In just under a weeks’ time, Paul Johnson will coach the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets for the last time before stepping down. With that in mind, we wanted to take a minute to look back and reflect on the legacy of Paul Johnson’s time on the Flats and the impact that he has had on the direction of football.
When Paul Johnson began his time in Atlanta the program was in a state of flux. Chan Gailey had been relieved of his duties following his term of winning seven games in five of his six seasons, which led to a less than interested fan base. That first year for year for Johnson was the year that he breathed new life into the team. An AJC article described the way that he prepared the team by mixing upper and lower classmen and making them more accountable to each other for the successes and failures of the team. This part of Coach Johnson could sometimes be lost in the quirkiness of the offense and the cold shoulder that he could put off during press conferences when he I asked for the hundredth time whether cut blocks should be allowed.
A common refrain amongst many outside of the inner circles of college football was that the wishbone offense would have no chance of working at the Power Five level and especially not in the ACC. In his eleven years at Georgia Tech with a record of 51-37 against the conference and 82-59 overall record in his 11 seasons, Coach Johnson has more than proved that his run-first offense can work at this level.
He has achieved a lot as coach of the Yellow Jackets including being coach of the year three times, three ACC title game appearances, Led the ACC and top 10 in rushing all 11 years of his tenure, four 9-win seasons and 2 of the schools 10-win seasons. He had eight total bowl appearances winning three of them including the 2014 Orange Bowl against Mississippi State. He also compiled a 9-5 record against nationally ranked teams including three wins against top 10 teams.
The legacy of Paul Johnson will not be written in a year or two years. It will take real time to distance ourselves from the strong emotions that we hold for this team and the recent string of bad luck. For many inside the fan base, Johnson could not have retired soon enough so that a coach who ran a more “traditional” offense could be hired. There are arguments to be made for and against the spread option that Coach Johnson has become synonymous with but as I heard Wes Durham discuss on the From The Flats podcast, the true value of Coach Johnson was that even in the face of his critics he stuck to his plan and ran the offense he knew would work. He perfected it in a way that very few coaches would likely ever have the courage to do themselves. For that reason alone, he has earned the respect of many of his fellow coaches and has positioned himself as a shoe-in for the College Football Hall of Fame one day.
I for one will certainly miss watching the option at Bobby Dodd. The first time I remember seeing it there was a level of pure deception that made the game interesting. There were plays where the camera guy even had a hard time keeping up with where the ball was going. That deception led to years of incredible football and tremendous games that we as not only fans of Georgia Tech but also of football may never see again. The Miracle on North Avenue, The Kick and the Pick, The Miracle on Techwood Drive, the night that Nesbitt beat number 4 Virginia Tech and the goal posts came down. For many Tech fans, Paul Johnson is the only coach they have ever known.
For those memories and more we say thank you to Coach Johnson. Thank you for your sacrifice and for the mark that you have left upon Georgia Tech Athletics. We will all cheer you one more time in Detroit, and then wish you the best of luck in your retirement. Thank you, Coach.