Dear Paul Johnson,
I confess I didn’t know much about you or option football, or really even football strategy in general, when you were hired on The Flats coming into the 2008 season. I was a Georgia Tech fan, but not a college football fan, and all I knew was Reggie Ball and Chan Gailey and nothing but 7 win seasons. I thought it was strange we were hiring a coach from a military academy.
I don’t remember much from that 2008 year. I remember some guy with a funny first name taking over the head coach position at Clemson. I wonder how that worked out. I remember the Yellow Jackets putting together a few wins while I wasn’t paying much attention early in the season, and then squeaking by Gardner Webb. I thought I would check out that season, but then I was in the student section for the Miracle on North Avenue. I was hooked.
I remember cackling maniacally from my living room as you torched Randy Shannon and the Miami Hurricanes into oblivion on national television that Thursday night. That was the night I fell in love with the flexbone. The following weekend, I studied it like I had a final coming up and learned the strategy, basic plays, and the lingo.
We were intentionally leaving people unblocked? What kind of wizardry is this?
I can recite to you Wes Durham’s radio calls from the Georgia game that year when you broke their winning streak. It started with, “and that’s an explosion play to start the half!” to “give to Dwyer… NOOO, IT’S A PITCH...” and things just got crazier from there.
Coach, you and that game are the reason I bought Roddy Jones a shot when I randomly ran into him in a downtown Roswell bar in 2014.
I became a season ticket holder in 2009 and haven’t looked back since. I never did end up having to “punch them in the face,” despite really, really wanting to.
You made me a college football fan. Not just a Georgia Tech fan, but a college football fan. You showed us there’s so, so many ways to win a football game, completed passes be damned.
I was there through the down/return to Gailey-win-totals years from 2010-2013.
I was also super scared and wondering about this program’s future under you when I took a date to the 2014 season opener against Wofford, and we only led by 1 point at the half. We had this new kid at QB named Justin Thomas who looked really fast. And did you know he was once a Saban commit? That season turned out pretty good too.
Also, while I have you, Coach, do you think FSU will ever play us in the regular season again? I’ve been in the stadium for both miracles now, and did you know this one registered as seismic activity? It was crazy.
After all these years of watching your offense, the best moment in the entirety of a football game to me is when on a well-blocked triple, the QB turns the corner with the trailing pitchman, and there’s only one helpless defender there who knows that no matter what, he will be wrong. That split second of forcing that defender to commit and then whichever ball carrier taking off up the field is perfect. You can feel the entire crowd inhale in the stadium and start to stand up. Everyone catches their breath, because we can all see that something awesome is about to happen. It creates so much tension, and is beautiful to watch.
That will be the thing I miss the most when we invariably hire a coach with a different offensive philosophy. The flexbone was a joy to call ours.
All this to say Coach, is that we’re really, truly going to miss you here on The Flats and here at FTRS. We take it as a compliment that all of the opposing teams on our schedule hated playing us. No matter the talent on the other sideline, your teams always made the other coach nervous, because it seemed like there was nothing stopping the Jackets from just figuring the opponent out that game and putting them on the wrong side of all of the highlight reels.
You made a bunch of teams we play annually schedule other option teams to just try and get a practice in against your offense. They’re now stuck with those teams on their schedule for coming years. We thank you for that also.
We thank you for a couple Orange Bowls, going 1-2 in ACC Championship games, finishing first or second in our division seven times, and three really memorable wins against that team to the east.
We thank you for contributing to Lane Kiffin’s firing from USC. We thank you for putting up with an athletic director who totally hamstrung you in almost every way for much of your time here before Stansbury was hired. We thank you for galvanizing the athletic department into make a bigger commitment to football in order to help set your successor up for, well, success. We thank you for fighting for locker room renovations and Adidas. We thank you for putting up with the food at Three Dollar Cafe every week for your call-in show.
We also thank you for just putting up with your call-in show.
In short, it’s been our honor to be in the stands as we witnessed first-hand your Hall of Fame career unfold. You finally got to beat Brian VanGorder’s ass.
You’ve been a terrific coach for The Institute, on and off of Grant Field.
We wish you nothing but the best as you kick your feet up in retirement in the North Carolina mountains and probably catch some opera concerts. Come see us on The Flats again soon.