JOHNSON'S FINAL INTERVIEW AS NAVY HEAD COACH

The day before Paul Johnson took the Georgia Tech job, he cancelled all media calls – except for one. Johnson's last official interview as Navy's head coach was with GoMids.com, and in it he spoke about the teams pursuing him, internet rumors, and the big decision. David Ausiello shares his thoughts on the interview and the events that shaped one crazy week in the history of Navy sports.

It didn't take long after Navy beat Notre Dame on November 3 for me to start getting worried about what the victory meant to the future of football in Annapolis.  In what seems now like six short years, Paul Johnson had brought Navy football full circle – from the laughing stock of Division I-A – to an annual bowl participant.  And in one of his last conquests, he led the Mids over the Irish to end a 43-game losing streak to Notre Dame.  After that, all that was left to do was beat a beatable Army team and Johnson's resume would be complete. 

 

I predicted two days after the Navy victory over the Irish that the suitors would come for Johnson – and did they ever.  One of them didn't even wait for the season to be over, and because of that, Johnson wouldn't fly out to meet them…not while preparing for Army.  A certain Big 12 school located north of Kansas and south of the Dakotas wanted to sit down and chat with Navy's head coach about its job opening, and he said, ‘not now.'

 

I found out that little nugget when I had a chance to speak with Johnson less than 24 hours before he would sign a contract to become the new head coach at Georgia Tech.  During our conversation, like the several we had in the past, I spoke with Coach Johnson just like I thought any fan would want to.

 

However, I could pretty much tell right away that this interview was going to be different.  Johnson, who was normally upbeat and quick with his responses when talking with me, was much more reserved this time.  There were even several instances when you could hear a pin drop on the phone call.

 

I'll readily admit I was nervous as hell talking to him, much more so than in previous conversations, when I would pretty much just say what was on my mind.  However, I had heard from several people close to Johnson that he was likely on the verge of making a decision about his future – and that decision would probably come a few hours after speaking with me. 

 

So, I chose my words carefully – and strategically.  Heck, I told him at the beginning of our conversation that I had a "huge agenda" and wasn't about to hide it.  Therefore, I asked if I could read some emails I had received from fans around the world.  He said "sure."  And so I read an email from a Sailor onboard the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN who wanted to know if he would stay and help Navy get to a BCS bowl game one day.  I also read an email from a respected member of the GoMids.com community, who cautioned me not to recommend that the coach pass more often for fear that I would help send him packing.

 

Obviously we all know now that my tactics did not achieve the goal, but I could tell from Johnson's reaction and his words that the people surrounding the Navy program were making him struggle mightily with his decision.  On several occasions during the interview, he spoke about the positives of being in Annapolis, and at one point admitted that he was a "nervous wreck" because he knew that his decision would affect the lives of several other people.

 

I've only come to really know Coach Johnson over the past several months, but I don't think I can ever recall a time when he ever came across as nervous about anything…not in an interview…not coaching…never. 

 

As I ran through the suitors looking to gain his services, it became pretty obvious that not all of the internet rumors were true in regards to who was offering what.  With details now emerging about Johnson signing a 7-year, $11 million contract with Georgia Tech, I think it is safe to say that he turned down more money in more than one place to coach in Atlanta.  In one or two instances, he turned down a "boatload."

 

And if you think that just because Johnson took his time in making a decision that schools stopped calling him or even got upset, that too would be incorrect.  His phone never went silent and the offers kept getting better. 

 

Maybe if he still hadn't made a decision today, there would have been Nick Sabanesque dollars on the table.  I'm not kidding. 

 

Johnson admitted that in the past he had not really looked and listened too closely, and that this year, he took it to another level, which put him in the unfamiliar position of actually having to make multiple decisions about other jobs.  However, he was adamant that this wasn't about him going out and seeking interviews as if he was a job seeker.  He didn't have a head hunter out there throwing his resume in the faces of athletic directors. He was never asked what type of offense he would run or how he would tweak it. These schools came after him, and because of that, Johnson interviewed them.  I got the impression Johnson did most of the talking during the conversations.

 

Since accepting the Georgia Tech job, Johnson has said that winning a national championship was one of the main reasons why he departed Navy.  Of course, looking back at the transcript of our interview, there were plenty of indications that it was something he thought a lot about.  When the topic came up regarding a national championship, I tried to convince him that if the NCAA ever went to a playoff, Navy could have an outside shot of getting into it.  We debated it a bit, and at one point I got him to concede that it was possible.  Of course, I had to use a combination of last year's Navy defense and this year's offense to make my point, but he did say "maybe" it could happen.

 

As we concluded our conversation Johnson said something that I had never heard him say before.  He said he "appreciated me calling."  He felt bad Navy fans and mostly everyone associated with the program was on "pins and needles," and that if there was "anything he could to take that [feeling] away he would."  It was a "tough decision" and he wanted to make the right one.

 

In the end, the decision didn't go our way, but anyone who doubts Johnson's sincerity and affection for Navy fans is extremely misguided.  In the end, it wasn't about money – he took less than what the other three schools were offering.  In the end, it wasn't about the players – regardless of those he coaches in the future, they won't compare in many ways to those he left behind. 

 

In the end, it was about reaching the peak of the mountain without having any excuses for not making it all the way to the top.  Now, nothing stands in the way of Paul Johnson getting there.  Two things I know for sure: It's going to be fun watching him try, and I will definitely be rooting for him to make it.

 

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It was a crazy week to be working this story and one that I won't soon forget.  I learned a lot about journalism, about working sources, and about working with colleagues to ensure what was printed was accurate.  Sure it was important to be quick, but if you are wrong, what's the point? 

 

I remember telling one colleague that following Johnson-gate was a lot of fun.  He quickly responded by saying, "I was sick."  He may be right because my throat is still sore from all the talking.  Speaking of talking, I decided to put together a list of phrases I either said myself or heard someone else say during the past week.

 

-         My sources are telling me…

-         Where is Johnson right now?

-         SMU is off the table.

-         That's not what I heard…

-         I'm firmly in the "he's staying" camp…

-         I'm firmly in the "he's going" camp…

-         We'll know something in a few hours…

-         Your sources are better than mine…

-         I think we have the same sources…

-         Your sources are probably Georgia Tech fans…

-         Are you sitting down?

-         The price just went up…

-         I've got finals.  I can't take this anymore…

-         He's staying…

-         He's gone…

-         Why did I buy that shirt?

 

 

Do you have a comment for David?  Send him an email. 


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