An Open Letter to Paul Johnson

Staff Writer: Michael Brown

Thank you, Paul Johnson, for those 11 years in Atlanta. Thank you for essentially raising me in terms of my Georgia Tech fandom; you were the coach from the time I was 5 to when I was 16. All I know is the triple option, and you’re the reason I run the Option Run playbook in every single one of my NCAA 14 dynasties. Thank you for all 82 of your victories at Georgia Tech, your three ACC Coach of the Year Awards. Thank you for turning young athletes into young men who can do anything they want in life with a degree from one of the greatest Institutions in the world.

Thank you for 2008. Thank you for reminding us that “19 [was] more than 16.” Thank you for those wins in Death Valley and against Bobby Bowden, and especially for finally getting us back in the W column against Georgia. You had Georgia Tech fans feeling a sense of optimism they hadn’t felt since Joe Hamilton was the quarterback and George O’Leary was still on the sidelines.

Thank you for 2009. That was such a magical year. Thank you for all those rushing yards and all those points. We ran over everyone. The trips to Nashville and Starkville that year were so fun. Thank you for that Virginia Tech game. Tyrod Taylor still has nightmares of Derrick Morgan screaming off the end. I’ve never heard Bobby Dodd as loud as I did that night. Thank you for the ACC Championship, and three wins over Clemson in your first two seasons. Sean Bedford said it best. The NCAA would have to pry that ring from his “cold, dead finger.”

paul johnson (acc champ)

Paul Johnson celebrates the ACC Championship in 2009 after Georgia Tech defeated Clemson 39-34 – PHOTO CREDIT – Zimbio

Thank you for 2010. Sure, it wasn’t the best year. Josh Nesbitt broke his arm on a Thursday night in Blacksburg. We lost to Kansas. We even lost to Air Force, a fellow option team, in a bowl game in Shreveport, Louisiana. It was all just kind of depressing. But hey, we still got to a bowl game, which is never not awesome.

Thank you for 2011. Thank you for running it up against Kansas and Middle Tennessee State. Thank you for that 6-0 start. Man, I thought we were really good. I remember crying after the Virginia loss thinking we had lost a shot at the National Championship. Then we made up for it when we smacked #5 Clemson who was 8-0. Thank you for that. Jeremiah Attaochu punching a Virginia Tech player was awesome too, even though it might have cost us the game. Thank you for wearing the sombrero in El Paso, even though we blew a big lead against Utah.

Thank you for 2012. 10-year-old me had never been as heartbroken as he was that Labor Day night in Blacksburg. It was such a fun experience being up there, the loudest stadium I’ve ever been inside. I still haven’t forgiven Al Groh. That 2012 team was fun, though. You tried the dual QB thing with Tevin Washington and Vad Lee, and we did score quite a bit of points that year. That 68-50 game in Chapel Hill was crazy! And, yeah, we did get blown out by MTSU, and that is still, to this day, the only time I’ve willingly left a Georgia Tech game before it ended. Thank you for getting us back to the ACC Championship that year. We made the trip up to Charlotte that year and watched an overmatched Georgia Tech team nearly upset a heavily favored Florida State team. Thank you for wearing the sombrero again, and this time winning the Sun Bowl against Lane Kiffin and preseason #1 USC.

paul johnson (sombrero)

Sombrero-wearing Paul Johnson is the best Paul Johnson. He just naturally looks like a mariachi singer – PHOTO CREDIT – From The Rumble Seat

Thank you for 2013. Thank you for hanging 70 on Elon. I thought it was so awesome that my football team had scored 70 points in a game. It was that year we brought back the big “GT” to the middle of the field, which was great. Thank you for running it up against Syracuse after Scott Shafer said we were “soft-nosed.” Thank you for that win against Pitt. Bobby Dodd was rocking that night. Thank you for that 20-0 lead against Georgia even though we blew it. That was a really fun first half.

