There was the smirk. It always seems to be lurking somewhere near Paul Johnson's lips.
It's a confidence that shows. What coach doesn't believe he can beat the world? The world, in this case, was big-time, major-college football. The perception was that Johnson was coming from Navy to install a novelty offense when he arrived at Georgia Tech.
|The Yellow Jackets emerged in just Paul Johnson's first season in Atlanta. (US Presswire)|
Never mind the comments behind his back. Johnson's new players were questioning his triple option in public.
"We're going to hope that coach does not do all that much running," said James Johnson, 2007's leading returning receiver. "We just hope he's saying all that to trick people."
Paul Johnson heard that and reminded the receiver (and his critics) that if things were running so smoothly at Georgia Tech he wouldn't be there. A few months later, James Johnson is no longer with the team and Paul Johnson is the CBSSports.com coach of the year.
It isn't close. Nick Saban had a head start. In his second season in charge of a well-financed football machine, Saban is expected to go undefeated each season. Mike Leach has done wonders at Texas Tech but in the biggest game in school history, the Red Raiders were bombed back to the Stone Age by Oklahoma.
Johnson brought that antiquated offense and won nine games in his first season. Chan "7-6" Gailey did that once in his six seasons.
There was no room for excuses. Like Rich Rodriguez, Johnson was changing the culture. Unlike Rich Rod, Johnson did not go 3-9 despite Sports Illustrated predicting that's exactly what the Yellow Jackets would do.
Saturday's stunning 45-42 win at Georgia was Tech's first over its rival in seven years. Johnson's offense put up more than 400 rushing yards on the nation's preseason No. 1 -- at the Bulldogs' home. You might have heard of the only other team to win at Athens this season -- No. 1 Alabama.
Johnson did it with arguably the ACC's worst offensive line. When lineman Andrew Gardner went down in early November, he was replaced with 250-pound Austin Barrick. Watch the game tape of the Georgia game. You'll laugh at the number of blocks that were missed. And Tech still punked the Dawgs on the ground.
Yes, you might say Paul Johnson outcoaches people.
"One thing we know for sure Georgia Tech is going to move the football," Georgia State coach Bill Curry said. "If somebody makes a mistake in the linebacker corps, they're going to move it a long way. If the offense is executed, it's not just a triple option, it's a Paul Johnson offense. He's a certified genius running something that only he understands."
Johnson did it breaking in a new quarterback (the talented Josh Nesbitt). Johnson also did it with injuries at quarterback. Johnson did it with no names. Redshirt freshman Roddy Jones rushed for 214 yards on Saturday. Career output to that point: 444 yards.
|Nick Saban's second season at Alabama is good enough for second place here. (Getty Images)|
"The game is really my quarterback against your defensive coordinator," Curry added. "What Paul does in his capacity, he turns it into (the) head coach against your defensive coordinator, with an offense your defensive coordinator hasn't seen during the week. It's a tremendous competitive advantage if you can do it patiently."
That's the amazing thing about the triple option. It is adaptable to any roster. Navy didn't have any future NFL linemen. Georgia Tech will because Johnson is able to recruit on a higher level.
The smirk no doubt returns when Paul Johnson thinks about the James Johnsons of the world.
"Anytime you do something different, people are going to question it," the coach said. "It's really kind of funny to me. It's like at some magical level that something won't work." The misnomer is that all Johnson's offense does is run. Sure, it's hard to get ready for his offense in one week. That's one of Johnson's biggest advantages. But he knows he will have to be more diversified playing in the ACC.
The offense is adaptable. Garrett Gabriel left Hawaii, where Johnson was offensive coordinator, in 1990. Gabriel is still the school's No. 4 career passer. Tracy Ham, Johnson's dual-threat quarterback at Georgia Southern, threw for 5,000 career yards.
Johnson embraces any situation with that confidence. When he was introduced at halftime of a Georgia Tech basketball game last season, he made sure to say, "To hell with Georgia," a line from the school's fight song. After putting Georgia through hell on Saturday, Yellow Jackets players broke off twigs from Sanford Stadium's famed hedges as souvenirs.
Johnson, though, declined.
"I figure I'll be back," he said. "I mean, act like you think you're gonna win, right?"
National coaches of the year
1. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech: Best times are yet to come. Only 15 teams have more victories this season.
2. Nick Saban, Alabama: At least a year ahead of schedule with few seniors, a bunch of freshmen and that certain "want-to." St. Nick could become the fourth coach this decade to win a national title in his second season at a school.
3. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Best defense in the West. One of only four undefeated teams. Second BCS bowl for Utah in five years. What else do you want?
Coaches of the year by conference
1. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
2. Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston College
3. Butch Davis, North Carolina
|This might be the best party Brian Kelly gets in Cincy. (Getty Images)|
2. Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh
3. Greg Schiano, Rutgers
1. Mike Leach, Texas Tech: The world came to Lubbock this season and saw a strange, weird, brilliant coach.
2. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
3. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
1. Joe Paterno, Penn State: It's hip to be square -- and then have that hip replaced. JoePa might be coach emeritus at this point, but his enthusiasm spreads through the staff. Two Big Ten titles in the last four years.
2. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
3. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
1. David Bailiff, Rice: The third head coach for some of the Owls, Bailiff has latched on to the energy started by Todd Graham and developed Rice into a formidable mid-major.
2. Todd Graham, Tulsa
3. Skip Holtz, East Carolina
|Kyle Whittingham likely has Utah heading back to the BCS. (Getty Images)|
2. Gary Patterson, TCU
3. Troy Calhoun, Air Force
1. Brady Hoke, Ball State: From the home office in Muncie, Ind.: Hoke just punched his career ticket.
2. Turner Gill, Buffalo
3. Bill Cubit, Western Michigan
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
2. Houston Nutt, Ole Miss
3. Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt
1. Larry Blakeney, Troy: What could have been: Troy had LSU down 31-10 at Death Valley.
2. Steve Roberts, Arkansas State
3. Howard Schnellenberger, Florida Atlantic
1. Mike Riley, Oregon State: A genuine good guy who gets the most out of his undermanned teams. These kinds of stories are supposed to have happy endings. The loss to Oregon was crushing.
2. Pete Carroll, USC
3. Mike Stoops, Arizona
1. Chris Petersen, Boise State: Simply too good for this league. Boise needs to go to the Mountain West.
2. Dick Tomey, San Jose State
3. Chris Ault, Nevada