Paul Johnson - Georgia Tech

Submitted by RedGreene on October 25th, 2009 at 8:30 PM

I've heard a lot of excuses after last night's disaster; some valid and some not so much.  My favorite was Tate isn't use to playing in cold weather.  As all of you know, Michigan is the only northern team that recruits southern players.  But I digress.

Last season was Paul Johnson's first year as head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.  I guess I really never payed attention but I assumed Johnson had a lot of talent to work with.  Afterall, he did go 9-4 his first year while RR went 3-9.  So Johnson had to have tons of talent ready to go when he took over, right?

Not so fast my friend. Here's a little information from Johnson's bio:

"On December 2, 2008, Paul was tabbed ACC Coach of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA). Georgia Tech, ranked 14th in the BCS standings and 15th in the Associated Press poll, finished the regular season with a 9-3 record, remarkably better than every preseason projection. Sports Illustrated predicted Johnson's first Yellow Jacket team would win just three games, and Tech was picked to finish fourth in the ACC's Coastal Division. With a 5-3 record in ACC play, the Jackets tied Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title."

"Johnson, who came to Georgia Tech in December after a highly-successful, six-year tenure at Navy, inherited a roster low in scholarship numbers and overloaded with youth. Only 76 players are on scholarship, including three senior walk-ons who were awarded scholarships prior to the start of the season, below the maximum of 85 scholarships. The roster includes 75 freshmen and sophomores, and 16 of 22 starters are either freshmen or sophomores."

So, Johnson had 76 players on scholarship and 75 were Freshman and Sophomores.  Any coach who goes 9-3 with mostly Freshman&Sophmores would do so ONLY if the young players were made up of 4 & 5 star recruits.  Right?  Here is GT's recruiting rankings over the last few years.

2005 - 48th (two 4* & six 3*)
2006 - 49th (one 4* & six 3*)
2007 - 15th (nine 4* & nine 3*)
2008 - 37th (one 4* & sixteen 3*)
2009 - 32nd (four 4* & twelve 3*)

I think it's obvious that GT's recruiting classes over the past 5 years don't compare to UM's.  Even with all of the departures, UM still has more talent on both sides of the ball.  So why has Paul Johnson's transition been so smooth and successful while the Rich Rodriguez takeover has been nothing short of a disaster?  

RR brought the spread to Michigan & PJ the triple wishbone to GT.  Both are new and unique to UM & GT.  So we can't really use the "not the right type of fit" excuse.  So what is it?  Maybe GT plays in a weaker conference.  Maybe GT caught some lucky breaks.  I don't know, but I do know GT is playing some damn good football right now while UM is struggling to not look like the football version of the Bad News Bears.  

I'm not jumping off of the RR bandwagon and will give him my full support, but I can take my maize and blue goggles off long enough to see that there a quite a few new coaches who have won more with less.  Paul Johnson, Brian Kelly & Jim Harbaugh all come to mind.

Thank you for your support,






October 25th, 2009 at 8:37 PM ^

I'd say its much easier to transition to the triple wishbone. Its defintely much closer to a pro sytle offense, so the differnce in personel is not as drastic as it was for us.

dr eng1ish

October 25th, 2009 at 8:38 PM ^

It might be new to the players, but GT's roster was much more suited to run that offense than Michigan's was to run the spread. That is the largest reason for the difference.


October 26th, 2009 at 9:06 AM ^

Completely agree. As someone who closely follows both teams, I can't believe anyone would rationally try to argue that Michigan had more talent last year.

Success has less to do with how many four stars you have, making sure you have a quality player at each position, and putting them in a situation that best utilizes their strengths.


October 25th, 2009 at 8:40 PM ^

The personal change was entirely more drastic, Paul Johnson actually had a quarterback suited to run his offense, injuries didn't decimate GT last year.. and they play in the ACC.

I still think he's a very good coach. I just think they're two very different situations.


