Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson has long had a reputation for saying exactly what's on his mind--no more, no less.
And the reason he has that reputation is interviews like the one published today by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which Johnson flat-out unloads on the NCAA decision to vacate the Yellow Jackets' 2009 ACC championship. A few choice comments:
“The NCAA can’t take away the memories or what happened on the field. Let’s say somebody took something illegal. I’m still not convinced that happened, but let’s say it did. Well, you’re punishing 115 guys who didn’t do anything but work their butt off" ...
"If we were trying to cover the thing up, we would’ve just said that [athletic director] Dan [Radakovich] never told me anything. Their perception of what happened and my perception of what happened wasn’t close.”
Johnson’s perception: “That they came in here and talked to seven or eight kids and they didn’t find what they were looking for.
“I’ve been in this business a long time. You see all the things that are going on in college sports today, and you get slammed for this? I mean, come on now ...
“If you went out and you did something to gain a competitive advantage, if you knew you cheated or you paid somebody, it might be easier to swallow,” Johnson said. “But when you don’t feel like you’ve done anything wrong, it’s tough to take.”
We don't blame Johnson at all for being upset. Having the ACC title stripped -- the AJC reports the championship trophy has been moved to a closet -- and four years' worth of probation hanging over the program is a tough blow for a coach who by the NCAA's own admission did nothing wrong.
But if there's anything the NCAA has been consistent about in handing down its recent rulings, it's that (say it with me) the cover-up is worse than the crime. Tech officials prepping athletes Demaryius Thomas and Morgan Burnett for interviews with NCAA investigators after being specifically told not to isn't the worst offense in the world, but there's not much question it does fall underneath the "cover-up" umbrella.
And as for "competitive advantage," Tech was cautioned that star receiver Thomas had "eligiblity questions" and played him against Clemson in the ACC title game anyway. No, it's not "paying somebody" (to use Johnson's term), but if using a player you know could be ineligible -- and was later proven to be -- isn't a "competitive advantage," then what is?
So we sympathize with Johnson's plight, and appreciate his candor. But we can't quite bring ourselves to agree with him that the NCAA overstepped its bounds, either.