Is Paul Johnson Bad for the ACC?
By Jacob Shoor
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ACC football cannot catch up to SEC football without significantly improved recruiting in Georgia, and that is not going to happen as long as Paul Johnson is coaching the Yellow Jackets.
Prepositions, dear reader, matter. Before proceeding with this article, know that there is a difference between "the worst coach in the ACC" and "the worst coach for the ACC."
Chris Moore has a series of articles at ACCsports.com covering the statistics of recruiting from the vantage of the ACC for the years 2010 through 2014. "Recruiting in the ACC Footprint" sums and then expounds on the earlier posted articles, which focus on different states. Moore opens by asserting the obvious, an obvious that cannot be overstated: "Teams cannot win championships - or even more than a handful of games - without recruiting at a high level," which "is what the SEC does best."
The streak of national championships in football has ended at seven, but only an absolute fool doubts that SEC football, top to bottom, is other than the best in the country. Because the ACC now shares four states with the SEC, and because a total of nine SEC schools are either in a state shared with the ACC or are in a state that borders a state the ACC shares with the SEC, ACC football must deal with the SEC juggernaut in ways that no other conference can more than imagine, the way that guilty teenagers imagine Jason coming after them.
The massive overlap guarantees that not merely general fans, but also college football journalists, tend to downgrade the ACC, tend to see it as weaker than it actually is, because only the ACC is in direct comparison to the SEC every day of the year.
The only way the ACC can overcome that perception is to beat the SEC more often, and that can't be done without improved recruiting. Which gets us back to the worst coach for ACC football. Even the more casual fans of college football now know that in most years Florida produces the most Division I football recruits in the nation. Fans of Southern football know that some years ago Georgia passed Ohio to produce the fourth-largest total of Division I football recruits year after year. The sheer numbers mean it is primarily in those two states that the ACC either succeeds or fails in its recruiting wars, especially against the SEC.
Moore's article "Who Owns Florida in Recruiting?" may prove a little surprising to some SEC fans. Of the Top 40 Florida recruits per year from 2010 through 2014, the SEC signed 42.5% while the ACC signed 34%. The difference is negligible, especially as it begins on the heels of the Tim Tebow era in Gainesville, which coincided with the last, painful years of the Bobby Bowden era in Tallahassee. The combination of the two would mean that Florida high school coaches and recruits would tend to see ACC football as worse than lackluster compared to the SEC.
Any conference that can sign a third of the Top 40 Florida recruits over a five-year span can produce national title contenders and be widely regarded as one of the best conferences in the country, as long as it also can recruit other states, especially Georgia, well.
Moore's "Who Owns Georgia in Recruiting?" paints a very different picture than his analysis of Florida recruiting. Moore's picture of Georgia recruiting is virtually a Boschian nightmare for the ACC. Of the Top 30 Georgia recruits each year from 2010 through 2014, 72.6% signed with the SEC, while the ACC managed only a sick unto death 16.67%.
If the ACC could sign double the percentage of Top 30 Georgia players than it does, which would equal the percentage of Top 40 Florida players it signs, then the ACC would take a giant step toward equaling the SEC.
Georgia Tech has been in the ACC for more than 30 years. Georgia borders South Carolina and, in a small section of the Smokies, North Carolina. Georgia, especially the Atlanta and Augusta areas, has a large number of alums of ACC schools. Those factors suggest that the ACC should be able to recruit Georgia at least as well as it recruits Florida.
But the ACC is floundering in recruiting The Peach State. And that brings us to Paul Johnson.
Is it possible for the Yellow Jackets to have a coach who is worse for the reputation of ACC football in Georgia than Johnson?
The knee-jerk Wreck fans still think that because Johnson won big at 1-AA Georgia Southern means that he can win big at Georgia Tech. And downright nutty - many Jackets assume that Johnson can and will become popular to high school coaches and players in Georgia.
The reality is that Johnson is widely perceived by other coaches, perhaps especially high school coaches, as an arrogant, prickly nerd who fancies himself far above the crowd, which simply isn't smart enough to understand, much less appreciate, his superior system.
Johnson plays into every negative stereotype of Georgia Tech held by fans and alums of SEC schools.
That wouldn't have to be a totally bad thing if he could manage two tasks close to half the time: win bowl games and beat Georgia. But Johnson is 1-5 in bowl games at Georgia Tech, and the only reason the Jackets upset Southern Cal in the Sun Bowl is that Lane Kiffin had lost any control over his team. Johnson is also just 1-5 in "Clean, Old Fashioned Hate" games, and he barely won his initial meeting against the Bulldogs.
So Paul Johnson, who comes off to many non-Tech fans as some amalgam of booger-eating Timmy Lupus and stats-wonk Alfred Ogilvie and cannot win bowls or games against UGA, represents ACC football to Georgia high school coaches and players. Is it any wonder the ACC strikes out miserably in Georgia recruiting?
To be fair to Johnson, his predecessor Chan Gailey was only 2-4 in bowls and an intolerable 0-6 versus the Dawgs. But at least wooden Gailey seemed like a football man rather than a reject from the cast of 'The Big Bang Theory.'
Even with all that, if Paul Johnson's teams played in such a way that fans flocked to buy tickets, then at least sold out Bobby Dodd games would send a positive message to Georgia high school coaches and players. But the fact is that Paul Johnson is nearly the antithesis of a Bobby Petrino: Lupus/Ogilvie masterminding an option running game simply cannot be expected to attract fans, and that goes double in an NFL city.
ACC football cannot catch up to SEC football without significantly improved recruiting in Georgia, and that is not going to happen as long as Paul Johnson is coaching the Yellow Jackets. The ACC needs Johnson to be shown the door, but the sad fact is that his exorbitant salary is keeping him on The Flats.
Perhaps John Swofford should consider organizing ACC prayer sessions in which multitudes pray that the Dawgs once again beat the Yellow Jackets. Six straight years of that might do the trick.