Why Paul Johnson should be Notre Dame’s next hire
We’ve heard all the talk for weeks — months even. When the Charlie Weis era still had a pulse in South Bend, when the Fighting Irish were preparing for their home showdown with USC in October, all the chatter surrounded what big name would be the next head honcho of ND’s football team: Jon Gruden, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops…
After the disaster that was Notre Dame’s 6-6 season, new names crept their way onto the list following successful seasons at renewed programs: Brian Kelly, Gary Patterson, Jim Harbaugh and Pat Fitzgerald.
One name that has never been linked to the Irish head coaching job, however, is Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson.
I continue to ask myself why, because at the end of the day Johnson should be the next head coach in South Bend.
Whether he has any interest in the gig, I don’t know. What I do know is that Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is not doing due diligence in his coaching search if he hasn’t reached out to Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich in an effort to at least have a conversation with Johnson.
What makes Johnson a less qualified candidate than Brian Kelly or any other candidate on Swarbrick’s list? He's a proven winner with a proven system.
In his first head coaching gig at Georgia Southern, Johnson became one of only four coaches to win 50 games in his first four seasons at the D-I level, and he led the Eagles to the I-AA national championship in 1999 and 2000 after finishing as runner-up in 1998.
Johnson parlayed that successful stint into an opportunity at the Naval Academy in 2002, where he posted an 8-4 record in only his second season and earned a trip to the Houston Bowl. The next year, Johnson guided Navy to its best start in 30 years and finished 9-2 before defeating New Mexico in the Emerald Bowl. He was named NCAA coach of the year as his team finished with 10 wins, tying the school record. Another eight wins followed in 2005, including a win over Colorado State in the Poinsettia Bowl, before Johnson made a name for himself on the national stage with the triple-overtime victory at South Bend in 2007 — Navy’s first win over Notre Dame since 1963.
As if that victory wasn’t enough, he became the only coach in Navy history to go 6–0 in his first six seasons against Army.
So what’s the problem with Johnson? Ah, yes, that damn triple-option attack that doesn’t work at a big school in a BCS conference.
Never mind that several top 25 teams use variations of the option attack. Never mind that his teams consistently are at the top of the NCAA rankings in rushing yards. Never mind that he would get even better players than he had at Navy at a big school, and that better athletes in a BCS conference could make the option even scarier.
You want proof?
Georgia Tech wasn't scared off; it hired Johnson two years ago. The results?
2008: 9-4 (5-3), with a Chick-Fil-A Bowl appearance
2009: 11-2 (8-1), with Georgia Tech’s first major bowl appearance since 1966
In his first season, Johnson led the Yellow Jackets to a 9-4 mark, including the team’s first victory since 2000 over rival Georgia. Johnson was named ACC coach of the year, as the Yellow Jackets tied Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title. Keep in mind that he inherited a Georgia Tech team with a youthful roster that was low in scholarships — 16 of the 22 starters were freshmen or sophomores — and a quarterback who was originally recruited to run a pro set.
This season, Johnson helped the Jackets to the school’s first win in Tallahassee over Florida State and a win over then-No. 4 Virginia Tech en route to winning ACC coach of the year honors for a second consecutive season. The team is currently 11-2 with an ACC championship and its first major/BCS bowl game berth since the 1966 season.
So my question to Jack Swarbrick: Have you made the call to Paul Johnson?
What makes Brian Kelly’s spread offense so much more appealing than what Johnson is doing down in the dirty ATL?
On Tony Kornheiser’s morning show on ESPN Radio in Washington a few months ago, sports writer John Feinstein noted that Johnson once told him that if he was ever given an opportunity to coach in the NFL, he truly believes his option attack would be successful.
NFL experts have laughed off gimmicky offenses before — and I’m sure that as time went on, NFL defenses would catch up. But how come no defense has been constructed by intelligent coaches in the college game to take away the option? As beastly and dominant as an NFL defender can be, seeing is believing. And Johnson has made me a believer in anything he preaches when it comes to his offense.
But first thing’s first. Forget the NFL. I’d like to see him try in South Bend. Jack Swarbrick, are you a believer like I am?
Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave.