Friday, June 20, 2008

Thoughts on Paul Johnson and GT

I know this will get under some readers skin, but I am truly writing this with as little bias as possible. The topic is one that has Georgia Tech fans at the peak of optimism this off-season, the hiring of Paul Johnson. From talking to my Tech friends to reading internet blogs and message boards, it seems there is a general consensus on how Coach Johnson will do on The Flats. The team will struggle a little bit this season getting used to his system, but will still find a way to win 6-8 wins. After a season of adjustment, they will establish themselves as a consistent threat to win 9-10 games and an ACC title contender every year.

I guess this has to be the expectation considering the previous coach, Chan Gailey, was fired after winning 7 games 5 times and 9 games once. The idea is Paul Johnson will take them up another notch - 9-10 wins consistently. While I believe there is a good chance that Johnson's offense will become successful and Tech will win games with him as coach, I just don't see him ever living up to fan expectations of 9-10 wins a year. I think this, coupled with the arsenal of talent Mark Richt has up in Athens, could be what takes him from King to Jester in his career as Tech coach.

Initially, I think the idea of Tech winning 7-8 games this year is the most absurd. Johnson's system will take quite a bit of adjustment, especially against the level of competition they will face once the season starts. Johnson's first team at Navy finished 2-10 - I don't think Tech will be that bad thanks to Jacksonville St, Gardner-Webb, and Duke. But, I do think the rest of the schedule is tough enough that 2 more wins is probably about all they will be able to get for a 5-7 finish.

Now comes the real question - can the Johnson offensive system be productive in major college football? There is no way to tell until they play the games and going off how Johnson did at Navy is probably not a good barometer. His second season at Navy - a 10-2 season that ended with an Emerald Bowl victory, saw the season's biggest victories against Air Force, Rice, and Rutgers. That season also included a 42-10 loss to Tulane. The level of competition was no where near what it will be at Tech. I know he will have better athletes at Tech, but the idea of the system being successful against ACC defenses is still an unknown. The point being, if only twice in 6 years at Navy did he win more than 8 games, why the expectation that he is going to do it at Tech?

I think it is much easier to win with an unusual offense if you are playing teams without exceptional talent. At Navy, the only team they played each year with exceptional talent was Notre Dame, who Johnson never beat. Take the uncertainty of the effectiveness of the offense with the loss of Jon Tenuta on the defensive side and the Jackets could be in more trouble than they are willing to believe.

As for former I-AA national championship coaches who venture into I-A, I see Johnson's career at Tech more comparable to Jim Donnan's than Jim Tressel's. But that's the great thing about June and July, everyone is undefeated and expectations can be whatever a fan base is willing to dream up.

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