Don’t call Paul Johnson’s offense the triple option.
“That’s a play,” the Georgia Tech head coach will typically say. “That’s not an offense.”
Which, of course, would be typical Johnson, the 59-year-old North Carolina native who has been called arrogant, prickly, combative, honest to a fault, old-fashioned, old-school, stubborn, eccentric and, oh yeah, a heck of a football coach.
Saturday, Johnson will lead the Yellow Jackets to their eighth bowl game in his nine seasons as head coach when Georgia Tech faces Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, which is scheduled for an 11 a.m. start on ESPN.
By the way, the coach prefers to call his offense “the flexbone spread option” offense.
The run-heavy offense — only Air Force and Army have thrown fewer passes this season — has been Johnson’s calling card his entire career. A native of Newland, N.C., Johnson played high school football at Avery County High School, but not during his college days at Western Carolina. Later he was an offensive coordinator and later the head coach at Georgia Southern, winning a pair of FCS titles there.
After going 62-10 in Statesboro, Johnson moved to Navy, where he was 45-29 in six seasons before coming to Georgia Tech in 2008. He’s gone 69-48 in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets had been to seven straight bowl games, including a pair of Orange Bowl berths, before last year’s team caved to 3-9.
This season brought a rebound. Tech started the year 3-3 before winning five of their final six. A two-touchdown underdog, the Jackets forced four turnovers to beat division champ Virginia Tech 30-20 in Blacksburg. Two weeks later, Tech rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat archrival Georgia 28-27. It was Johnson’s third win over the Bulldogs and second straight in Athens.
“Not bad for a bunch of 80th-ranked recruiting classes, huh?” Johnson quipped afterward.
Such is his way. The coach says what he thinks, even about his employer, who he says hasn’t made the financial commitment to football it needs to compete with the upper-echelon programs in the ACC.
“We are way behind. There’s no doubt about that,” said Johnson, who now works for first-year athletic director Todd Stansbury, who played linebacker at Tech under former UK coach Bill Curry.
Johnson also recently took another shot at Georgia, specifically Bulldogs Coach Kirby Smart, when asked about a Wake Forest radio announcer leaking the team’s game plan to opponents.
“Didn’t the guy from Georgia (Smart) say they knew that the throwback was coming,” Johnson said. “That’s pretty good, since we hadn’t run it all year.”
If Johnson’s offense and comments are controversial, no one questions his team’s toughness. Ask Kentucky quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw, who was on Brian VanGorder’s staff at Georgia Southern, five years after Johnson departed.
“I was the offensive coordinator there in ’06 and I had to switch from that offense and watching all the film from Georgia Southern and what they did there, it’s pretty intense,” he said. “It’s very unique, but you can see the toughness, the effort, the discipline he has with his football team is incredible. That’s why he has sustained and done such a great job over many, many years of running the offense.”
And winning a lot of games. Johnson ranks fifth among active coaches in victories.
After his Yellow Jackets beat host Georgia in 2014, Johnson was asked about his team’s ability to possess the football for 36 of the game’s 60 minutes.
“Sometimes a high school offense will help you like that,” said Johnson.
Just don’t call it the triple option.
Top 10 active college football coaches by wins