GoMids.com chats with Paul Johnson (part II)

In part II of our exclusive interview with Navy head coach Paul Johnson, GoMids.com's David Ausiello asks the coach several hard questions including whether or not he's at Navy for the long haul.

GM: Do you still feel strongly about how the situation was handled down there? (asking about the Georgia Southern's program)

PJ: Not really. I think there was more read into that…the way they handled the situation was certainly up to them and they didn't need to ask me – I didn't work there anymore. The only thing I took offense at was some of the comments when the guy came in. I didn't think you needed to trash all the tradition and history. I could care less what offense they ran or what defense they ran or anything else. But when you say it was archaic and nobody knew what was going on, I just felt like, hey, we won a lot of games and you might want to win a few before you start talking. I probably just need to shut up about it. The way they handled it, it was nothing to me. I wish them well. Like I said, they gave me my first chance, and I owe Georgia Southern a lot.

GM: Do you feel that at the Naval Academy you are somewhat insulated from athletes who bring baggage with them? And by baggage I mean a propensity to be caught up in an all out brawl on a football field or an athlete who is more worried about which agent to hire?

PJ: For the most part we got really good kids here. But they are going to make mistakes just like any 18 or 19-year-old does sometimes. All in all, when you look at the character issue, anybody with a lot of baggage isn't going to get into school here in the first place. I'm proud of the program. I think we've got the highest graduation rate in the country. These guys represent our program well. We've got 35 seniors who are getting ready to go serve their country. 13 are Marine infantry. We got pilots – we've got all kinds of guys here. I'm proud of them. We've lost a couple of members of our football family in Iraq already. Numerous others have been injured. So these guys are representing our program very well.

GM: Upon hearing you were going to be hired as the Navy football coach, former Navy linebacker Clint Bruce said the following…

"You can't deny his genius in developing and running the offense we won with in '95-'97, but what makes him so much more than a brilliant offensive mind is his ability to develop relationships with the players."

Can you talk about your relationship with football players – is it different at Navy than other places you've been because of what they have signed on to do?

PJ: I don't know if it's really different. I certainly have a deep respect for anybody who goes to school here. Especially the ones who play a varsity sport here. It's such a sacrifice. Having said that, I've always found that if you treat people fairly, they'll respect you and I'm not worried about guys liking me. I've got friends, I don't need them for friends, but I do want them to respect me and feel like I can help them get to where they want to go as an athlete. That's just kind of the way I approach it. Sometimes I'm pretty cynical with guys - and sarcastic. I'm sure I hurt their feelings sometimes, but it's never done out of malice. And I think for the most part, they understand that. They understand I'm trying to find their hot button, and everybody has a different button. Clint's (Bruce) ran hot all the time.

GM: Following the 43-17 loss to Duke in 2002, you told the team you were in it for the long haul. Can fans assume by "long haul" you meant at least 20 years?

PJ: If we start losing next year, they'll be ready to run me off. I think you are only as good as your last game. We'll take it one game at a time and we'll see what happens. It's like I said, I don't have any plans to be leaving here. You just never know what's going to happen and you don't want to put yourself in a box.

GM: 30 years from now when you retire from coaching at Navy with 340 career victories what would you like players to say about you?

PJ: That the guy was fair…that I enjoyed my time playing there. It was something I look fondly back on. That maybe I learned something from this guy that I could use in my life as I moved on - not just football. I think the neatest thing about coaching to me now is to have former players stay in touch and call you back and send you emails. I'll get a call from a former player, be it from Georgia Southern, Hawaii or here and he'll be like, ‘Hey coach I just had a baby girl – my third child…I'm a broker for Merrill Lynch. And I just wanted to call and say hello.' That's what it is all about. The wins and losses come and go but the relationships are what it is all about.

GM: Navy fans know your system would work at a BCS school. Isn't that all you need to know?

PJ: It's frustrating. I get tired of hearing BCS…or this league has some kind of supermen that you can only do certain things with. It's ridiculous. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you do it well and you execute. The thing that frustrates me as much as anything is when they talk about this offense as being one-dimensional. I've run the exact same offense at Hawaii and threw the fool out of the ball. You adjust to your personnel. People must think you'd be awfully stupid as a coach to go do something that didn't give you a chance to win.

TWO MINUTE DRILL (GoMids gets Coach Johnson to answer as many questions as he can in two minutes.)

GM: Does Mark McGwire deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

PJ: I never watch baseball. I have no opinion.

GM: If you weren't coaching football, what would you be doing?

PJ: Probably coaching basketball.

GM: Who do you think should be playing Ohio State in the National Championship?

PJ: Probably Michigan, but Urban Meyer's a close friend so I'd probably have voted for Florida.

GM: What is the screwiest thing you ever saw a midshipman (member of the brigade) do at a pep rally?

PJ: (long pause) That's a hard one.

GM: Do you get invited to the spontaneous pep rallies? Editor's Note: Members of the brigade have been known to throw late night, unadvertised and unrehearsed rallies before big games.

PJ: Yeah, sometimes - more than I'd like.

GM: Which do you prefer doing, acting in a brigade spirit video or answering questions about Navy's strength of schedule?

PJ: Answering a question about Navy's strength of schedule.

GM: Where would beating Notre Dame rank on the list of your coaching accomplishments?

PJ: It would be up there, but not as much as people would think. I'd like to do it for our fans and alumni. But that's not what drives me to get up everyday. I understand where the two schools are and it's going to have to take something really special for that to happen.

GM: Is it getting old being invited to the White House?

PJ: Nope, I don't think that one ever gets old. Hopefully our goal is to keep going and keep winning until we get to meet a new guy.


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