Paul Johnson, Ralph Friedgen await CFB Hall of Fame announcement

A coaching career that has amassed no shortage of highlights could add a most significant achievement. Former Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who led the Yellow Jackets to the team’s first major bowl berths since 1967, will learn Monday if he has been named to the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023.

The National Football Foundation is expected to make an announcement on the class prior to the playing of the College Football Playoff championship. Johnson was named to the ballot in June in his first year of eligibility.

Johnson is one of nine FBS coaches up for induction, a group that also includes former Georgia coach and longtime Johnson rival Mark Richt. Another candidate is former Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, who was a two-time ACC coach of the year at Maryland. In two stints at Tech, Friedgen was the architect of an offense that broke dozens of school records, helped win the 1990 national championship and launched quarterback Joe Hamilton into stardom that earned him induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. At Maryland, Friedgen led the Terrapins to seven bowl games in 10 years after the program had made one bowl trip in the previous 15 seasons.

Johnson is vying to be the 18th former Tech player or coach to be honored.

In 22 seasons as a head coach, Johnson put together a record of 190-99 at Georgia Southern, Navy and, for the last 11 years of his career, Tech. In his five seasons in Statesboro, he won two FCS national championships and compiled a 62-10 record while utilizing the option-based spread offense of his own design. In six years at Navy, he led the Midshipmen to five Commander-in-Chief Trophies (for winning the season series with Army and Air Force) after the academy had not won any in 22 years. His teams were 45-29, including 43-19 over his final five seasons. In his final season, Navy upset Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., ending a 43-game losing streak in the series, the longest in NCAA history.

At Tech, the Jackets played in nine bowl games in his 11-year tenure, won the 2009 ACC championship (later vacated) and played for two more. He was named ACC coach of the year three times and earned a record of 83-60. Broadly, perhaps the most significant accomplishment of his tenure was his demonstration that his triple-option scheme, often derided as a “high-school offense,” could be highly successful at the highest levels of college football. In 11 seasons, Tech finished six times in the top 25 in Football Outsider’s offensive FEI ratings, which measures scoring efficiency, including two second-place finishes.

“You can’t run any TV ads,” Johnson said in the fall, tongue in cheek, of his candidacy for the hall of fame. “If it happens, it happens. But, like I said, I’m proud of what we did in 40 years, and 22 years as the head coach. We won a lot of games. And, more important than that, we got to be involved with a whole lot of really great young men and so many of them have been successful. That’s the best part.”

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