Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson during Georgia Tech’s 2015 season opener against Alcorn State on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com)
Photo: Hyosub Shin
Photo: Hyosub Shin

What a football-first Tech AD might ask Johnson

In 2013, some among Georgia Tech’s Old Guard were miffed that the Institute hired Mike Bobinski of football-free Xavier as athletic director. Most of those alums were subsequently placated, but still: The notion that their school might afford King Football short shrift was anathema to them.

In the wake of the largely unseen Bobinski’s departure for Purdue after 3 1/3 years on North Avenue, we wonder what will happen if Tech hires a Real Football Man this time. Someone like Todd Stansbury, who played at Tech under Bill Curry — being 73, Curry isn’t a viable candidate — and worked in administration under the sainted Homer Rice. Stansbury is beginning his second year as Oregon State’s AD after three years in that capacity at Central Florida. He was believed to have great interest in the Tech job when Bobinski was tapped.

Because Bobinski’s background wasn’t football — he played baseball at Notre Dame; he was chairman of the NCAA’s basketball tournament committee — the belief here was that he was slower to ask Paul Johnson the questions that a Tech AD should ask of his football coach. Let’s say the Yellow Jackets hire Stansbury. (Who might not, it must be said, be in a hurry to leave Corvallis, having just arrived.) Someone who played linebacker under the esteemed coordinator Don Lindsey might have more to offer than, “Good luck this year, coach.” To wit:

How does a Power Five program based in Atlanta rank — this according to Rivals — tied for 67th nationally and last in the 14-member ACC barely 13 months after winning the Orange Bowl? How does a coach whose nine recruiting classes have an average ranking of 53rd (and a best of 39th) expect to keep pace in a division that has, in the past two years, seen the arrival of Pat Narduzzi, Justin Fuente, Bronco Mendenhall and Mark Richt?

If the coach’s response is to say, as this coach invariably does, “If recruiting rankings matter so much, how’d we win the Orange Bowl?”, might the AD then note that two of Johnson’s three biggest seasons were fueled by Tech’s best recruiting class of this century, the 2007 group assembled by Chan Gailey? If the coach wonders, “How am I supposed to win with math students?”, couldn’t Stansbury say: “I played here. I took calculus. I know the drill.”?

How, if nearly every comment a coach makes regarding recruiting is delivered with a sneer, can he be expected to attract even semi-big names? Who wants to play at a school where players don’t seem to matter nearly as much as the coach’s beloved offense? Speaking of which: Why is Tech the only Power Five school that employs this offense? Is it mere coincidence that Bobby Dodd Stadium is full only when Clemson and Georgia come to town? Is Tech football poorly marketed, or is it an old-school product in a 21st century world?

I’d expect Johnson to have answers. (He always does. I know them by heart.) I’d also expect that Stansbury — who played under Curry/Lindsey; who worked with George O’Leary here and in Orlando and with Mike Riley in a previous stint at Oregon State; who works with Gary Andersen now — wouldn’t be cowed by the force of Johnson’s considerable personality. He’d want to know why, even with the 11-3 of 2014 interspersed, Tech football is 42-37 over the past seven seasons.

This isn’t to suggest that Johnson’s time at Tech is, or should be, near its end. But his program just went from 11-3 to 3-9, which shouldn’t happen. After the 2013 season, he was without his sponsor — Dan Radakovich, who’d hired him, had left for Clemson — and a few big-money alums had begun to weary of his, er, answers. Then the Jackets won the Orange Bowl, which prompted Bobinski to extend the coach’s contract through 2020. For the new AD, that extension surely won’t be seen as the gift that keeps on giving.

Over eight seasons at Tech, Johnson hasn’t really had an AD to challenge him. Radakovich was responsible for him being here; Bobinski didn’t have the gravitas. As odd as it sounds, having a Football Man as his boss might be the worst thing for this idiosyncratic football coach.

Let’s say the new AD isn’t Stansbury but Chris Massaro of Middle Tennessee State. He’s highly regarded in the industry. He has overseen the Blue Raiders’ move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. His basketball team just upset Michigan State in the NCAA tournament. Having played football at Northern Colorado, Massaro would have an even more pointed question for Johnson: “How’d we come down there in 2012 and beat you guys by three touchdowns?”

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