October 25th, 2009 at 8:47 PM ^

I hate to bring it up, but UM's talent level is very down. Michigan starts a walk-on safety, a corner that started the year at safety, has no nickel back, a true freshman d lineman, and has no depth. No to mention, some of the others that start just are not very good. How many of UM's starters would start for Tech's D? Graham, Warren, maybe Martin. That's it.


October 25th, 2009 at 9:02 PM ^

I agree with you, but you reminded me of something I noticed in te end of the first half.

Woolfolk was back at safety and Cissoko at corner. I dint know ifit was for just a few plays or not, but something I saw.


October 25th, 2009 at 9:02 PM ^

First off, the ACC is awful, so that makes things easier for Johnson.

Rodriguez didn't have a quarterback who could run or throw last year. That makes it difficult to run any offensive system.

Johnson's flexbone offense is simple. They only run a handful of pretty similar plays and all the variety comes from the reads/options available in-play. It is very unique for a BCS conference team and requires a very different approach from the defense (assignment football is key). This makes it difficult to defend. Still, it isn't all that hard to learn (you basically remove the entire passing game from the playbook and you get tons of practice reps for every play you are going to run in a game). It is really the perfect offense for a quick turnaround. At the same time, the ceiling on the offense is limited. Unless Tech gets a major infusion of talent or an upgrade in the passing game, they will still get beat by well prepared defenses. Johnson got them to 9-4 right away (they got slammed in their bowl game, don't forget) but I doubt he'll ever get them any higher. Rodriguez' offense offers the same versatility in the ground game with the ability to bomb away through the air. The results everywhere he's been prove that he is a great offensive coach when he gets his players on board with a little experience under their belt.

Also, saying this season has been a "disaster" is ridiculous. We lost in OT and by 2 against two good teams on the road, despite playing very poorly. Losing to a Penn State team that will probably go 11-1 is also understandable (and the score would have been a lot closer if we didn't go -4 in turnovers). This team is lightyears better than last season's despite still being ridiculously young. Next year they will be even better. Johnson is a good coach, but Rodriguez is building a great program at Michigan. Give him the time it takes.


October 25th, 2009 at 11:08 PM ^

First, I completely disagree with the original poster- he's contradictory, and illogical at points.
However, I first suggest you read Smartfootball's Chris Brown to find his opinion of PJ's offense, as he is smarter than I am. But I will reply anyway. I think you should agree that Bud Foster is a top-notch defensive coordinator, and prepares his defense well. A week ago, PJ's Georgia Tech team shredded that Bud Foster defense because the triple option, when well-blocked, makes the defense wrong on every play. That blocking is really the key- it's easy to say "assignment football," but PJ really gets a kick out of changing up the blocking scheme so that you might be right on your assignment one play, but get cracked by a slot back or a WR on the next- then your responsibility is gone 60 yards for a touchdown.
Just because an offense appears simple- and you are right, it does exist around three basic plays (inside veer, zone dive, and rocket toss)- doesn't mean it has a low ceiling. Remember Tom Osborne's Nebraska teams? Steve Spurrier does.

The team that slammed them in their bowl game was the defending champion LSU, who was assisted by several special teams breakdowns.(KO out of bounds, fumbled punt, Interception, and the defense gave up 21 second quarter points.) It's easy to say that the triple option can't over come a deficit, but GT trailed UGA 26-12 last year at the half but had a 38-28 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter.

I really don't want this to turn into a "Paul Johnson-versus RichRod," because they are both brilliant coaches and actually have a lot in common. I love watching successful Rodriguez teams and I love watching successful PJ teams. I just don't like to see either mis-represented. Remember, a lot of people thought Urban Meyer's offense would get exposed as a gimmick offense in his first season vs. "real SEC (speed) Defenses."

Also, becareful about that "ACC=bad football," cause you know, glass houses and all. I love the BigTen as much as anybody, particularly as I'm stuck in SEC territory, but we haven't exactly acquitted ourselves against the best competition lately.


