Earlier this week in a post-practice interview, Paul Johnson made some comments regarding Georgia Tech's "commitment" versus the "expectations" that come down for the school's football program, and reiterated those comments in response to a question from a fan on his weekly radio show later on Monday evening. You can read his post-practice comments on the AJC here, and at the risk of paraphrasing too much and misconstruing his words, here's the direct quote from his radio show on Monday:
"The thing about it is, as far as commitment, as an Institution, you have to think about where you want to be, and where do you fit? So if you want to fit in the upper echelon then clearly we're going to have to do a good job of raising money and upping our budget and upping our facilities and upping everything around our football program to be comparable with the teams you want to compete with. It's like I tell our guys every day, you can have expectations all you want, but if you don't have a commitment to reach those expectations, it doesn't do any good. ... Everybody says, 'Georgia Tech doesn't recruit 4- and 5-star kids', which is a joke. We try to recruit them just like everybody else. But, you've got to have the facilities to match up, you've got the have the fan support, you've got to have all the other things that go along with them that recruits are making decisions based on. So you have to make a commitment. We're surrounded by Auburn, georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Clemson, Florida State -- if we see ourselves in that light, then we've got a lot of work to do to get to where they are with a commitment towards football. That's all I'm saying."
I want to address Coach Johnson's comments from a few different angles here.
What he actually means
First off, let’s address what Johnson is actually talking about here. (Sadly, this is necessary, considering several media members took Johnson’s comments to be whining about the team’s facilities rather than commentary on a deeper issue.)
Yes, in his comments, Johnson referred specifically to facilities and compared them to the big, fancy, new facilities up at Clemson. Let’s be clear, though, in saying that facilities are probably not even in the top 3 things that Johnson is saying that his program needs to remain competitive. Facilities upgrades are tough and very expensive, and will always be outdone by the next school to complete renovations. Instead, what’s more important are things like...
- Assistant coach salaries, where Georgia Tech came in 7th of 8 reporting ACC schools in 2015 (with Ted Roof as the only individual Georgia Tech assistant in the top-50 among 72 reported ACC assistants), and 43rd out of 51 reporting Power-5 programs. Among Power-5 teams, Georgia Tech beat out Texas Tech, Washington State, Indiana, Kansas, Purdue, Iowa State, North Carolina, and Illinois. (You can decide for yourself if that’s the type of company you’d like Georgia Tech to keep in the context of college football.)
- Recruiting and coaching support staff, where Georgia Tech has around 5 people to help out with watching film on both recruits and upcoming opponents, producing social media content to engage recruits and new fans, and assist coaches with in-game coaching in greater detail. (Johnson recently mentioned after the Clemson game that he was informed the Tigers have 45 people on staff for these kinds of things, and Lord knows what else.)
- Proper branding and sponsorship, as Georgia Tech has a notoriously weak brand and uses the total documented garbage that is Russell Athletic, as compared to every other Power-5 school in the country that’s using Nike, Under Armour, or Adidas. (This may seem unimportant to you, in which case you’re probably not an athlete between 16-22 years old.)
So, sure, facilities are a part of this. Improved facilities are certainly necessary at Georgia Tech in a “keeping up with the Joneses” sense and will positively impact recruiting. That’s only a piece of it though, and there’s a lot more to this on an institutional level that Johnson is referring to in comparing Georgia Tech to many of the programs that its fans and administrators expect to be competing with.
I’ll repeat the list that Johnson used in the radio show, with a small amendment:
Auburn, georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State
If you read that list (in the context of college football) and think, “one of these things is not like the others”, you’re absolutely right.
That’s what Paul Johnson is talking about.
What this means for fans
All of this is meaningful to us, as fans, for two reasons:
We’re part of the problem.
Now, I wasn’t a marketing major in college, but I’d guess one of the first things you learn in Intro to Marketing is “don’t insult your customers”. That said, as fans who purchase tickets to games, plan our schedules around the team’s games, get online and argue with others about our team, and commit all of the other behaviors that non-fan outsiders might consider absurd, we’re not customers as much as we’re investors. On some level, we’re invested in the success of the program — financially, emotionally, or otherwise.
