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HUBBARD: Doing more with less
Paul Johnson’s legacy on the Flats
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson (right) clenches his fist and shouts, “How ‘bout that high school offense?” after Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason threw an interception to Tech’s D.J. White during overtime to preserve a 30-24 win in an NCAA college football game Nov. 29, 2014, in Athens. - photo by Associated Press

Recruiting has become a strong focal point in the current college football landscape. That is how dynasties like Alabama and Clemson have been established because of 5-star recruits continuously being brought in. 

But Paul Johnson, who stepped away as Georgia Tech’s head coach three years ago, never fielded a top-10 recruiting class. His average recruiting class rank, according to 247Sports, was 46th overall. Couple that with the fact he ran his patented spread option offense and that would spell disaster for most programs. 

Johnson made it work, though, for 11 years at the helm of a Power Five college program. When he stepped away from the helm of Georgia Tech football, Johnson ranked as the fourth winningest coach in school history. 

And doing so defines Johnson’s legacy on the Flats.

Upon his retirement, Johnson compiled an 82-59 record with three ACC Championship appearances, two Orange Bowl appearances and three ACC Coach of the Year Awards at Georgia Tech. In seven of the 11 seasons, the Yellow Jackets finished either first or second in the Coastal Division, too. 

At the press conference where he addressed the media officially announcing his retirement, Johnson emphasized that he liked to deal in facts and even highlighted that he kept press guides at his desk. 

There’s evidence in those press guides that points to Johnson’s success of, in fact, being able to accomplish more with less. 

The first piece of evidence is found when going up against archrival Georgia. 

Going into Johnson’s first year as head coach, the Bulldogs were riding a seven-game winning streak over the Yellow Jackets. 

That streak ended in 2008 when Georgia Tech came out victorious 45-42. 

Georgia Tech went on to defeat the Bulldogs twice more in Johnson’s tenure. The second time being in 2014 infamously known as the “Kick and Pick.” 2016, Kirby Smart’s first year in Athens, was the third time Georgia Tech topped the Bulldogs. 

Us Yellow Jacket fans “leaped” for joy. 

Defeating the Bulldogs three times in 11 years doesn’t sound like a big deal. But Johnson joined Bobby Dodd (5) as the second Georgia Tech head coach to ever claim three wins over UGA in the Classic City. He is also behind Dodd (12) and William Alexander (7) and tied with George O’Leary (3) with as many as three wins overall versus the Bulldogs. 

Other streaks were halted by Johnson’s Yellow Jackets. 

For instance, Georgia Tech hadn’t defeated Florida State since 1975 prior to Johnson’s arrival. 

The Yellow Jackets topped the Seminoles both times in Johnson’s first two years.

Let’s not even mention the “Miracle on Techwood” where the Yellow Jackets defeated then-No. 9 Florida State on Oct. 24, 2015, off a blocked field goal attempt that was returned for a touchdown. 

It was, indeed, “a time to be alive” as a Yellow Jacket fan. 

At Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia Tech was 9-5 against nationally ranked opponents. 

The first of those nine wins came on Oct. 17, 2009. 

Georgia Tech downed Coastal Division foe Virginia Tech when the Hokies were ranked No. 4 in the country. That was the first time since 1962 that the Yellow Jackets defeated a top-five team at home. 

More history was made under Johnson’s tutelage. He produced one of the program’s five 11-win seasons in 2014. Georgia Tech had four nine-win seasons with Johnson (‘08, ‘09, ‘12, ‘16). There were only seven such seasons in the 51 years prior to Johnson’s arrival. The Yellow Jackets had two, 10-win seasons (‘09,’14) that made it nine such seasons total in program history.

Throughout the 11-year tenure, the Yellow Jackets led the ACC in rushing yards per game and led the nation in the same category for two years, too. (‘10 and ‘14)

Success like that propelled Georgia Tech to nine bowl appearances, which placed Johnson behind Dodd for second-most appearances by a Yellow Jacket head coach. 

All of these accomplishments were on Johnson’s watch. 

And, as he told reporters following the 2016 win over UGA, “that’s not bad for a bunch of 80th ranked recruiting classes, huh?”

Phillip B. Hubbard is sports editor for The Covington News. Reach him at