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Opinion Week: Paul Johnson is a Severely Underrated Recruiter

We all know how much heat Paul Johnson takes for his recruiting at Tech, but he is actually one of the most accomplished recruiters anywhere right now. Check out my opinion on why we don't give Paul Johnson enough credit for his recruiting.

Paul Johnson, American hero.
Paul Johnson, American hero.
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

I am a Paul Johnson superfan. I think the man is a pure genius, stubbornly running an offense that people time and time again call "ineffective" or "high school-esque" while looking for any excuse to tear down his philosophies in favor of something more mainstream. I believe in that man through and through. His offense, however, is hardly the most criticized aspect of his coaching repertoire among knowledgeable Tech fans-- that distinction (arguably) belongs to his recruiting. Everyone has their own opinion about CPJ's recruiting style, and mine is that he doesn't get nearly enough credit for what he does at Tech, a trend that needs to change. Let's take a look at why I feel the way I do...

Paul Johnson flat out doesn't need four and five-star recruits to succeed with the offensive system that he has in place. When ESPN or another recruiting source evaluates a prospect, they do so as if said recruit would be playing in a more common offensive scheme. If they evaluated prospects solely based upon their potential to play in a flexbone scheme, the ratings of said players would likely experience great fluctuation. Plenty of QBs in high school can run quickly and elusively, but the ones with the best arms are the ones that get the highest rankings. These are the prospects which would fit an average offense, and that is why they are rated as such-- recruiting rankings tend to assume that every quarterback has value that correlates with his arm. This is just not applicable in Paul Johnson's offense. We saw Josh Nesbitt come in and run the ball like a pro while struggling to pass, and he was arguably the best quarterback of the Paul Johnson era. On the other hand, we saw Vad Lee, a player known as much for his arm as for his legs, bring a better passing game to Tech but struggled to run efficiently. My point in saying all this is that ratings for players who come into CPJ's offense (this obviously does not include defensive players) are not always applicable because the keys to success in a flexbone scheme are not the same as those for other offenses, most of which place emphasis on arm strength and accuracy rather than the ability to make reads and execute a spread-option offense.

That said, let's take a look at the average rating of recruits being brought in by each school in the ACC from last season.

School Avg. Rating
Florida St. 81.3
Clemson 81
Miami 80.5
UNC 79.7
Va. Tech 78.7
ACC Avg. 76.3
Ga. Tech 76
Virginia 75.9
Maryland 75
Pitt 74.6
Wake 74.5
Duke 74.3
NC State 73.5
Syracuse 72.2
BC 71

That chart puts the 2013 Georgia Tech recruiting class almost at the ACC average, and the 2013 class was a historically bad one for Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson. It was comprised of just 14 recruits, many of whom have since transferred, and was just a train-wreck in general by our standards-- yet it was still average for the ACC. Doesn't that say something about the way Paul Johnson recruits? The fact that our worst recruiting class in years was at par with the rest of the ACC? It goes to show the level of consistency that Paul Johnson has from year to year, not just with wins but with recruiting as well.

Sure, it's important to bring in a lot of talent to your program, but the most important thing is what you do with it once it's here. Paul Johnson does a lot with the talent he brings in at Tech. There are very few coaches in the entire nation who can get more mileage out of a prospect than CPJ can, and that is absolutely something to consider. He may get a two-star running back, but that running back has as good a chance to have a great career as a four star back does at any other school. Let's take a look at some of the most prominent examples of Paul Johnson squeezing the most value out of every single recruit.

Robert Godhigh: Former walk-on who rushed for 1,173 yards and 11 TD's in his final two seasons at Tech on 9.4 yards per carry in 2013.

Zach Laskey: Former two-star recruit who rushed for 1,182 yards in the last two seasons.

Jeremiah Attaochu: Former three-star recruit who owns the Georgia Tech career sack record.

Adam Gotsis: Unranked recruit who will be one of Tech's best defensive players for the rest of his career.

Shaquille Mason: Unranked recruit who was a First-Team All ACC selection last season.

Jabari Hunt-Days: Former two-star recruit who is an NFL-caliber prospect and would be a huge contributor this season, but.. stuff happens.

Broderick Snoddy and Synjyn Days: Former two-star prospects who will compete for carries this season.

Tony Zenon and Deon Hill: Unranked prospects who will compete for carries.

Quayshawn Nealy: Three-star recruit who is an NFL talent and one of Tech's best defensive players.

