It might be a bit of a stretch to say Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson is the best college football coach no one has ever heard of, but he rarely comes up in the conversation with names like Nick Saban of Alabama, Urban Meyer of Ohio State, Brian Kelly of Notre Dame and Les Miles of LSU.
After a 49-34 win over 10-3 Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve, Tech fans have to be content that Johnson continues to fly under the radar at the ACC school. He recently agreed in principle to a four-year extension as head coach in Atlanta, and that’s got to be comforting news for fans of the Yellow Jackets. At $2.6 million this season, Georgia Tech got more than their money’s worth with Johnson because that salary ranked him only fifth in the ACC — pretty low for a coach who has three league championships in his seven seasons.
When Georgia Tech was looking for a head coach in 2007, the school did not try to reinvent the wheel by hiring some hotshot assistant. They merely got the best available head coach from a fellow FBS school and that was Johnson, who did a terrific job at Navy. In his first two seasons, he was named ACC Coach of the Year and earned one national Coach of the Year award in 2009. All Tech does is average eight wins a year and this year earned a No. 12 ranking in the nation that figures to go up after the Orange Bowl win.
What makes Georgia Tech (11-3) so tough to handle is Johnson’s hybrid offense that flexes between a spread and a triple option. The offense is largely run-oriented, but there’s an element of explosive plays downfield in the passing game as well as Orange Bowl MVP Justin Thomas proved as a dual-threat quarterback. Thomas is only a sophomore.
Johnson and his team proved to be no fluke with an outstanding November, where they went 4-0 followed by a two-point loss to Florida State in the ACC title game on Dec. 6, and the success literally is grounded in his belief that if you run the ball and stop the run you can win a lot of football games. It might be a lesson some of these empty backfield, no-fullback hotshot younger coaches would be wise to learn.