Johnson’s tenure on the line at Georgia Tech

dshirley@macon.comOctober 19, 2012 

This season certainly has not gone the way the Georgia Tech football players, coaches and fans thought it would go, along with a certain Middle Georgia sports editor who picked the Yellow Jackets to win the ACC’s Coastal Division title.

The Yellow Jackets had high hopes and started out in pretty good shape with a close loss at Virginia Tech before bouncing back with a couple of wins and a strong first half against Miami. Since then, things have fallen apart, so much so that head coach Paul Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh during the team’s bye week.

After three straight losses and some terrible defensive performances, the decision to release Groh made sense even though it came in the middle of the season. It likely was going to happen after the season, anyway, so Johnson made the right choice to go ahead and do it now and try to get the defense turned around and save the season.

That said, it better work, or Johnson’s tenure could be on the line. That’s not to say that Johnson should be fired if the Yellow Jackets don’t get things turned around or even if the team continues to fall apart the rest of the season. Johnson has done enough with this program to be allowed to go through the peaks and valleys that come with being a college football coach.

But there are more issues with this team than just Groh’s leadership with the defense. Maybe this move gives the team a spark to overcome all of its issues and finish strong, but if it doesn’t and the team continues to stumble through the season, things could get rough for Johnson.

There has been a steady decline with the program in Johnson’s tenure, and he needs to get things going back in the right direction. In his first two seasons, the Yellow Jackets went 20-7, but since then they are 16-16, and since a 6-0 start last year that got the fan based energized, Georgia Tech is 4-8.

That can’t all be blamed on Groh.

There have been questionable coaching decisions, especially in trying to pick up a first down on fourth down when it might be better to just punt or attempt a field goal. When the offense gets a first down in those situations, it can be a big boost. But when it doesn’t, it can put the defense in a bad spot, and the Yellow Jackets have done that quite a bit.

Just for an example, take the loss to Clemson a couple of weeks ago.

On the Yellow Jackets’ first series, they tried to get a first down on fourth-and-1 from their own 37 but didn’t come close to making it. That handed the high-powered Clemson offense a short field, and it took advantage with an opening touchdown.

In the third quarter, the Yellow Jackets had a one-point lead and plenty of momentum when they picked off a pass deep in Clemson territory and got to the Tigers’ 7-yard line. Facing another fourth down, the Yellow Jackets tried to get a first down instead of attempting a field goal for a four-point lead. They fumbled and gave the ball back to Clemson, and the Tigers drove the field for a field goal of their own to take the lead.

Those two situations didn’t lose the game for the Yellow Jackets, but they certainly didn’t help. And while moving on from Groh is the right choice, those kinds of decisions need to be dialed back some to help the defense do its job better.

It’s going to take a full-team effort for the Yellow Jackets to finish strong and not just some magic switch with the defense. And that starts at the top with Johnson.

Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or

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