For years, Paul Johnson has been a thorn in the side of every single head coach in the ACC.
Johnson’s option attack at Georgia Tech never brought him tremendous national success, but the Yellow Jackets were always good enough to mess with teams who doubled them in talent. Virginia Tech is no different.
Johnson knocked off the Hokies in his second year in Atlanta, but then lost five of his next six meetings with Virginia Tech. And then, he won three in a row against new Hokies head coach Justin Fuente.
As long as Johnson was at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets were never going to be good enough to win the ACC outright. However, they were always going to be good enough to be a wild card on nearly every ACC team’s schedule.
But now, Johnson is gone. The 61-year-old head coach announced his retirement after 11 years at Georgia Tech and 22 seasons overall as a head coach.
“After 40 years of coaching, it’s time to take a break,” Johnson said in a statement. “My family has sacrificed a lot over the years. I want to watch my daughter perform and do some things with my wife that we’ve never had a chance to do. It’s been a great run for the last 11 years here on the Flats. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and am looking forward to having the chance to coach this team one last time at our bowl game next month.”
Johnson’s retirement could change the entire dynamic of the Atlantic Coast Conference, specifically the ACC Coastal. Georgia Tech, once a weekly toss-up, now faces a big decision in terms of their program’s future.
Georgia Tech’s next head coach will be given a roster that, in theory, has a near-zero chance of being competitive in a non-option offense. Johnson has been recruiting players to fit this scheme for 11 years and it’s all his players know. His offensive linemen haven’t been coached to block traditionally, his quarterbacks haven’t been coached on how to go through traditional progressions and his running backs and “receivers” are used to running the ball in non-traditional ways.
If a “normal” head coach running a “normal” offense takes the helm at Georgia Tech, it will take years to get the roster to a competitive level. Georgia Tech could be dormant for several seasons. However, doing so raises the ceiling of the program.
Georgia Tech isn’t a sleeping giant, but the program has institutional advantages that could help the them take the next step. Tech is in the middle of a recruiting hotbed in Atlanta, which is sending more and more players to Division I programs every season. Tech is only 51st in athletic department revenue, per USA Today, but Georgia Tech graduates rank ninth terms of median starting salary and many of their graduates have deep pockets. There’s potential there, in terms of raising athletic revenue through donations.
If Georgia Tech decides to stick with an option-minded coach, the Yellow Jackets will be similar to what they are now. They’ll never be great and they’ll never present a serious challenge to win the ACC, but they’ll be competitive nearly every time out and they’ll beat some teams they shouldn’t.
Georgia Tech’s decision will either maintain the status quo in the Coastal or dramatically change the dynamic within the division. The Yellow Jackets face a serious decision about the future and upside of their program, and that decision will affect the rest of the conference. This coaching search should intrigue fans across the ACC, especially fans of Virginia Tech.