On Sept. 11th, the first-ever Paul Johnson protégé bowl will take place in Annapolis when Navy takes on Georgia Southern. The unique match-up of head coaches comes courtesy of the Eagles who in December hired longtime Johnson assistant Jeff Monken away from Georgia Tech. The move immediately made the Mids' second game of the season a must-see event for Navy fans. It also made it a natural first question to ask Johnson about. What exactly did he make of the upcoming game between his longtime protégés and friends, Ken Niumatalolo and Jeff Monken?
"I don't think strategy will be a big deal in that one," said Johnson.
As for who might have an edge, Johnson wasn't about to speculate about that. However, he did acknowledge that Monken definitely has his work cut out for him.
"I think Georgia Southern's pretty down right now. They have gone through losing seasons. The program is light years different from when we left there. They haven't won a Southern Conference Championship in five or six years," said Johnson.
"You know Jeff's in his first year and he said their personnel doesn't even resemble what we had when we were there; so I think he is kind of in a rebuilding mode," he continued.
Monken did receive a bit of good news this past winter when he found out that former Georgia Tech back-up quarterback, Jaybo Shaw, was transferring to the Statesboro, Georgia school. According to Johnson, Shaw will "probably help" but he's just "one guy."
"It will be interesting to see how he does. I think Jaybo was a good player and that will certainly help Jeff build the thing up but you've got to have some speed. He's concerned that they don't have a whole lot of speed. But who knows how it will end up," said Johnson.
Of course if Johnson would be pulling for one side or the other, he'd never say. And it's most likely that he has no dog in this fight. But what about his daughter, Kaitlyn who is an avid football fan in her own right and also has ties to both schools?
"She'll be rooting for Georgia Tech that day I'm sure," her dad replied without hesitation.
Triple option aficionados will no doubt be tuning in to the Georgia Southern – Navy game, and it will be interesting to see if either coach decides to tweak Johnson's offense this season. Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper used a bit of a variation, or so it seemed, in the bowl game last December against Missouri when he ran several series without huddling. The idea appeared to work whenever he called for it and who could argue with the end result as Navy thrashed the Tigers, 34-13. The team's dominant performance definitely caught Johnson's eye.
"I was only able to catch bits and pieces of the game because we were practicing, but Navy played really well," said Johnson.
As for Navy's use of the no-huddle, it didn't sound as if Georgia Tech fans should plan on seeing it too much in Atlanta. While Johnson said that he used it "a lot" at Hawaii, he hesitates to use it now mainly because he doesn't see it as an enormous advantage for the offense, unless there was a need to speed up the tempo.
"I can (always) yell out there or use hand signals, but we don't it most of the time because you hope the quarterback knows which way to go. We've opened some games where we have run a few plays (without huddling) but to each their own," said Johnson. "Most of the time if I was coaching the quarterbacks, and they were confused, they would look to me (on the sideline). But it hasn't been a big deal here."
Johnson also added that even though the no-huddle may allow offensive coaches to see the defense and signal an adjustment to the quarterback, most defenses will change their look just prior to the snap to counter that strategy.
"So, the (quarterback) still has got to know what he's doing."
It's a good bet that Johnson's current signal caller, Josh Nesbitt will have a firm grasp of the offense in what will be his third and final year running it for the Yellow Jackets. And it will be up to Nesbitt to carry the unit with the departure of fullback Jonathan Dwyer and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. Both players left Georgia Tech early so they could pursue NFL careers. Losing players to the NFL wasn't something Johnson had to deal with at Navy, but it's not something that he seemed overly concerned about.
"You have to just fill in. You have to try and plan for it. We lost four guys – two in the first round. We had the top receiver taken in the draft which killed some of the myths (about receivers in the triple option) but you just plan for it."
Part of that overall plan, according to Johnson, is to sit down with any players with NFL potential and lay out some criteria to help them determine whether leaving school early might be in their best interest or not.
"Each case is different," said Johnson. "You try and do the research as best as you can and they file their papers to see where they are going to project. I'm sure if Jon (Dwyer) projected in the sixth round, he wouldn't have went out."
Johnson was very surprised to see his talented fullback fall so far down the draft board and he really didn't know what the reason was.
"A guy like Jon (Dwyer)…people make up all kinds of things. The guy who was the number one running back in the draft caught seven balls – (his falling) had nothing to do with that. All the people who say, ‘It's the system' were (the same ones) projecting him as a first or second rounder so clearly that didn't have anything to do with it," said Johnson.
"Maybe Jon didn't have as good of off-season camps as he normally would have and physicals and all those kinds of things. But it's a guessing game. You just don't know."
What Johnson does know is that the Steelers got a steal.
"Pittsburgh's going to get real lucky because Jon Dwyer is a good football player."
Johnson likened Dwyer's situation to that of another former Georgia Tech star, defensive end Michael Johnson who was drafted by Cincinnati in 2009 later than most analysts had projected.
"Everybody thought (Johnson) was a first-five pick and for whatever reason he drops to the third round. Why? He got a tag he didn't play well. You've got guys who are analysts – I don't know about their credentials – and they gotta say something. And if they say the same thing every day, people won't listen to them. It's like if you look at their top 25 picks, it will change every day. Over a four-week span, they will hit enough guys, that hell, they can't be wrong."
According to Paul Johnson, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis recently told him that they are really "excited" about Michael Johnson and the team thinks he is going to be a "great" player.
"People have to sort through the minutia to figure it out," said Johnson. "It's the same way with recruiting."
End of Part One
In part two of my interview with former Navy head coach Paul Johnson, which will be posted on GoMids.com on Monday, he talked about the biggest difference between Navy and Georgia Tech; what he doesn't miss about coaching in Annapolis; his thoughts on conference realignment; and what he considers the best part about being a head coach.