Johnson rewarded with new seven-year, $17.17 million contract

ATLANTA — Just one year after bringing his unique option offense to Georgia Tech, head football coach Paul Johnson has agreed to an amended contract that will make him the second-highest paid coach in the ACC.

Announced Thursday morning by athletics director Dan Radakovich, Johnson’s new contract will pay the head coach $17.17 million through the next seven years, including $2.3 million in 2009.

In addition to receiving incentives based on his team’s on-field actions, the head coach is also eligible to make additional money after each season as a result of the team’s overall academic performance. According to a news release from Georgia Tech, that academic success will be measured by the team’s APR (Academic Progress Rate) and GSR (Graduation Success Rate). Set to begin Jan. 1, Johnson’s contract will be fully funded by Georgia Tech Athletic Association revenues.

“I’m very appreciative to Dan and everybody involved — they came to me, so this was from them,” Johnson said Thursday afternoon. “I’m just very appreciative of that fact.”

Johnson confirmed Thursday that his assistant coaches also received raises for their efforts this season.

With the head coach and his staff leading the No. 14 Yellow Jackets to a 9-3 record and a New Year’s Eve appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance against LSU, Radakovich said Georgia Tech’s future rests in good hands.

“The future of Georgia Tech football has never been brighter,” Radakovich said, “and we are thrilled that Paul Johnson will be leading our program for a long time.”

Named the ACC’s Coach of the Year two weeks ago, Johnson has nabbed a host of other honors from publications across the country for bringing his offensive scheme to Georgia Tech and discovering immediate success. Predicted by Sports Illustrated to finish 3-9, very few believed that Johnson and his staff could transform the team’s offense into a feared run machine.

But it did happen. Entering the bowl season, which begins Saturday, Georgia Tech ranks third in the nation in rushing offense, gaining 3,388 yards on the ground. The Yellow Jackets’ leading rusher, sophomore B-back Jonathan Dwyer, also leads the ACC in rushing and snagged conference Player of the Year honors.

“We did kind of take that personal,” junior linebacker Sedric Griffin said of the preseason doubts. “I mean, 3-9? And we had a good bit of returners coming back? I mean, that 3-9 was a little low blow, but it served as a little motivation for us. We just wanted to come out and prove that we are a good team and that we can do good things.”

Griffin, like several other Yellow Jackets, said they never doubted Johnson’s goals and believed him right away when he espoused supposed lofty hopes of winning a conference championship and beating rival Georgia.

“I remember seeing it in our first meeting (during winter workouts) earlier this year,” Griffin said. “He came in and basically changed our whole football program around and was giving us a whole new attitude.”

One Yellow Jackets player who saw the entire offensive transformation process first-hand was starting quarterback Josh Nesbitt. A sophomore who entered games last season as a scrambling quarterback under former head coach Chan Gailey’s system, Nesbitt learned nuances under Johnson to which he had never been exposed.

Upon hearing the price tag associated with Johnson’s amended contract, Nesbitt was floored.

“Wow, what can you say to that? Congratulations?” Nesbitt said excitedly. “That’s about all you can say, but he deserved it. It means we did a really good job doing everything he was trying to get us to do.”

A humble personality to some, Johnson doesn’t seem to be the type of coach who would hike up his contract to gobble up as much money as he can. He contended Thursday that he had nothing to do with the price, and that contract talks are a lot more serious than some would understand.

“I let (my agent) Jack (Reale) handle all that stuff, and I think what he did was try to come up with an average,” Johnson said. “Everybody thinks they know what the numbers are, but they really don’t. There’s all kinds of things in contracts generally that can take them up or take them down.”

The amended contract comes two weeks after rumors surfaced that Johnson was a candidate for the then-vacant Auburn head coaching job. Soon after the rumors began, Radakovich publicly announced that he and Johnson would meet the following week to discuss the coach’s contract. At the time, Johnson denied any validity to interest in the Auburn job. Last Sunday, the Tigers hired former Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik.

On Monday morning, before the start of a Chick-fil-A Bowl luncheon, Johnson told reporters that he never had plans of leaving for sake of his players, as well as for familial obligations. With a daughter in high school, a second move in two years wouldn’t have been fair to her, he said.

“I’m not going to just go on (the players) like that after we’ve laid the foundation we have here,” Johnson said. “We’re excited about the future. Plus, there’s a zillion other reasons why you don’t move in a situation like that besides the players on your team.”