Oh, and all of this is from a three year span ranging from 2010-2012. Eleven players, all ranked three stars or lower, and all making massive contributions to the team. I challenge you to find any other team with players like this even close to a number this high. Paul Johnson and his recruiting staff turn lead into gold for a living.

Let's not forget that Paul Johnson also spends his time recruiting for a school with about sixty-four million negative stereotypes that everyone, including recruits, have in mind while they make their decisions. Let's review, shall we?

-There aren't enough women at Georgia Tech. This is just silly. The numbers are rising and this really shouldn't be the deciding factor in where you attend college. Hint: There are girls in Atlanta who don't go to Georgia Tech. Imagine that!

-If you play in a triple-option offense, you have no chance at going to the NFL. False. If you play well, you have an equal chance of going to the NFL. I laugh every time someone tells me that a defensive player chose not to go to Tech because of the triple-option and NFL aspirations. Because we totally run a flexbone defense. Also, Jonathan Dwyer, Anthony Allen, and Orwin Smith have all spent time in the NFL, not to mention Demaryius Thomas.

-Georgia Tech is too hard to stay in once you get there. Also false. No coach Georgia Tech would bother recruiting a player who shows signs that they'd struggle in the classroom. If you are getting recruited by Tech, you are smart enough to attend Tech.

That list just scratches the surface of the adversity that Paul Johnson has to deal with while recruiting, and he still delivers a consistent product on the field. When you are dealing with a recruit who has heard all of these false things about Tech while also being exposed to negative recruiting by other schools, you are going to have a hard time convincing him to come play football for your team. And let's not forget that not just any old football player will do at Georgia Tech, because Paul Johnson holds his players to high academic standards that reflect the kind of culture that the Institute has boasted forever; one of academic excellence.

The average high school GPA in the United States was 3.0 in 2009. I looked and looked but couldn't find the average GPA for high school football players in the U.S., but for my purposes here (and because I know my high school's football team) I will assume it is at least a little bit lower than 3.0 across the nation. Now, the average GPA of a student accepted to Tech last year? 3.85. Can you see where recruiting would get problematic when just a fraction of available recruits even meet the academic requirements to get into Tech? Paul Johnson just takes that issue in stride and keeps winning football games year after year. Why? Because he has mastered the practice of recruiting high quality football players, both on and off the field. His coaching days at Navy helped prepare him for that, as did his days at Southern (to a much lesser extent -- his GSU players weren't slouches, they just weren't Navy or Tech material for the most part). That is a big part of the reason why Tech finished sixth in the entire country in APR this year and a reason why it has maintained its credibility as a school while also maintaining success as a home for high quality sports. We have Paul Johnson to thank for that. Remember the fun days of Chan Gailey and his terrible academic scores? They are gone-- Gailey replaced by a coach who yields similar (if not better) results and emphasizes academic success. In short, Paul Johnson does a fantastic job recruiting suitable players to play at a school where standards are high.

One of my favorite things about the way Paul Johnson goes about recruiting at Tech is that he really does a great job of playing to the strengths of the school. Most three-star recruits won't be playing in the NFL, and so when tell-it-like-it-is CPJ comes to them and says "Son, I can offer you the chance to play in a prestigious conference at a high-tier school where you will get a top notch education for free," that carries a lot of weight with a lot of recruits. Those are the recruits who want go to college for the purpose of getting an education through football rather than using college as a medium to party or get into the NFL, and there are a lot of those people out there. I just love the way that Paul Johnson goes in and doesn't dance around the room making claims of NFL stardom or instant fame, doesn't tear down every other school, and brings out the best that Tech has to offer to each recruit. He handles his business and leaves the extracurriculars behind. Oh, and don't forget that CPJ is also amazing at recruiting people to recruit for him. His staff is effective and top notch in their own right, but that is another story for another day.

This is just my opinion on why we don't give Paul Johnson enough credit for the great job of recruiting that he does here at Tech. Hopefully you now have at least a little bit more respect for the work he does as far as finding, signing, and developing talent at a school with a lot of adversity involved in the process. Most schools with similar situations struggle tremendously with consistent results (Duke, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, etc.), yet CPJ finds a way to deliver without sacrificing anything along the way. That is something that you, no matter how you feel about his offense or him as a person, should appreciate and respect for as long as Paul Johnson is at Georgia Tech.

Now you know what I think about Paul Johnson as a recruiter, but what about yourself? Is Paul Johnson as good as I made him out to be or are his results deceptive?