Paul Johnson: Will he stay or will he go?

Could all three service academy football programs be looking for new leadership next season? One can sure make a good argument that two of the teams could use a new coach while the other will probably do everything within their power not to be searching for one. Army, Air Force may also be facing coaching decisions in the off-season

The easiest part of the triumvirate to figure out is Navy. Navy football needs Paul Johnson like the Indianapolis Colts need Peyton Manning. Without Johnson, the Mids would be in an absolute quandary as history has proven. The first time Johnson left Annapolis for another coaching gig, it was following the 1996 campaign that had resulted in a 9-3 record. And although Charlie Weatherbie was the head coach at the time, few would argue that Johnson played a major role in the team's success. With Johnson as his offensive coordinator, Weatherbie's coaching record was 14-11. In the next five years without Johnson, the Mids went 16-39. Who replaced Johnson as Navy's offensive coordinator in 1997? Current Assistant Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo, who held the title for the next two seasons. The results for those two years were mixed as the Mids went 10-12 with Niumatalolo calling the plays. This is important because Niumatalolo could definitely be a candidate to replace Johnson, should he decide to leave Navy. Here are the top five reasons why Johnson should stay at Navy and the top five reasons why he should go.

Stay at Navy

1. Call it the Fisher DeBerry Factor. Paul Johnson has already left his mark at Navy, so why not work on his legacy? In 23 seasons at Air Force, DeBerry has amassed 167 wins. Once DeBerry is out of the picture, Johnson could set his sights on replacing the Air Force legend as the all-time dean of service academy football. 

2. A manageable amount of controversy. At Navy, there is a good chance that Johnson will not have to worry about a player leaving the bench with his helmet in tow looking for a skull to crush. That kind of behavior is possible almost anywhere else, but you won't see it in Annapolis. Finding extremely gifted athletes who want to serve their country can be challenging, but so too can be disciplining players year-in and year-out for reckless behavior.

3. Money. Over $1 million a year in salary is nothing to sneeze at and Johnson has said repeatedly that he is happy in Annapolis. And I don't think Navy fans would mind paying a buck or two more for tickets if it meant keeping Johnson even happier. Some fans and alumni may even decide to throw in a few more dollars to keep his entire staff happy and their parking spaces immaculate. Bottom line, Johnson can pretty much demand whatever he wants…and if Navy can pay it, they would be silly not to.

4. Beating Air Force is fun. Sure beating Army is a signature achievement each season, but you can't deny that Johnson enjoys beating Air Force. Just look at Johnson's remarks during any post-game press conference during his tenure. His tone following the latest victory over the Falcons was a bit different than the rest and it should tell you that he has a special place in his heart for those wins. So why not stay and beat them some more? After all the President of the United States only meets two college football teams per year at the White House.

5. You know who is still out there. Paul Johnson will find a way to beat Notre Dame for four quarters, and national championships aside, it may just turn out to be the biggest achievement of his coaching career. The only problem is, when a Johnson-led team does beat the Irish, it will send athletic directors in droves to Annapolis to sway him away from Navy. At that point, I'd probably have to revise this list.

Leave Navy

1. Call it the Steve Spurrier Factor. Just seeing his spread offense work against weekly opponents like Florida State, Georgia or Oklahoma would be complete validation that his play-calling, not the scheme, is the key to his success. Johnson has gone on record saying that he does not like labels being placed on coaches. And there would be no better way to remove any labels put on him then by winning consistently in a BCS conference. 

2. Taking care of his own – Part I. Johnson is as loyal as they come in the coaching ranks. Just look at his staff which is saturated with pupils. A leap to a BCS conference would mean bigger paychecks and more exposure for all who also leave Annapolis with Johnson. And chances are many would indeed follow Johnson to his next job. Only one assistant has left under Johnson's watch so far for a bigger assignment (Kevin Kelly to become Georgetown's Head Coach).

3. Taking care of his own – Part II. Depending on the terms of his departure, Johnson could very well play a major factor in naming his replacement at Navy. And if the goal of a head coach is to see each of his assistant's get a shot at a top job, leaving Navy would provide an immediate interviewing opportunity for a few of his staff members. If Navy can't have Johnson, they would definitely want the next closest thing. Johnson's former offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern, Mike Sewak, may be one direction Navy looks – which would also please Johnson. Georgia Southern fired Sewak in 2005 much to Johnson's dismay. Navy plays Georgia Southern in 2009. 

4. Nothing else to prove. Johnson is 9-1 against arch-rivals Air Force and Army; and 2-1 in bowl games at Navy. The only business left undone is putting an end to the losing streak against Notre Dame. However, with or without Johnson, that may go on for awhile. If Navy wins 9 or perhaps 10 games this year (including a bowl victory), why not go out on top?

5. Money and Opportunity. Money is not one of the top reasons to leave because as mentioned earlier Johnson is well compensated at Navy, but a move to the BCS world would definitely come with an increase in salary and the potential for major bonuses for reaching major bowls. As far as opportunity goes, one does not have to look further than Johnson's predecessor; Charlie Weatherbie was receiving calls in 1996 from bigger conferences and decided to stay at Navy. Two years later, nobody was calling. If Johnson's phone is ringing now, there's no telling if it will ring in the future.

As for Army and Air Force football programs, those lists are a bit more complicated. However, this week's game between the two service academies could very well clear up both coaching situations…or not. If Army pulls the upset, Bobby Ross's critics will be temporarily silenced as the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy would still be in play. However, an Army victory over Air Force this Friday would ratchet up the calls for Fisher DeBerry to step aside, as it would probably mean the Falcons (with Notre Dame on deck) would have to win their final three games to prevent their third consecutive losing season. 

If Air Force prevails over Army, the Falcons would need to beat Utah at home (5-4) and UNLV (1-7) on the road to gain bowl eligibility and stave off DeBerry's critics. On the other hand, a Black Knight loss to Air Force would leave only a victory over Navy as a plausible scenario that keeps Ross at Army in 2007. It would be tough to fire a coach after beating its arch-rival. 

All things considered as far as coaching dilemmas go, I'd prefer to have Navy's problem.


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