GoMids.com chats with Paul Johnson (part I)

In a GoMids.com exclusive, David Ausiello had the opportunity to interview Navy Football Coach Paul Johnson about a variety of topics including his future in Annapolis, recruiting, his relationship with players and whether or not Mark McGwire should be in the Hall of Fame. Huh?That's right, David threw in a few curveballs for the coach...

and what's this about an email Paul Johnson received regarding the Army coaching job? Keep reading...

GM: You are on record as having said that you think there should be a playoff in Division I-A and championships should be decided on the field. Do you not buy into the mentality that every week in college football is like a playoff game?

PJ: I think a lot of the reasons that the hierarchy gives for not having a playoff is a bunch of bunk. I coached in I-AA and we had a 16-team playoff, and there's only 2 teams that played 15 games, 4 teams played 14, 3 teams played 13 and on down the line. You have that many teams that are doing that now. I mean if you are in a conference and you play 12 games and then you have the conference championship game and then you have a bowl game, your playing 14 games. So the thing about class and that kind of thing doesn't fly.

GM: Do you think it's about money when it comes to the BCS?

PJ: Well I'm not sure what it's about because the money you could make from a playoff would be astronomical. I think it's just tradition. I don't know what it's about. If you're one of the top few schools, you don't want a playoff. I mean if I'm Ohio State, I don't want a playoff because I know if I win my league I've got a chance to play one game and win the National Championship. Now, if I'm Boise State, the only way I'm going to have any chance in the world is if they have a playoff. I think it's going to happen. I think you'll see a playoff before long.

GM: There were a lot of reports in the media that said that Boston College was upset to be playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Do you ever envision a time at Navy when anyone associated with the program would be disappointed with what bowl they were playing in?

PJ: Boy I hope not. I can't imagine that ever happening. You have to remember who you are and where you came from. If we ever get to the point here where we complain about being in a bowl, somebody needs to slap somebody. I mean it's not like in the past 30 years we've been to too much of them. We're excited to be going to Charlotte and have a chance to be playing in a bowl game. I think that's great.

GM: Is it fair to say that preparing for and coaching in a bowl game brings less pressure than a regular season game? Win or lose this will be a successful season.

PJ: It's all the same. Anytime you are a competitor and you line up you want to win the game. The real pressure is what you put on yourself.

GM: Do you feel comfortable opening up the playbook a bit for a bowl game? Against New Mexico, you used the QB as a receiver twice. I'm thinking that was pre-planned and not something you saw the defense giving you.

PJ: We're going to try and do what it takes to win. That's what we go into every game with. We'll look at the tape and evaluate the situation. You know - go in with a plan that gives us the best chance to win the game.

GM: After losing to Boston College 46-21 in 2002, you were asked by a reporter if you thought the Eagles were the type of team that you should be playing at this point in the program. You said that "right now we would have a hard time beating Annapolis High School." You continued on to say, "For us to win a game like this we would have to do everything right and get some breaks."
Since that game, Navy is 27-15, but do you still feel that Navy needs to play error-free football to beat Boston College?

PJ: I think we need to play almost that way to beat anyone. I don't think that anybody is going to accuse us of ‘out-athleting' anyone. It comes down to execution, playing hard and all those things. Certainly if we don't do that we can get embarrassed by Boston College. We don't have anybody on our team that they recruited.

GM: But comparing Navy in 2002 against BC to now…

PJ: Well we're a lot better than we were in 2002. I don't have any doubt about that. I don't think we fold now when we make mistakes because we've won some games. I think that comes with being successful. Are we a better team than we were in 2002? Yeah, light-years, but that still doesn't mean that we don't have to play really well to stay in the games. When I've coached at other schools there were several games maybe on the schedule that you just felt like you were going to win if just showed up. We don't have any of those games. We're not physically dominant enough to do that to anybody. We're not going to be bigger and faster than most anybody we play.

GM: What is the #1 question you get from parents of recruits?

PJ: The biggest misconception is that they (the military) can pull these guys out of here and go to the front line at anytime. (Parents think that) maybe they can pull them out during school if they need them. I think that's probably the biggest misconception. Generally most of the people we deal with are fairly knowledgeable because when I get to the stage that I'm in the home or talking to them, they've been in the recruiting process for awhile.

GM: Have recruits and their families asked you about your long-term commitment to Navy?

PJ: Sure. That might be the number one (question). I always tell them that I am committed to coaching at Navy. No matter where I've coached, I always tell recruits you should never pick a school because of the coach. That can be a factor, but you need to pick the school because of the school. We have a great thing to sell here. You know, I may coach here for another 20 years or I may get fired tomorrow. You can't worry about that. If they want to know, I explain that I have six years left on a contract or whatever I've got and I don't have any plans on leaving.

GM: If Navy keeps winning each year, its fans biggest concern each December will be not which hotel to stay at for the bowl game, but which team is going to offer you the chance of a lifetime to leave Annapolis. How do you know when it's the right time, professionally, to move on?

PJ: I don't know. I don't know the answer to that. It's hard to answer hypothetical questions. I'm still here – that's the only thing I can say. I enjoy coaching here. I enjoy coaching these kids. Does that mean never? I don't think you ever say that, but right now I'm enjoying what I'm doing.

GM: But it's safe to say that every year you will look at where you are at professionally?

PJ: Well, I think you have to. I think everybody has to. You always listen. Does somebody have a better deal? Well, it would have to be a pretty good deal. There are a lot of positives here. You wouldn't be fair to yourself or anybody else if you didn't listen.

GM: I think it's safe to say that the great majority of Navy fans don't even want you to be listening. They don't want the phone to ring. They would probably like to intercept the call.

PJ: The only thing I can say is that it's a good problem to have. They went through a lot of years here where that wasn't a problem. You were on the other end asking who you were going to hire next. I think that's a good problem to have. I'd much rather have that scenario then picking up the paper and seeing someone say, ‘Who's gonna replace ol' Johnson there at Navy? Everybody's tired of his mess.'

GM: When I start seeing people on Army message boards hoping that you leave Navy I'm thinking that's a good thing.

PJ: Who knows, somebody sent me an email, asking me to go to Army. But I don't pay any attention to that stuff. I learned a long time ago…believe nothing that you hear, half of what you read, and about 80% of what you see with your own two eyes.

GM: If a team happens to drop Navy from its schedule, do you get involved at all in the process to fill that opening?

PJ: Very little. Most of the time, they will bounce it off me after it's done or before they get ready to sign a contract.

GM: But looking at the schedule for 2009, I can't help but think you had something to do with Georgia Southern and Hawaii being on it.

PJ: Georgia Southern was trying to find a game. I'm willing to play them, especially now. They're not doing anything that we do anymore and all the guys I recruited are gone. Georgia Southern gave me my first job so we ought to allow them the opportunity to at least play. I mean they've had a hard time getting I-A games. If they don't do a little better, they probably aren't going to have that problem any longer. Up until now they've had a hard time getting them.

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