Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is notoriously difficult to please. When he’s not satisfied with something regarding his football team – scheduling, for instance – he has never been hesitant about making it clear.
Against that backdrop, recent comments made about his boss stand out all the more. At the ACC Kickoff last week in Charlotte, N.C., and again Tuesday at the unveiling of the renovated locker room, Johnson was unreserved in doling out praise for athletic director Todd Stansbury.
For instance, Johnson was asked when he first thought that the locker-room project would move forward from the planning stage.
“When Todd got here,” Johnson answered. “And I think he saw the locker room and realized how far behind we were in facilities and those type of things. I appreciate his leadership in it. I think, as I’ve said before, I think he gets it. I think he understands what we need to be able to compete, and he’s working hard to get us back up on that level.”
Hired in August 2016, Stansbury is the third athletic director Johnson has worked for, following Dan Radakovich and Mike Bobinski. Johnson was close with Radakovich, who hired Johnson, was in constant communication with him and oversaw the construction of Tech’s indoor football facility. Johnson did not have much of a relationship with Bobinski.
“It wasn’t Dan’s watch that we fell so far,” Johnson said.
The connection with Stansbury is far stronger, in no small part because of the support that he has given Johnson. Johnson used the same phrase in Charlotte about Stansbury that he did in the locker room Tuesday – that he “gets it.”
“I mean, he was, like (here, Johnson made a look of horror) when he walked in and saw what we were dealing with,” Johnson said. “It’s like, you couldn’t say it as a head coach because if you do – ‘Well, he’s making excuses.’ But it’s refreshing to have the AD come in and go, ‘Hey, look, we’ve been playing with our hands tied behind our back.’ So you look forward to that.”
Besides securing the funding for the locker room, Stansbury also has approved the hiring of additional staff for recruiting. He also is leading a $125 million capital campaign, the centerpiece of which is a renovation of the Edge Center, Tech’s athletics headquarters. Stansbury also granted Johnson a two-year contract extension (through the 2022 season) at the end of a season in which the Yellow Jackets finished 5-6.
A talking point of Johnson’s during Bobinski’s tenure was that expectations for success had to be matched by the administration’s commitment to the team. In a memorable coincidence, Johnson told media in August 2016 that Tech was “way behind” in the ACC in the realm of facilities and staff the day before Bobinski was hired at Purdue.
While the competition to improve facilities and add staff does not end, Johnson has not had much to complain about with regard to commitment.
“Dan was a football guy,” Johnson said. “Now we’re back with Todd and (deputy AD Mark Rountree), and those guys, I feel like everybody’s on the same page, and they get it.”
What the support means for Tech’s football fortunes is not easily determined. It’s not as though Johnson will game plan more laboriously because he likes his boss. Indeed, the 2014 season, when questions loomed about his future at Tech, was arguably the high point of Johnson’s time at Tech.
The support offered to Johnson and the team might mean as much to his players as it does to him, if not more. The giddiness demonstrated by players Tuesday as they raced about their new locker room for the first time and their eagerness to start practicing and playing in Adidas gear could translate into higher morale.
“We just got done with summer workouts (Tuesday), but this gets us excited to go to (preseason) camp,” defensive end Desmond Branch said of the new locker room. “Like, even more reason to go to camp.”
The implications of the Johnson-Stansbury partnership might be better viewed from a higher vantage point. One thing that Johnson has often said is that he’ll keep coaching as long as he is enjoying it. To that end, Stansbury has a strong influence on Johnson’s level of enjoyment, namely by providing him the tools that he has asked for to compete. And if those improvements can yield in better players, then the on-field results that Johnson craves should follow. And if that happens, Johnson could be happy to continue coaching through the end of his contract, the 2022 season.
The rise of Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech has made Johnson’s challenge to compete for ACC championships more difficult, to say nothing of the ascension of Georgia with coach Kirby Smart. Still, as those who back Tech would point out, last year’s 5-6 record could easily have been 8-3 had the outcomes of last-minute losses to Tennessee, Miami and Virginia been reversed.
In that alternate reality, had other results remained constant, Tech would have played for the ACC championship for the fourth time in Johnson’s 10 seasons. And there’s reason to think this team, with an offense that could be the best since 2014 and new defensive coordinator Nate Woody, could be better.
Tech will begin preseason practice Aug. 3, outfitted in new gear, dressing in a swanky locker room and led by a coach who is eager to start season No. 11 and is refreshed by a supervisor who sees things the same way he does.
“I think that he’s got a plan and he’s moving forward with it,” Johnson said of Stansbury. “He’s not going out and saying, ‘Well, we’ve got everything we need in place, and I don’t know why we’re not winning. Everything’s there.’ When he knows that’s not the truth. So, yeah, I’ve been really, really excited about Todd. I think he’s been a good partner and I think he truly loves Georgia Tech and he wants what’s best for Georgia Tech.”
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