Georgia fans look into the future and don’t know what they see. Nobody knows who’s going to lead the offense (Brian Schottenheimer: likely gone). Nobody knows who’s going to lead the defense (Jeremy Pruitt: good, but his situation is less than stable). Nobody knows who’s going to be the head coach (the administration isn’t commenting on Mark Richt’s future, and the AJC’s Chip Towers reports there is unrest among boosters.
Relatively speaking, Georgia Tech is a model of stability. That may seem strange given the Yellow Jackets are 3-8 and the Bulldogs 8-3 going into Saturday’s meeting. But there are no questions about coach Paul Johnson’s future, and he hasn’t determined if any staff changes are appropriate.
Because Johnson understands the reality: This is his team, and the biggest problems have been on offense. Johnson self-evaluates like every coach, so it follows his first objective after Saturday’s game will be to determine what he did wrong this season.
Will Johnson’s first losing season at Tech and second in 19 years of coaching cause him to re-evaluate the direction of the program?
“Yeah, you think about it all when things aren’t going good,” he said. “You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. But sometimes the hardest thing is to look back and realize there’s a long record of doing it this way, and you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water and overreact. But, yeah, you get frustrated. I’m no different from a fan who’s watching it, and even more so because I know exactly what’s happening.”
Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski, who gave Johnson a contract extension late last season, said he didn’t expect the Jackets to duplicate their 11-3 season from a year ago, believing a number of things bounced right for the team. But, “I had an expectation that we would be able to retain momentum, that we would feel like we had a positive year. And we haven’t. That’s our reality. We’re disappointed and frustrated, and you’ve heard that from Paul.”
Has he lost confidence in Johnson or the direction of the program?
“No. That hasn’t changed one centimeter. In fact, one thing I know about Paul is when he’s backed into a corner, that’s when he’s at his best.”
Johnson’s option has struggled at times because of offensive line problems. Seven running backs have missed time with injuries, including five who’ve missed four to 11 games (kinda big for a run-dependent offense). Johnson also has been forced to play 23 freshmen (including 10 in their first season), which is the fifth highest total among Power Five conference programs.
Last week at Miami, facing a beatable opponent that already has fired its coach, Tech had nine fumbles (two lost), four turnovers and lost quarterback Justin Thomas early in a 38-21 defeat.
You know it’s a strange season when Tech defeats Florida State, but loses to everybody else on its ACC schedule.
Johnson told his players after the Miami game that he appreciated their efforts, but, “What’s happening is not acceptable. I’m not going to accept it, and I don’t think anybody’s going to accept it.”
Tech is not without its own segment of irritated fans who expected better. Bobinski hears from them.
“In today’s world, there’s never a shortage of folks who are full of opinions when it comes to athletics,” he said. “That’s one of the things that makes this enterprise successful — people are passionate about it. If you’re not able and willing to accept that, you’re in the wrong business. But on balance, I’m incredibly thankful for the fan and student support we’ve had this year.”
This is the first time in Johnson’s eight seasons at Tech and only the second time in his 19 head coaching seasons that he will finish with a losing record and not go to a postseason game.
He’s miserable, and nothing is going to change the big picture, not even an upset of Georgia. There are Tech fans who believe beating Georgia matters erases all stains. But the coach isn’t among them.
“This season has been miserable,” he said. “It’s been miserable for everybody involved — players, coaches, everybody. There’s nothing fun about losing.”
And there’s only one chance left to squeeze any joy out of the season.
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