaps even more noteworthy is to look at when the six loss seasons occur. Bill Curry lost six or more games three times while he was at Georgia Tech, but remember he went 2-19-1 in his first new years getting the program out of Pepper Rodgers’ wishbone offense (that’s what we have to look forward to once Johnson is finally let go, but that’s an entirely different animal to approach altogether), giving him 2 six loss seasons in his first two years while inheriting someone else’s players and installing his system. Curry won 29 games over the next five seasons (not a remarkable record, by any means) and only had 1 six loss season over his final five years.
Bobby Ross came in to inherit what Curry had left behind and the Jackets promptly went 5-17 in his first two years at the helm. They wouldn’t lose six games in a season again under Ross.
We’re just going to skip Bill Lewis because, well, can’t we just skip the Bill Lewis era? Let’s move onto his replacement, coming into a giant mess. George O’Leary inherited a team that had just gone 1-10, winless against Division 1-A (FBS) competition the year before. O’Leary would start his career at Tech by going 11-11. And having the only six loss season of his tenure.
Chan Gailey arrived in 2002, and as many coaches are prone to do, came with his own system. While using his predecessor’s players, Gailey lost six games in each of his first two seasons. He only lost six in a season once in his final four years at the helm.
And that brings us to Johnson. Johnson comes in, takes over Gailey’s players and wins 20 games. Remarkable. It certainly showed Chan could recruit. The problem is, whereas most coaches start to see more success once they have their players in their system, at leas the successful coaches do, Johnson has done the opposite. He’s reversed the trend. The more of his players he got, the worse the program became. Johnson’s six loss seasons have come in year 3, 5, and 6. And his fourth is going to come in year 8. That would be 4 six loss seasons in six years. The six years after the two transition years where you expect most coaches to struggle the most.
And yet, people will vehemently defend the employment of Paul Johnson. It’s astonishing, really.
One argument people will make is that the 2014 season was one of the greatest seasons in school history. Well, if you consider one of the 25 best seasons in school history to be that big of an accomplishment, then okay. After all, there was no conference championship and there was no national championship. 11 games were indeed won, by playing 14. The winning percentage of the 2014 team was only the 24th best in school history. I’m sure some of Heisman’s, Alexander’s and Dodd’s, even Ross’ and O’Leary’s teams could have benefited from playing an extra game against a patsy to bolster the record. So, you know, the whole double-digit win thing doesn’t really do much for me.
Seven different times Georgia Tech posted a higher winning percentage than it did in 2014 AND won a major bowl game. Take into account two bowl losses and that number moves to nine. And that does NOT include the national championship seasons of 1917 and 1990. So even if you REALLY stretch it out, even with your best argument, 2014 barely makes it into the top ten of Georgia Tech seasons. So, lay off the kool-aid like Johnson had the most amazing year the school has ever seen.
And we can also conveniently ignore the fact that 2015 is shaping up to be one of the worst years in school history. Should Tech manage two more victories and finish 4-8, that will be the 100th best winning percentage in school history. That would mean only 14 years were worse. I think that kind of cancels out 2014. Never mind that I’m not sure I even see two more wins on this schedule. So, if your argument is centered around how great 2014 was, you can stop there.
Others will point to the three trips to the ACC championship game. I’m just going to say right now, if you, in any way, use the 2012 season to argue why Paul Johnson should be here, you probably should never speak about the game of football again; Except to say, “I don’t know anything about football.” Yet, in a season where we only made the conference title game because TWO teams in front of us were ineligible, and a year in which we had to seek a special waiver to make a bowl game because we finished the year 6-7, with only five wins against FBS opponents, people will point to our “bowl streak” and our two trips to the ACC title game in the past three years as reasons Paul Johnson should stay. I suppose fans like that actually deserve the mediocrity of Paul Johnson.
The difference in the mindset of the fan bases in Athens and Atlanta is amazing, when you think about it. Georgia Tech goes 11-3, follows it up with a 2-4 start, and fans are still beating the Paul Johnson drum like Mark Richt beats Paul Johnson. Meanwhile in Athens, despite a 4-2 start following a 10-3 season and top ten final ranking, fans are once again calling for Mark Richt’s head. Baffling, isn’t it?
Maybe Paul Johnson is the genius after all. He manages to be mediocre year after year, yet he takes advantage of the insecurities and inferiority complex within the Georgia Tech athletic department that result in their willingness to hand out silly contract extensions to any coach who ever does anything remotely good.
What happens at Georgia Tech is the Georgia Tech athletic department becomes that guy who is love struck by someone he ultimately can do much better than. And finally, just as that guy decides he’s got to break the news to her that he’s going to have to move on from the relationship, Paul Johnson becomes that girl that gives you the best sex of your life and the next thing you know, you’re at Shane Company’s newest location in Kennesaw buying an engagement ring.
This isn’t to bash Paul Johnson, or to say he’s the worst thing to ever happen to Georgia Tech. He’s a fantastic chef who can take someone else’s ingredients and do amazing work with them. But when asked to buy his own groceries, the meals he turns out are pedestrian, at best. Occasionally he’ll stumble upon something great that makes you give him a second chance running the restaurant. At this point, it’s time to cut bait and find someone who can consistently produce a better product, it’s just that simple.
Even if Johnson somehow wins 3 of the final 6 games this year, the bowl streak would come to an end. Even more interesting would be that over the last six seasons of his tenure at Tech, Johnson will have amassed 44 wins.
Chan Gailey’s career win total at Georgia Tech before being fired after six seasons?