Guess Who Has a Paul Johnson Hangover?

After three games last season, Navy's defense was lost, its offense was tired, and their kicking game was inconsistent. A tough home loss put the Mids at 1-2 and talk about a bowl game fizzled. That's when you know who said you know what, and Navy went on to win its next three games en route to an eight-win season. Well, you know who is gone, and at least one person still hasn't gotten over it.

It was easily one of the most memorable exchanges between former Navy head coach Paul Johnson and the local media in the Annapolis area, and it happened one year ago this week. As previously mentioned, the Midshipmen were coming off a deflating 34-31 overtime defeat to Ball State when Johnson was asked the following question by Annapolis Capital sportswriter Bill Wagner after practice on Monday, Sept. 17, 2007:

"Can I ask you something without making you mad?"

Johnson responded by saying, "Maybe. I don't know."

I could try to explain the rest of the exchange in my own words, but it wouldn't do it justice, so I decided to just include it here, starting with what Wagner said next.

Wagner: I was talking to a Navy fan and he said he follows the coverage and that he noticed something and I'm just going to put it to you. He says that it seems like when Navy loses you blame the players, ie we can't execute fundamental plays, but that the success of the team the last four years has been attributed to brilliant coaching. How do you respond to that?

Johnson: Whatever he thinks. I don't go down to McDonald's and start second-guessing his job so he ought to leave me alone.

Wagner: But do you feel like it can't be both ways?

Johnson: You know what? I could care less. I'm old enough where I could give a crap what the fans think or what you think to put it in a nutshell.

Wagner: Wins and losses are evenly distributed as far as credit and blame, right?

Johnson: If you could ever find one time that I said we won the game because of brilliant strategy I will kiss your butt at city dock and give you two days to draw a crowd. Find it and bring it to me. Tell that guy that if he wants to talk to me I live at (address given but deleted for the transcript) I will be right there. Come ring my doorbell and I will be glad to talk to him.

Wagner: But the bottom line is the coaches do take as much responsibility as the players when the team loses?

Johnson: We are ultimately responsible. What did I say about eight million times? I did a poor job. We have to get them ready. What else do you want me to say?

Johnson's comments gained national attention partially due to ESPN's Pat Forde, who included a portion of the transcript in his column. And while some pundits were surprised by the comments, Johnson's sarcasm and wit were nothing new to Navy fans, who were not only familiar with his style, but reveled in it. Johnson's press conference transcripts were poured through by Midshipmen fans who were just curious what the coach would say next.

Just for fun, I pulled up some of his more memorable moments, like this one when Johnson said that he "could see himself living on mars," and that he thought Notre Dame's number one concern each spring was probably, "God, how are we going to beat Navy?"

Then there was the "luckiest team in America" comment regarding the team's victory over Air Force; or even better was the time he compared his punter's performance to being at "Club Med."

I could go on and on, but really what's the point, right?  Johnson packed his bags last December, leaving Navy for Georgia Tech in hopes of winning a national title.  The Midshipmen quickly hired Johnson's pupil, Ken Niumatalolo to replace him and that's that.  Johnson's gone, Coach "Niumat" is in, and so we Navy fans move on.

Oh wait, before we do, did you see what Johnson said on his radio show a few weeks ago in response to an e-mail he received from someone who criticized him for yelling at players?  The fan asserted that such tactics are counterproductive and it doesn't build character. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Johnson told his listening audience that he "forwarded the e-mail to the Marine Corps, because they want to build character, and I know they never yell at anybody."

Wait, it gets even funnier.  Just this week, Johnson called out the television announcers who questioned his decision to go for it on 4th and 7 from the Georgia Tech 34 with under three minutes to play and trailing by three points.  According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson heard the broadcasters questioning the move while watching a replay of the game, and it prompted him to say the following during a teleconference the next day:

"The guys who do the game, they're morons…I don't worry about what they say."

And even prior to those comments, Johnson managed to say "wow" three times in a six-word quote when referring to a questionable personal foul call in the same Virginia Tech game.

If he keeps this up, Johnson is going to start drawing record crowds anytime he speaks just so fans can hear what the coach will say next. Oops, looks like that is already happening down in Atlanta.

Listen, I know what you are thinking Navy fans. I need to just let go.  He is gone, and he is not coming back. We have a new coach, and I'm the only moron covering Navy who is still writing about Paul Johnson.  Perhaps, but all kidding aside, if the Mids aren't able to find a few wins in the upcoming weeks, the critics will start coming out of the woodwork.  And they won't be talking about how much Johnson is missed off the field in Annapolis.  In fact, they may just start to question the current coaching staff's ability to replicate what their predecessor accomplished on it.

The current football society is all about ‘winning now' and as ridiculous as it may sound to compare Paul Johnson's run at Navy to Coach Niumatalolo's inaugural season at the helm, it will happen.  Fair or not, the question of whether Navy can win without Paul Johnson calling the shots will be asked until another coach proves that it can be done.

Right now, Niumatalolo has a formidable task in front of him.  He has a very young offensive line that is missing one of its best performers in Andrew McGinn, who sat out the last two games as he tries to recover from a concussion suffered against Towson.  His starting quarterback, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has yet to play a full half; and fullback Eric Kettani was injured on the first offensive series against Duke last Saturday.

If any combination of that triumvirate can not play in the next two weeks, Niumatalolo may need his defense to put forth a Herculean-type effort to give Navy a chance to beat either Rutgers or Wake Forest and avoid a 1-4 start.  If the Mids are unable to pull an upset, and yes, I know I have filled my share of ‘ifs' for the season with this column, but if they are 1-4 going into Air Force, one record will be repeated over and over that week: 11-1.  That was Navy's record against its service academy rivals, Army and Air Force, when Johnson roamed the sidelines.  It's an amazing record especially when one considers Johnson went 2-10 in his first season as the head coach at Navy.

Of course nobody at Navy is thinking about the Falcons or Cadets right now as all of their energy is focused on Rutgers.  As for me, I'm still trying to get over this nasty Paul Johnson hangover I've been battling for the last few weeks.  Something tells me a win or two will make it go away.


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