Longtime Georgia Tech voice Wes Durham has been around college and professional sports long enough to know that decisions like the one that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson made Wednesday to step down from his position don’t always happen that way.
“I’m thrilled that he gets to do it on his own terms,” Durham said. “I think that was important to him.”
In an interview with the AJC, Durham spoke with respect and appreciation for the work that Johnson has done at Tech for the past 11 years. Durham, a Tech hall of famer who was the voice of the Jackets for 18 years and now calls games for the Falcons’ radio broadcasts and college football for Fox Sports South, had the call for Johnson’s first five seasons. The two developed a friendship that continues today.
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Durham was happy for Johnson that he’ll be able to devote more time to family, particularly his wife Susan and daughter Kaitlyn, who is at the beginning of a career as a professional opera singer.
“I think he’s excited about (watching her perform), and I think he’s excited about taking a break and doing some things he hasn’t had a chance to do,” Durham said.
Durham wouldn’t rule out Johnson eventually returning to coaching, though he said it would have to be a special and intriguing situation.
But, after 40 years in coaching, he has accomplished plenty, including two Division I-AA national championships at Georgia Southern, five Commander-in-Chief’s trophies at Navy and four nine-win seasons with the Jackets. Tech had had won nine games just seven times in the 51 seasons prior to his hire before the 2008 season.
“He’s a hall-of-fame coach,” Durham said. “It’ll be a slam dunk in that light and he did a great job. He came to Georgia Tech at a time where, I guess, in many respects – 18 years after a national championship and 10 years after the last double-figure win season – they really had to kind of find somebody that would give them an identity. He certainly gave them an identity.”
Durham was particularly impressed that Johnson was able to win at Tech, knowing the challenge inherent at the school and also “in an era when the game was changing, the money was getting bigger, and yet continued to (win) in one off the most competitive academic environments in the country. To this day, I think the academic side of Georgia Tech is really misunderstood beyond the walls, other than people who have worked there or been part of the program.”
To that end, Durham said that Johnson’s successor will be someone who understands and embraces Tech’s academic rigor and its impact on football.
“You’re not going to pay lip service to the mission statement at Georgia Tech,” he said. “When they tell you there’s an academic side to the deal, there is really an academic piece to this that’s not just something they say. You’ve got to understand that it is a unique situation.”