Profiles In Heroism: Paul Johnson
|Head Coach, Navy|
|Head Coach @ I-AA Georgia Southern||1997-2001|
|OC @ Navy||1995-1996|
|OC @ Hawaii||1987-1994|
|OC @ Georgia Southern||1985-1986|
Paul Johnson has carved a winner out of moribund Navy, a grand accomplishment in this era of college football. Navy the ten years before Johnson's arrival:
After an ugly 2-10 first year, Navy has gone 8-5, 10-2, 8-4, 9-4, and is currently 8-4 with the Poinsettia Bowl pending. The last time Navy had five consecutive winning season was 1978-1982, and before that you have to go back to the sixties. Johnson's 6-0 against Army -- the first six-game winning streak in that rivalry's history -- and 5-1 against Air Force. Navy does not suck.
Johnson's record at Georgia Southern is even more impressive. In his five years with the Eagles, Johnson won five conference titles, four national coach of the year awards, and two national titles. He won 86% of his games and turned around a program that had gone 4-7 the year previous; Johnson's first year at GSU resulted in a 10-3 season, the program's best since 1989.
Xs and Os Proficiency: Johnson's specialty is offense, and he's worked wonders with limited talent by taking advantage of what military academy players do have: smarts and discipline. At Navy, Johnson's triple option attack has consistenly landed the Middies in the top 30 in offense, an accomplishment all the more impressive when you consider the game-shortening that naturally occurs when you run the ball all the damn time. At Georgia Southern and Hawaii he lit up scoreboards as well.
The question here is the same that dogged Urban Meyer before his arrival at Florida: can this offense work against top-flight defenses? In Meyer's case, the answer appears to be "as long as you have a robotic hulk-beast that devours all in its path, sure!"
Recruiting: The great unknown with Johnson, as he's never coached at a place that we can gather any data about.
Potential Catches: Ah, but so. Johnson has done all this with a pounding triple option ground attack that hasn't been seen at a major college program since Nebraska made the infinitely wise decision to hire Bill Callahan.
A host of other BCS programs have looked at Johnson but fled the risk of a system often regarded as antiquated, and they aren't nearly as married to the idea of Paul Bunyan on the pocket as Michigan is. The current QBs on the Michigan roster: 6'7" statue Ryan Mallett, 6'5" statue Steven Threet, and 6'5" statue David Cone. The current Michigan QB recruit: 6'5" statue John Wienke. Johnson just wouldn't be able to run his system for two to four years.
Johnson has a history of sniping at the press, too, which no doubt disqualifies him. I heard Belicheck once forgot to feed his cat, so he's out, too.
Also, the guy has a masters degree from Appalachian State.
Relative Compensation: Michigan could easily afford Johnson, but he's a hot name this offseason with SMU and Duke rumored to be pursuing him heavily, SMU with a $2 million per year offer. Michigan would probably have to match that.
Would He Take The Job? Yes.
Overall Attractiveness: Johnson looks to be an outstanding coach. You can't have his results and not be exceptional at what you do; he's working at one of the toughest jobs in the country right now and outperforming all reasonable expectations for what an academy can do in this era of college football. Before that he dominated a lower division much like Jim Tressel and Brian Kelly did.
But he's too much of a risk for Michigan. We have no idea if he can recruit or if his offense can function at a high level, and we know damn well that his offense can't work with Michigan's roster as currently composed. It's not that Johnson can't succeed running something else, but one of his main assets is this clever triple option thing that he's spent better than a decade perfecting; he's much less attractive without that.
It's not really the triple option that bothers me. I kind of like the idea of having an offense unique in major college football, as it would make Michigan (gasp!) difficult to prepare for. But the unsuitability of the current roster to run it would make the first three or four years of implementing it painful, and at 50 Johnson does have enough long term upside to justify the risk. Hiring him to run something else is silly, the equivalent of Notre Dame fans quickly backtracking and saying "wait, Charlie just needs to learn how to be a COLLEGE coach!" when the thing that set him apart was his brilliant NFL mind and his contacts and blah blah blah.
Johnson's a good, maybe great, coach, but a poor fit at Michigan. If I was Maryland or Michigan State or Ole Miss or any hopefully mid-level BCS program, though, he would be top of the list.
Better that Debord? YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES