Paul Johnson is the only Georgia Tech football coach I (and many recent Tech graduates) have ever known. In his 11 years at the Institute, he has done an admirable job with the situation he has had with regards to the academic standards of the Institute for its athletes and the lack of investment in the program. All of my most cherished memories watching Georgia Tech football have been under Paul Johnson: the Miracle on Techwood Drive, beating georgia in 2014, and beating georgia in 2016 (to name a few). For these moments (and those of all of the Tech men and women that came before me in the last 11 years), thank you.
Y’all wouldn’t understand what he did for this program , he gave hope to kids that was overlooked by other programs and turned them into something special , can thank you Coach Johnson enough #Legend https://t.co/dCXomR6B8B— L4TL (@Juanyehthomas1) November 28, 2018
Coach Johnson’s retirement or lack of success this season isn’t an indictment of his brand of offense (despite its controversial nature) or what he has done while on the Flats. If you look at his track record over the last 11 years, he’s done a pretty good job. Coach Johnson has been a valuable asset for Tech, and even as someone who called for his head earlier this season (and this past weekend), I am sad to see him go.
The upside for Georgia Tech is that this is literally the best possible time for the athletic department to be looking for a new head coach – the only other program actively looking is Louisville, and they have their pretty little Cardinal hearts set on Purdue HC Jeff Brohm (although, that may have changed late today). The big thing to keep in mind is that this search is incredibly time-sensitive. National Signing Day is December 19th (about three weeks away), and the more time Georgia Tech takes to find a coach, the more likely it is that its 2019 commits get anxious about the situation at Tech and flip to other programs.
Here are the top candidates that I think GT should consider are:
- Neal Brown (HC, Troy)
- Scott Satterfield (HC, Appalachian State)
- Brian Bohannon (HC, Kennesaw State)
- Tony Elliot (Co-OC, Clemson)
These are the best available guys on the table right now. While Georgia Tech may not be a super attractive job on the surface (more on this later), the timing of CPJ’s retirement is such that we have a bevy of coaching talent to select from across the nation and few (if any) competitors.
On the flip-side, here are some candidates Tech should NOT consider:
- Ken Whisenhunt (OC, LA Chargers) - The only connection here is that Whisenhunt played with Athletic Director Todd Stansbury while both were at Tech during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Whisenhunt has extremely-limited college coaching experience and was not effective as a NFL head coach. While this strategy has seemingly worked for other programs, it is not a strategy I would personally endorse.
- Ken Niumatalolo (HC, Navy) - There would be a large portion of Tech’s fanbase that would cry foul if it hired from the CPJ tree and continued to run the flexbone.
The Job Itself
While we discuss candidates for the head coaching job here at Georgia Tech, it may also be prudent to evaluate the position itself:
- Georgia (and the Atlanta metro) is a massive recruiting hotbed. There are lots and lots of very good football players to convince to come to Tech within city, metro, and state limits.
- With Tech’s alumni base, there’s a lot of potential investment waiting to be whipped up and brought to the aid of the program.
- Tech is (arguably) a sleeping giant in the college football world and especially in the Southeast. The right hire really jumpstart the program after some recent down years, like Nick Saban at Alabama (obviously, an extreme example), James Franklin at Penn State, and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
- The ACC Coastal is incredibly weak and also incredible volatile. This is a division Georgia Tech can dominate if it plays its cards right.
- The current offensive roster is incredibly young and athletic. It can be moulded to fit most option offenses fairly easily and (hopefully) effectively.
- The current defensive roster is young, but has struggled in year one under Nate Woody. It is also still incredibly thin at various positions.
- The current offensive roster (specially the offensive line) will not be able to run a non-spread playbook effectively at all.
- There is currently a dearth of investment in the athletic department as a whole, both from the Institute and alumni. For context, while georgia is 5th in athletic revenues, Tech is 51st.
- Tech plays national title contenders Clemson and georgia every year.
- Tech has struggled to put butts in seats in recent years and generally has poor fan support across the board.
- The Institute has set high academic standards for its athletes, which make it tough to sell kids on coming here AND makes it easier for other schools to convince athletes not to come here. It also offers an incredibly narrow selection of majors.
- Especially in its own backyard, Tech has to recruit against all of the SEC and half of the ACC.
People don’t really stop to think about all of the other factors that are at play at a school like Tech. Many might think (and ardently believe) that the flexbone is the only issue that recruits have with Tech, but that’s only part of the picture.
I’ve long held the belief that Georgia Tech can be a Stanford/Northwestern/Notre Dame-like program, and today’s news doesn’t change that. But the reality is that even if Tech makes a hire tomorrow, it will be a long, long time before Tech accrues enough program inertia to move into that echelon of academically-inclined football schools. That requires three major components: an athletic director willing to reform the program and whip up vast amounts of support from the alumni base, an Institute president willing to work with athletics (and maybe bend some rules along the way), and a culture change at the Institute with regards to athletics.
Thankfully, we have the first two: athletic director Todd Stansbury has shown that he is committed to the vision of building a high quality and competitive athletic program on the Flats, and so far, Institute President Bud Peterson has stuck to his man and seemingly worked well with him. Their working relationship has brought us the Adidas contract, the massive push around Athletics Initiative 2020, and a revitalized sense of energy and excitement around the program. I think these three things, along with the right hire for head football coach, can really turn the tide on component 3. A better and winning program can generate a lot of buzz and bring back alumni that may have been spurned by previous ineffective athletic directors or the idea of the flexbone offense AND generate casual fan interest here on campus. Given his body of work in his two years back on the Flats, I am confident that Todd Stansbury can make a good hire for the next head football coach at Georgia Tech. There would make me nothing prouder as a (soon-to-be) alumnus of this Institute than to see our athletic programs succeed on the highest level of intercollegiate sport.