For its participants, Wednesday's National Signing Day event in the Edge Center was all about feeling good: Feeling good about "where they are" as a program, feeling good about all the fine players they got, and feeling good about how things went exactly like they thought they would. As with most things Johnson, there was nothing exciting to speak of in the final moments; no Isaiah Crowells or Tony Stewards or Stephon Tuitts to thrill the crowd. That is, unless you classify plucking some linebacker away from Wake Forest as "exciting." Instead, it was the typically blissful circlejerk about all the "high character" young men who will no doubt empower snooty Tech fans to stick up their noses in future seasons as the ugliness inevitably unfolds on-field. But certainly Coach Johnson wouldn't have recruited a single one of them if he didn't "think" they could all play legitimate BCS conference ball? To hear him tell it, there was never a doubt, and the process was smooth sailing every step of the way:
(Note: All Paul Johnson quotes below were "paraphrased" by the AJC's Doug Roberson.)
We felt like [recruiting] went well. (...) It was good that it went kind of like what we thought.
Gee whiz, does recruiting ever not "go well" for you Coach? So you knew all along that you were going to lose 5 of your committed players in the two weeks leading up to signing day? Did you ever "think" that Darrius Caldwell might fail to qualify academically, and that it might not be a good idea to rely on his commitment? Did you "think" that you would strike out on so many top instate targets only a year off an Orange Bowl appearance? I guess you "knew" these things just like you "knew" something "wasn't right with the team" even before the 2010 season even began?
And if Johnson truly felt this was how the class would turn out from the beginning, was he not perhaps the victim of some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy? Might a change of attitude not then be in order if Tech wants to elevate its recruiting to a new level?
Those [7 high school QBs we signed] are great athletes. We are looking forward to seeing those guys at different spots. Most of the high school teams put their best player at quarterback. You know they are good athletes. A guy like Chris Milton could play a bunch of different places.
Oh wow, who would have thought this recruiting thing would be that simple? Just take in a bunch of athletic-looking guys who played QB in high school that no one else wants and build your whole team around them! Now let's go get that national title! I can see the ESPN ads already-- The BCS National Championship Game: So easy a service academy coach can do it!
Sadly, this is what Georgia Tech football has become under Johnson. Tech is now forced to load up on "ATHs" who played QB in high school, switch them to other positions of need, such as WR and DB, and hope they pan out as well as the players specialized in those positions who are actually recruited by the major schools. It is unclear at this point whether Johnson is too lazy to go after the latter type of prospect, or if he simply lacks the ability to recruit against the big boys and is sidestepping them entirely. We wonder if it might not be a little bit of both.
And while the average Johnson bootlicker might easily be duped into believing in his flim-flam, the rational fan knows better. If these high school QBs, such as Demon Smith and Jamal Golden, were truly some of the "best athletes" out there, then major schools would have been all over them, yet the bulk of their offers were from mid-major and FCS programs. Even the great Chris Milton mostly received offers from bottom-rung FBS schools like Purdue and Vanderbilt. Regardless of offer sheets though, the sheer folly of trusting a group of converted quarterbacks over players specifically trained and tested at at various positions should be apparent enough. Once again, it appears "The Contrarian" thinks he knows something that all the other major head coaches don't. And unfortunately it reeks of yet another lower division practice which Johnson can't seem to grow out of in the major ranks.
[On signing just 10 players from Georgia] It just happened. (...) There were some really good players in the state this year. There’s a niche that has to fit your program and fit your school. Academics come in a great deal in this state. (...) If you want to find a place with a bigger stadium you can. (...) We feel like we got a lot of the top players this year. Time will tell.
"It just happened."
No, it wasn't Johnson's fault. He had no control whatsoever. These sorts of things "just happen." Maybe next year they'll "just happen" differently. Who knows? Time will tell.
Now that is the kind of passion and aggression a fan likes to see in his head coach!
