All-World Paul Won't Let Navy Fall

Yes, it was particularly painful to lose the Meineke Car Care Bowl to Boston College, but even the heartbreak of that moment can't overshadow the satisfying nature of the 2006 Navy football season. It's all because of the man who--along with Boise State's Chris Petersen--is doing national championship-level work at a non-BCS program.

A review of Annapolis football in 2006--from East Carolina to the bowl season--begins and ends with head coach Paul Johnson. It's perhaps an overly obvious story, but on many occasions, stories are obvious for a reason. It would be naive and misguided to identify anyone or anything else as the source of the Midshipmen's newfound ascendancy in the college football world. And let's be clear: Navy isn't just a consistently good program; the Meineke Car Care Bowl, while ending in defeat, showed that the Mids are actually climbing up the ladder in Division I-A ball.

In Navy's previous bowl wins, the Johnson Boys dusted off New Mexico and Colorado State, who aren't doing much of anything these days. In Charlotte, however, Navy tackled a Boston College program that's been a top 25 team for part of the past several seasons. The Eagles came very close to Big East and ACC titles under the solid coaching of Tom O'Brien in the first half of this decade, and from a physical standpoint, the Eagles greatly outclassed the Mids in the trenches. Add in the fact that Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada--a backup quarterback, remember--entered the bowl season after a sluggish performance against Army, and Navy seemed to have little chance against BC.

But as it turned out, Paul Johnson will always give Navy a chance against anyone not named Ohio State, USC, LSU or Texas. Against teams ranked 15th or lower, the Midshipmen will always be able to play competitive football as long as Paul stands tall on the Annapolis sideline. It's just that simple, and just that obvious.

Bowl games are supreme coaching laboratories. They show which staffs are doing creative thinking and making accurate diagnoses of various strengths and weaknesses. They show how better brains and superior motivational methods make all the difference in a game played by mentally fragile 20-year-olds. Bowl games reveal which coaches "get it," and which coaches don't.

Paul Johnson coached superbly against New Mexico in 2004 and Colorado State in 2005. He coached phenomenally against Boston College.

Don't let the scoreboard fool you: Navy thoroughly outplayed and outfought the Eagles from New England, and a Reggie Campbell fumble was the only thing that prevented the Mids from winning the game outright. By preparing Kaheaku-Enhada to play his best game in 2006, and by getting his defense to display a lights-out effort against the bigger, beefier Eagles, Johnson showed--in a defeat that was real only in a technical sense--that he's even better than previously thought. And entering the 2006 season, opinions of Paul Johnson were already quite lofty.

Navy is beyond blessed to have him, and if by some miracle of miracles, the former Georgia Southern coach stays put in Annapolis, Navy will eventually beat Notre Dame and create a mini-BCS drama of some sort.

After everything he did this season with a backup quarterback and other elements of adversity, Paul Johnson--improbably but undeniably--enhanced his reputation. That fact alone speaks to the health and the height of the Navy football program after another sensational season.

Navy head coach Paul Johnson talks with Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (10) and Antron Harper (63) during practice for the Meineke Car Care Bowl college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) Top Stories