October 26th, 2009 at 3:20 AM ^

First let me say that I am a huge fan of option football and a big Johnson supporter (my best friend from high school is a Colorado alum who cries every week that they didn't hire him). That being said, my points about program ceiling were more about GT than Johnson (sorry if I didn't make that more clear). I guess the more articulate point I should have made is, "if the offense doesn't have a legit passing threat, then the ceiling on success isn't very high." I also think their defensive ceiling isn't high enough to end up in conference championships and BCS titles (again more based on GT than Johnson).

Also, that "defending champion" LSU team went 7-5 in the regular season, and with a month to prepare they absolutely annihilated Tech. I will be happy to apologize if I'm wrong, but I think the ceiling on Johnson at GT is 9-10 wins (though I agree with you that the ceiling on the option offense is higher).

Go Blue!


October 25th, 2009 at 9:23 PM ^

As others have stated, the ACC was barely a BCS conference last year, and this year it has basically been GT, Miami (yes that Miami) and the Hokies.

Johnson has done a great job with GT thus far, but he inherited a far better team than RR did and implemented a system that, while effective, has limited room to grow. There is a reason why virtually every team in America has moved away from a run-heavy offense like the triple wishbone - it is severely limited as a quick-strike offense. Sure the service academies like Army and Navy employ it, and usually the ceiling is 8-9 wins with losses against any good competition.

Nesbitt has attempted a total of 88 passes all year, for a 4:3 TD:INT ratio and 47% completion percentage. When they lost to Miami, it was because they fell behind early and had very few options to throw to. When they can stay close to the competition and not fall behind by more than 10 points or so, they'll have success because it is so unique and most teams are not prepared. But even last year, when they ran into a good defense like LSUs that could keep up athletically and was disciplined, they were shut down.

I give all the credit to Johnson for what he has going on at GT, but I like UM's ceiling quite a bit more than GT going forward.


October 26th, 2009 at 9:51 AM ^

If you say its limiteed as a quick strike offense you are proving that you dont watch them play.
Dwyer, Allen, and Nesbitt all have multiple 20+ yard plays. Dwyer and Allen have multiple 70+ yard plays.
Nesbitt is averaging 11.2 yards per throw (not catch).
Multiple TD drives of under 4 min. Let me dig and i'll find more precise numbers.


October 26th, 2009 at 11:20 AM ^

that's a common misconception about PJ's offense. It's a big play offense. If the defense plays it wrong, consider it gone.

Dwyer is one of the best RB in the country and defense are keying on him which is why he seems to regress(statistically wise) from last season.

When a defense react quickly and hard to the run, GT can pull out and throw to pretty much wide open WR like Thomas(who I love). I believe that GT leads the nation in YPA.

Hoken's Heroes

October 25th, 2009 at 9:52 PM ^

To take the same players that RR had last year and let Paul coach them for a year and see how they do.

Michigan's problems are unique to them. And unfortunately the same problems exists, like not able to tackle and other basic football fundamentals like catching the god damn football!

Just wait till 2011. That's when UM will hopefully shine.


October 25th, 2009 at 10:03 PM ^

I've been a member of this site for less than two minutes and even I know that Brian thoroughly debunked this exact same theory last year.

When measured against other programs that have installed new coaches approximately the same time Rich Rod is doing just fine. This includes Petrino and Ryan Mallet at Arkansas.

All the haters need to get a clue. It isn't Rodriquez's fault that Paul Johnson or Les Miles or Brian Kelly were not hired. Rodriguez is our coach and that isn't changing anytime soon.


October 25th, 2009 at 10:43 PM ^

You cannot say the difference is the ACC. Not with Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, and Northwestern. The Big 10 is not a strong conference. I'm not saying the ACC is, but I think it has better parity than the the Big 10.


October 25th, 2009 at 10:57 PM ^

When trying to state your case for the tired MGoBlog diary argument of "well so and so did better with less talent in his first/second year" try not to use a team from the ACC. It really destroys you're whole point referencing an essentially irrelevant conference.

You might as well say "Well Bill Cubit turned around a Western Michigan team that was 1-10 in 2004 to 7-4 in 2005 with the 87th ranked recruiting class that year. If he can do it with such little talent, then RichRod should already be in BCS games with Michigan's talent!"