As investors in the program’s success, we’re not doing our part to ensure that the program is successful when we stop showing up to games because the team lost a game or two. The team shouldn’t be winning to help us show up to games, it should be the other way around. Look again at the list of programs he laid out and tell me if any of their associated fan bases vary in support the way Georgia Tech’s does. As mediocre-to-awful as Tennessee has been for the better part of a decade, they’re never short for attendance and excitement at their games. In 2013, a third-straight 5-7 season in Knoxville, the Volunteers had sellouts in 5 of 7 home games with over 102,000 in attendance for each. Compare that to the last two seasons, when Georgia Tech has sold out its 55,000 seat stadium twice (neither of which came during an 11-3 Orange Bowl run).
Should every Georgia Tech fan be expected to make it to every home game? Absolutely not. Still, the point here is that there are things that we, as fans, can be doing better to unconditionally support the team and program if we really expect to see them succeed in today’s world of college football.
Awareness of the program’s situation should affect our evaluation of the program’s results.
Paul Johnson has lost a lot of support over the team’s last 15 games, dating back to the trip to South Bend last year. They’re 4-11 in that span, and 9 of those losses came in the final 10 games of the 2015 season. Frustration is mounting after the team entered 2015 with huge expectations and has failed to deliver on those expectations ever since. With every loss, more people get on Facebook, Twitter, and even this humble site, saying things like “FIRE PAUL JOHNSON”. If you’re one of those people, you have every right to say that, and your frustration is entirely understandable.
But, know this: firing Paul Johnson and bringing in another coach is a band-aid at best (or a total disaster at worst) and won’t solve the underlying issue. It’s like expecting a high level of fuel efficiency from someone driving a Hummer — the best driver on Earth could only do so much, and there are much better tools for the job.
Until Georgia Tech is willing to give a coaching staff the proper tools for the job at hand (which has rising standards every year), the greatest hire of all time could only do so much.
"You're not Wrong, You're Just..."
Here’s the other piece of this. Paul Johnson isn’t wrong about what he said, but the timing for saying it was pretty poor.
The reason I’m writing this article at all is that it’s easy for the public, who are varying levels of invested in the program, to misconstrue Coach Johnson’s words and it’s necessary that we take a step back and understand what he means by what he said. On the other hand, he’s got a far-more-invested locker room full of over 100 players and recruiting class with 13 committed families (and several more still considering the program) that have also caught wind of what he’s said, and it sure seems like something that could negatively impact the mindset of those involved.
Johnson’s comments sure seem to put the current players in a weird spot as they prepare for the final 7 games of the regular season. How does this change their internal dialogues, about themselves, or their teammates, or their team as a whole? Will it impact their preparation or focus? Is it demotivating to hear this heading into the back half of the schedule?
Likewise, how does this change the way that the recruits, who have been sold on Georgia Tech and what it offers them as students and athletes alike? Is the school and program really what it’s been sold to them as?
(On the other hand, this whole thing could be looked at as Johnson going to bat for his players, and saying they deserve better in a lot of different ways. Maybe some people in this world consider their glasses to be half full.)
All of that, not to mention that Johnson’s new boss will be joining the athletic department in the coming months, and has hardly had the chance to assess the current state of things within the program. Sure, Johnson is fighting and leveraging for the change he’s asked for since before the previous Athletic Director took office, but it sure doesn’t put Todd Stansbury in a great spot when he’s calling in to the local sports talk radio station and having to give his takes on the comments made by his employee-to-be about a situation he’s not fully familiar with.
You’re not wrong about any of this, Coach Johnson. You just could’ve handled it a lot better.
The Road Ahead
We haven’t heard the last of this issue, nor will we until there are noticeable changes to how Georgia Tech handles its business with regards to football. It’s clear, with recent coaching changes (and subsequent associated investments) among some of Georgia Tech’s biggest rivals, that the world of college football is noticeably different than it was when Johnson took the reins on the Flats in 2008. In that time, the adjustment has been minimal and the program has fallen behind the times in several ways.
Expect to see some movement on this between the time that Stansbury takes office (around the first of the year) and the beginning of the 2017 season. There could be some considerable movement in that time regarding staffing levels, facilities upgrades, and/or the contract with Russell Athletic. Until you see any of that, though, just know that calling for the coach to be fired is unlikely to significantly change the program’s fortunes in the near future.
In other words, until you see Georgia Tech offering a higher level of commitment to success at football, don’t expect major change in the program’s output. The football program is certainly capable of more, but it won’t happen until the powers that be are willing to make the sacrifices that come along with that.