NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF. – It never fails. I go mingle with fellow scribes prior to the BCS title game and some bit of Georgia-based football news breaks big. In January 2007 I ducked out of a cookout at the Camelback resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., to write about Bobby Petrino coming to coach the Falcons. In Fort Lauderdale last year I slipped away from the media party to opine about Aaron Murray’s Tweeted decision to stay at Georgia. Now this.
Vad Lee, the most talented quarterback Paul Johnson has coached at Georgia Tech, has had enough of Paul Johnson and Georgia Tech and plans to transfer.
The ramifications of this go beyond one player deciding he’d be better off elsewhere. That Lee, on whose arrival as the No. 1 quarterback Tech fans had waited with barely bated breath, is leaving after one season as a starter and three years in the program constitutes jaw-dropping news. He had invested much in Tech football, and Tech football much in him. And now he’s on his way out, having told ESPN’s Joe Schad, “The triple option was never really my thing.”
We wonder now if, in the wake of Tech’s inability to run the ball against Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl, the Jackets’ brand of the option is anyone’s thing except its creator’s. We wonder if Lee’s departure represents the beginning of the end for Johnson, who has worked six seasons at Tech with demonstrably diminishing returns.
Lee was considered by many Tech backers as the most talented player Tech had signed under Johnson. (As we know, recruiting rankings have rarely been kind to the Jackets.) There were those who thought he should have played as a freshman, when he sat out as a redshirt, and started as sophomore, when he served as Tevin Washington’s understudy. But by 2013 the way was clear, and the heralded Vad Lee …
Well, he was only OK. Not terrible, but definitely not great. He threw the ball pretty well by Tech standards, but Tech football isn’t about throwing and catching. It’s about the option and the reads an option quarterback must make, and Johnson spent all year griping that his team couldn’t run his offense. (After the Ole Miss loss, he made a point to note that Lee missed the read on the first three option runs.)
So we ask: Was the fault Lee’s for not mastering the offense’s nuances or Johnson's for not putting Lee in a better position to succeed? And if Lee – who’s a good runner and a good enough passer – couldn’t make the thing work, who can?
Generally speaking, college football programs are bigger than any one player. (Georgia went 10-1-1 in Year 1 after Herschel Walker.) But the symbolism of Vad Lee taking a hike after one year of taking nearly all of Tech’s hikes cannot be understated. This was a big-time recruit and a big-time talent, and he couldn’t do what Johnson needed him to do. It makes you wonder if, in the era of spread football, what Johnson wants done is still worth doing.
From myajc.com: Paul Johnson loses faith; Tech loses a winnable game.