I know, pretty stupid sounding, but its really not much more stupid than comparing the Big Ten to the ACC. If you must "take off the maize and blue goggles" to momentarily question Rodriguez's coaching, please at least give the man enough respect to do it with an argument that holds some water.


October 27th, 2009 at 12:05 AM ^

He was talking a lot about the success of Paul Johnson last year, and last year the ACC was a complete joke. Also, this year, I'd have no problem putting money down on Iowa and maybe PSU against any of those three teams. And on that same token, NC ST, Duke, Maryland and UNC are WORSE than any team in the Big 10. After Va Tech, GT, and Miami, there's really no team to worry about.


October 28th, 2009 at 12:57 AM ^

Complete joke may have been a bit much, I'll admit that. But last year there was absolutely no disparity in the ACC, minus Duke and Virginia. In conference, Atlantic-#1,#2 and Coastal-#1,#2 finished 5-3 and Atlantic-#3,#4,#5,#6 and Coastal-#3,#4 finished 4-4. Add those at least 4 wins most teams got in conference with all the non conference games the ACC had against 1-AA opponents (which was more than any other conference) and that equals 10 teams that easily hit at least 6 wins. With 9 contracted bowl tie ins, now is it really that impressive that they got 10 teams in bowl games?

PS - Only 3 of those 10 teams were ranked in the BCS, the highest ranking of which was only 14.


October 25th, 2009 at 11:58 PM ^

crap! I live in Atlanta, so we get all the tech games....1) Tech had the qb to run the system. I watched them several times last year and thought "man if Michigan had a guy like that the offense would hum 2) Whereas LOTS of teams run the spread, Johnsons offense is EXTREMELY rare so it is very difficult for teams to prepare for it in one week....


October 26th, 2009 at 8:50 AM ^

Very thoughtful, and some data mining to boot. I found this analysis really sobering and on target. One of my buddies is a Ga. Tech guy, so we discuss Johnson a good deal. That fan base is obviously thrilled by the hire. It strikes me that if you can figure out how to win at the Naval Academy, you can win anywhere, for two reasons: (1) you can't cheat in recruiting; and (2) you have to overcome the "you might die" issue in recruiting.

What is particularly interesting is that my buddy and I were just discussing Ga. Tech in the context of the two qb issue at Michigan. I was strumming my one string banjo about not wanting Tate taken out in the second half. My buddy said that when Johnson got to Ga. Tech, he had a key decision to make about their qb Nesbit. Nesbit is not well-suited to the flexbone and apparently sucks at lateraling. Johnson decided to stay loyal to the guy and teach him the system, and Nesbit has more or less figured it out.

Anyway, +1 for a thoughtful post. Nice job.


October 26th, 2009 at 9:01 AM ^

The wishbone/triple option basically eliminates the passing game and lets you focus on running the ball to the extent you can't get it wrong. Also, most OL can run block and fall forward with aggression, so you don't have to have talent upfront. The GT offense is unique to defend as you have to have lots and lots of DL to keep churning it up at the LOS with their running game. There is a reason they have had success; their offense is more suitable for less talented teams, which is why a lot of HS teams still run it becuase it's effective if you don't have a lot of talented kids. The spread is very intricate and hard to execute and there is a fine line between an 80 play and a 2 yard loss. I think we've seen how it looks when it doesn't work and when it's not working on all cylinders.


October 26th, 2009 at 10:08 AM ^

Nesbitt > Forcier
Dwyer > Minor
Allen > Brown
Jones > Smith
Thomas > any receiver M has
Cord Howard > better than any lineman M has
Joseph Gilbert (LG) and Sean Bedford (C) are also better than what Michigan is deploying.
Except for Warren, GT's entire secondary would be an upgrade.
Linebackers seem about even, and only Derrick Morgan would start on UM's defensive line.

thats the whole offensive backfield, almost the whole defensive back field, the whole interior O-line.