Thank you for 2014. Thank you for that win in Blacksburg. Thank you for that incredible win against Miami, where Derrick Moore asserted that “It [was] time to turn the Yellow Jackets Loose!” Thank you for opening a can on Deshaun Watson and Clemson. Thank you for that incredible win in Athens, the Kick and the Pick. Thank you for getting us back to the ACC Championship for the third time in six years, where we took Jameis Winston and Florida State down to the very end as they won their 29th game in a row. Thank you for that Orange Bowl. I’d still argue that’s the best game of your tenure at Georgia Tech. We went up and down the field against Mississippi State, and we rang in the New Year with oranges in our mouths.

paul johnson (orange bowl)

Paul Johnson celebrates Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State in 2014. Georgia Tech won 49-34 and finished the season 11-3 – PHOTO CREDIT – Chris Trotman, Getty Images

Thank you for 2015. Sure, it was bad. The record speaks for itself. Injuries proved to be the downfall. Nevertheless, it was a season to remember. I remember that game in South Bend. I thought a win would propel us into the conversation for the College Football Playoff. There was always that game against Florida State, though. We’ll always have that. A game I’ll never forget, the Miracle on Techwood Drive.

Thank you for 2016. A season that got off to a rough start with some close losses, but was made up for with great run later on. Three consecutive losses to Clemson, Miami, and Pitt. But you didn’t let it get to you or your team, and we finished the year winning 6 of our last 7 games, including wins over Virginia Tech & Georgia. And with the Kentucky win in the Gator Bowl, we totaled 3 SEC wins for the season. Not too shabby!!

Thank you for 2017. Man. Like in 2012, I was in attendance for the Labor Day game; this one was at the brand-spanking-new Mercedes Benz Stadium against Tennessee. Like that Virginia Tech game, this one was just as heartbreaking, if not worse. Blown leads, unfortunately, became the theme of your final years on The Flats. In 2017 alone, we blew double digit leads against Tennessee, Miami, Virginia, and Duke, with Tennessee and Miami both ending on the final play of the game, and Virginia coming down to the final seconds. In other words, this season was painful, and it’s when I began to ride the “Fire Paul Johnson” train. Thank you, though, because we beat Virginia Tech again. One thing you remained consistent with as your time came to an end in Atlanta was your dominance of Justin Fuente.

Finally, thank you for 2018. It didn’t start out well. We went 1-3 in the first four games after blowing a huge lead against South Florida, losing at Pitt, and getting embarrassed against eventual National Champion Clemson. I’ll admit, I was adamant that you be fired at this point. And you blocked me on Twitter. It is what it is, I guess. But you still didn’t let the fans’ complaints get to you (other than blocking them on social media). We went on a 6-1 run after that Clemson game, beating Miami and Virginia, and blowing the doors off of Virginia Tech and Louisville, both of which were weeknight road games. Part of me thinks that dropping 66 on Bobby Petrino and Brian VanGorder was when you finally decided to hang it up, because that was probably more enjoyable for you than anything else could’ve been. However, it wasn’t until after the Georgia loss that you announced your retirement. It was bittersweet for me. I was honestly glad to see you go, but I’m glad it was on your own terms. I respect what you did while at Georgia Tech. That’s why we made sure we made the long drive to Detroit for the bowl game, even though everyone (including the players) was annoyed about it. And, hey, we didn’t win. But I was glad to say I was there for your last game. It’s cool to say that 6-year-old me was there for Game #1 against Jacksonville State in Atlanta, and 16-year-old me was there for Game #143 against Minnesota in Detroit.

paul johnson (before uga)

Paul Johnson looks on during the Georgia game in 2018. He would announce his retirement just a few days later – PHOTO CREDIT – Scott Cunningham, Getty Images

143 games. That’s crazy. It seems to have flown by. 143 games, 32 of which I had the pleasure of attending. I’ve been raised in Yellow Jacket football, and, thank you, Paul Johnson, for the part you played in that. I wish you nothing but the best in your retirement, or if you decide to come back to coaching again one day. Now I have to figure out what a tight end is!

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