Alas, there is a thawing in the relationship between Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski and coach Paul Johnson. Or if not the personal relationship, at least the business one.
Nearly two years after accepting the job, 11 days after Johnson’s team clinched a berth in the ACC title game and three days after the Jackets went into Athens and upset Georgia, Bobinski has finally decided Johnson might be worth keeping. He submitted his first contract extension offer to Johnson’s agent Monday, after saying nothing to his head coach for months and leading many in and around the Tech program to wonder what was taking him so long to make a decision.
Jack Reale, Johnson’s agent, offered little about the offer Monday, but told the Journal-Constitution, “We’re exchanging numbers now and we’re actually in discussion for an extension. I don’t want to characterize anything further than that.”
Bobinski, who likely will offer an extension of at least three years, said even less. “I don’t see any purpose in commenting on contract/personnel matters unless/until there’s something definitive to say,” he responded, via a text message.
That wasn’t the case in August. Bobinski, whose impersonal, close-to-the-vest style has been a contrast to predecessor Dan Radakovich and has caused some discomfort for many in the athletic department, made it clear he wasn’t going to be rushed into a decision about Johnson, whose program in the previous four years was 19-13 in the ACC but only 28-25 overall (a mark dragged down by going 1-7 vs. Georgia and in bowl games).
The issue: Johnson has only two years left on his contract after this season. That’s fine in the real world but not in college football, where opposing coaches will seize on that as a sign of instability and crush you in recruits’ living rooms.
Bobinski has seemed oblivious to that.
“(It’s) the most overblown thing in the world,” he said in August. “That’s a figment of agents’ and other people’s imagination. (Opposing) coaches will say what they’re going to say. But the counter to that is coaches will just pick up and leave.”
Bobinski might want to take some time to get to know the people who work for him. Johnson has an ego, sure. But the truth is, if he just walks, it’s not because he’s a job-hopper like most in his fraternity. It’s because he’s not going to operate in a situation where his boss leaves him with the feeling of being a lame duck. He’s secure enough in his abilities and secure financially.
Also, there would be job offers. Nebraska seems like a nice fit.
So why would Bobinski finally take a step in negotiations? Two reasons: 1) Tech’s last two wins over Clemson and Georgia possibly convinced him of the program’s direction; 2) Recruiting is in full swing next week, and maybe he realizes he needs to send a signal.
Johnson likes coaching at Tech. He’s accustomed to the academic situation and the limitations that sometimes accompany that. But there’s also a high degree of, “Don’t push me — I don’t need this” in him.
The Jackets had some rough moments since those dream-like first two seasons, when Johnson went 20-7, beat Georgia in Athens, won the ACC title and took the Jackets to their first BCS bowl game in history. But Johnson has done pretty well. The Jackets are 10-2 this season and playing for the ACC championship for the third time in six years. Only John Heisman (.764) and Bobby Dodd (.713) have had a better winning percentage among Tech head coaches than Johnson (.630).
Those other two guys coached a long time ago, and in far different circumstances.
I’m not saying Paul Johnson is Nick Saban. But before you put him out with the recyclables, it would be best to understand the landscape at Tech and what the expectations should be. And no: That’s not meant to sound like a we’ll-always-be-a-seven-win-team-Dave-Brainism. Fact is, Johnson has punched through that ceiling twice with double-digit win seasons (11-3 in 2009, 10-2 this year).
Most give Tech a good shot at upsetting No. 3 Florida State next week. There’s a strong chance the Jackets go to a major bowl game. There’s a very slim chance, if enough dominoes fall, that they could make the playoffs.
Regardless, they’re in the conversation. That’s more than Georgia this week.
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