October 26th, 2009 at 10:39 AM ^

The end of the world is nigh! Even though the logical progression for the year was 7-5 Richrod has been blown out and needs to be dismissed! Bring Lloyd back!!!

Greg McMurtry

October 26th, 2009 at 10:49 AM ^

GT had five seniors that were considered to be in their top 10 by Scout including their starting left tackle. Four of these players were drafted in 2009 whereas UM only had 2 players drafted--Taylor and Trent. Also, Josh Nesbitt was a sophomore and while he had only attempted 13 passes in 2007, he did rush for 339 yards. Nesbitt was clearly head and shoulders above Sheridan and Threet in the ability to run this style of offense based on his pure athleticism.

Just my $0.02.


October 26th, 2009 at 12:39 PM ^

The fact is that this was only one game. If Rich Rod goes out and beats OSU this year, none of this will even matter. Granted, that probably won't happen, but the point is is that all of this criticism is too soon.

I can't say I'm too surprised by this, having grown up a M fan and seeing quick judgment after each and every game. But come on people. I said it in the live blog on Saturday and I'll say it again:

"Raise your hand if you thought M would be playing in a BCS bowl this year? Anyone?"

If you were expecting 9-12 wins after a 3 win season just a year ago, you're not being rational.

So what if Paul Johnson did it? Two different teams, with different players, playing different systems, in different conferences, in different years.


October 26th, 2009 at 3:44 PM ^

First of all, good work with the diary. I thought that it was very well written.

I want to go on record as saying that I think Paul Johnson is an exceptional football coach, one that Michigan should have pursued harder when the job came open. I love watching GT play, and believe that the Triple Option offense is still one of the toughest to defend. That being said, I think you will see Rich Rod succeed here. This Spread Option is incredibly tough to defend. The goal of both of these systems is to stretch the defense and create running lanes on the edge. Both of these systems enjoy running the ball using quick-hitters up the middle. Both require the right QB to run it. The difference is that the Spread can be adapted to become more pass happy if needed.

Give the system some time, and I think we will not only see a long string of Big Ten Championships, but the ability to compete against the best teams nationally for a long time to come.


October 26th, 2009 at 4:03 PM ^

"quite a few new coaches who have won more with less"

Less what? Sheridan/Threet? Jordan Kovacs? I admire these kids for trying hard, but let's face it: we have deficiencies in talent. Just because it is Michigan does not mean that the talent level is automatically higher than GT or Cincinnati or Stanford.


October 26th, 2009 at 7:55 PM ^

included Jacksonville State and Gardner-Webb. Lets trade Utah and Notre Dame for those two games and our win total probably bumps up by 2. the way they beat Gardner Webb 10-7.

Here was the difference between what GT did and what Michigan did in close games

BC 19-16 W
VTU 17-20 L
GardWebb 10-7 W
Clem 21-17 W
UVA 17-24 L
FSU 31-28 W
UGA 45-42 W
5-2 in close games, record could have been between 3-8 and 10-2

Utah 23-25 L
Tol 10-13 L
PUR 42-48 L
NW 14-21 L
0-4 in close games, record could have been between 3-9 and 7-5

Difference in the close games is a play here or there or the difference is a player here or there.

...say a QB who's made to run your offense.


October 27th, 2009 at 11:04 AM ^

because you are taking the two bad teams from GT's non-conf and leaving UGA and MissSt. conversely you are getting rid of ND and Utah and leaving Toledo and Miami.
And for context, Calvin Booker, the third string prostyle qb, played against Gardner-Webb while Jaybo Shaw and Josh Nesbitt were dinged.
Also, GT's close games against FSU, UGAy, Clemson, and VT are not the same as michigan's close games against Toledo, Purdue, and Northwestern.


October 27th, 2009 at 4:00 PM ^

I see one major difference between the two programs: execution.

GT has been executing its game plan. Michigan has not, particularly on defense. The offense has shown great promise.

Reasons for such: appropriate players for the 'system', playcalling, experience and competition. GT has excelled in all areas for most of its games.

Regardless, Michigan has been vastly improved from last year. The games have certainly been entertaining for the most part.