Full Speed Ahead for Former Navy Coach

On Saturday, Feb. 13, Georgia Tech announced that they had lured Navy coach Joe Speed away from Annapolis to join his former boss, Paul Johnson on the Yellow Jackets staff. Two days later, Speed was already at work in Atlanta. The Naval Academy graduate recently spoke to GoMids.com about the decision to take on this new challenge.

Former Navy coach Joe Speed called the decision to leave the Naval Academy for an assistant job at Georgia Tech one of the "toughest decisions" he has ever had to make.


"Everybody at the Naval Academy I consider my family. It's rare that you get that type of camaraderie. I think the coaches at the Naval Academy realize that (in Annapolis) it is a special place with a special purpose. It's tough to ever decide to leave," said Speed.


"When Coach Niumatalolo informed me that Coach Johnson asked for permission to talk to me, I was surprised, honored and humbled when presented with the idea of joining his staff. And I appreciate Coach Niumatalolo and the Administration's support of my decision." 


Speed, a 1996 graduate of the Naval Academy, said that one of the best parts about coaching for his former employer actually happened off-the-field…and after his players graduate.


"The kids you get to coach are some of the best in the country. The Academy is such a unique place that you are not only a counselor of football and academics, but you are also a career counselor."


"You always have the former players come into the office and they tell you all the stories of where they have been and what they have done. I think it (gave the staff) that sense of accomplishment that they get to be a part of helping to mold young men who are going into the service to do good things for the country," he continued.  "You get that good feeling down the road when you see the intangibles of your hard work come to fruition."


Speed acknowledged that this was the first opportunity presented to him by Johnson to join him in Atlanta. And the decision to do so made for a very difficult talk with his current defensive coordinator and mentor, Buddy Green.


"One of the toughest conversations I had was with Coach Green. He and I spent a lot of long hours in the office together breaking down plays and watching films. A man like Coach Green will never be replaced. He has an excellent football mind and he knows how to motivate and take care of his players," said Speed.


Speed will be working directly for another defensive guru in new Georgia Tech defensive coordinator AL Groh, who was hired by Johnson after the season.


"I'm looking forward to this new challenge and this new environment. Coach Groh has a wealth of knowledge and experience. He has forgotten more about football then I even know. However it's because of the foundation and environment at Navy that I even have the opportunity that I do now at Georgia Tech."


Speed's challenge will likely be made a bit easier since there are a lot of friendly faces with Navy roots on the Yellow Jackets staff including Brian Bohannan, Todd Spencer, Jason Snider, and Craig Candeto.

Also on the staff is someone Speed is really familiar with – former Navy quarterback Lamar Owens.


"(Lamar) is a great young man. I consider him my little brother. It was kind of ironic because when Lamar was being recruited (at Navy) I was the one who picked him up at the airport for his official visit. After that weekend, he decided to come to Annapolis.  (And now) when I came down here to Georgia Tech, I asked him a lot of questions about life in Atlanta before I made a big decision," said Speed.


The transition to Atlanta has been a quick one for Speed who said that he did not have a chance to see any of his former players before departing.


"I did have a chance to send a message to the defensive backs. I think all of them understood (the decision) and know that they are in good hands with Coach Green."


While on the Navy staff, Speed was responsible for recruiting in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey; however he said his focus will now shift to the Atlanta and Orlando areas. Another change for Speed will be in his primary job. For the past four seasons, Speed coached the secondary at Navy. With Georgia Tech, he will be in charge of the inside linebackers. The former active-duty Marine Corps officer said that he expects the transition in assignments to go smoothly.


"I was fortunate from 2000 to 2003 because I had the opportunity to work with linebacker coaches like Rick Lantz, Keith Jones, and Kevin Kelley. And in the past few seasons, I had the chance to work directly with Coach Green and be exposed to all different dimensions of the defense. I feel comfortable with the (linebacker) position and at the same time look forward to the challenge," said Speed.


Speed's move will be seen by many fans as a step-up in terms of the coaching ranks; however he knows that his new job also comes with a new level of pressure. 


"The situation at the Naval Academy is one that someone could be very comfortable at for a number of years. There are not a lot of reasons to depart Annapolis. However, the situation at Georgia Tech will help me transition and help me progress as a professional in this business," said Speed.


"(At Georgia Tech) you have the opportunity to play for higher stakes.  But, I realize that the only reason I'm here is because there were some changes…some were voluntary and some were involuntary. I know I have a job to do and if I don't get it done, I understand the consequences. The pressure is on to make sure I do what I need to do to make sure Georgia Tech is successful," he continued.


Speed said that before making this career move that he considered himself to be a lot like other Navy fans who also root for Georgia Tech.


"There are a lot of similarities…both schools are known for their academics. The caliber of recruits is similar in some ways. It's just branches of the same tree with what Coach Johnson built in Annapolis. Now we just have some family members in both places." 


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