Johnson says he "feels" like he got a lot of top players in the state of Georgia this year, yet the numbers don't lie: Tech received commitments from only 4 of the state's top 50 players as ranked by the AJC, only 2 of the top 38, and none in the top 16. Even marginal out-of-state schools like Kentucky and South Carolina managed to snag 4 a piece out of the list.
The unfortunate reality is that Mark Richt and UGA have thoroughly reamed Paul Johnson's ass within the state borders this year-- UGA nabbed 15 out of the AJC Top 50, including 8 out of the top 12. You can't use the excuse that Johnson didn't want these "overrated" recruits either, as he had offered 9 of those 15 players. Altogether Tech was 0 for 29 on prospects who received offers from both UGA and Tech this recruiting season, 16 of which were from the state of Georgia. And if you count a late UGA offer to Tre Jackson, who had his Tech offer revoked after he had piqued the interest of big-time schools such as FSU and Miami, you could even say Johnson was 0 for 30.
This ineptitude flies in the face of the pablum we were fed when Johnson was hired-- that all the local ties he and his staff had developed while at Georgia Southern would lead to great recruiting success. If anything, local high school coaches appear to become alienated from Johnson the longer they are exposed to him. As Mark Bradley writes:
Johnson was the head coach at Georgia Southern, as was co-offensive line coach Mike Sewak; quarterbacks/B-backs coach Brian Bohannon is a Griffin native who worked at Georgia Southern; recruiting coordinator Andy McCollum grew up in Marietta. This isn’t a staff that lacks a feel for the terrain. And yet … more than half of these 22 signees hail from out of state.
Yes, some enthusiasm would be nice, however Paul Johnson is exactly the kind of coach the Tech administration loves. He is a lazy oaf with a 1-AA mindset who won't rock the boat and is all-too-ready to use academics as an excuse instead of fighting The Hill tooth-and-nail for admissions. Johnson sees no problem with leisurely winding in a bushel of "high character" Sun Belt fodder, as arrogant as he is to think that his magical system will make up the deficit. Meanwhile, he can't even convince the elite, academically-inclined defensive recruits like James Vaughters and Stephon Tuitt to remain instate.
And by the way, does Coach Johnson truly consider the lack of "a bigger stadium" an excuse for his recruiting struggles? Tell that to Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, who had landed an elite top 5 class, according to Scout, before some of the recruits bailed after he took the 49ers job. This includes several top prospects he won over more prominent California programs like USC and UCLA, which both play in 90k+ seat stadiums. Stanford actually plays in a stadium SMALLER than GT, and can't even fill that to capacity! But don't let that stop you from continuing to use stadium size as an excuse Coach.
Johnson wraps it up:
Bottom line is the kid wants to come to your place or he doesn’t. We’re looking for guys who want to be at Georgia Tech and want to be in the program. Not everybody wants to come to Georgia Tech, just like everybody doesn’t want to go to Florida or Alabama.
In other words, it is what it is, right coach?
Johnson mentions schools like Florida and Alabama, but why does it seem like the list of "guys who want to be at Georgia Tech" is actually growing more similar to, say, the list of "guys who want to be at Georgia Southern"? What The Arrogant One does not understand is that such a list is not static-- there are measures you can take to make yourself and your program more marketable to a wider group of athletes. Johnson's opinion, however, is that the recruits must change for him, not the other way around, and if they don't like it, they can go bloody sign with Florida, Alabama, or Georgia. That kind of strategy is not going to cut it in the big leagues at a "special" place like Georgia Tech.
George O'Leary and even Chan Gailey proved that top 25 classes and head-to-head victories versus UGA are both possible in recruiting. Of course it also once seemed possible that Tech might never again have a losing season. As Tech fans slip into the delirium of good feelings about their "genius" head coach and his rag-tag menagerie of low-talent, "high-character" players, they stray further from the reality of a program clearly on the decline. When they awaken one day to find Johnson ousted and his pee-wee roster years from again being competitive, maybe then will they finally understand what it means to be a fan of the program rather than a fan of the head coach.