Paul Johnson: 4 Mega Conferences Will Happen

In part two of my interview with former Navy head coach Paul Johnson, we 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.

When I asked Paul Johnson what the biggest difference was between coaching at Navy and Georgia Tech, he did not hesitate to answer.

"Recruiting," said the Georgia Tech head coach. "Recruiting here is a 365 (days a year) deal. Most of the time at Navy, in January and February, we are filling out that year's team. Here in January and February, you are recruiting the following year's recruiting class. A lot of the high-profile kids at the very top of the recruiting chain are all committed before the season starts. If you are not recruiting everyday you are going to look like a bum."

"Last year we signed 18 kids and we had 15 commitments before the season started. This year, I guess we are a little bit behind because we have 11 (commits)," added Johnson.

In regards to the types of kids Johnson recruits at Georgia Tech, he said there is definitely a difference from his days at Navy, but there were some advantages in Annapolis that took some getting used to.

"As far as the talent level, there are certainly kids at Navy that could play here. Most of the kids at Navy weren't recruited at a school like this but recruiting isn't an exact science and you miss guys. One of the advantages that a service academy has is numbers. Here we take 18, there they take 60. So if guys other schools missed are six of the 60 they got, well they mature and become good players. Certainly when I got here there were a handful of kids at Navy that could have played here," said Johnson.

There is also a difference in terms of recruiting between Georgia Tech and Navy when it comes to the academic requirements according to Johnson. High school athletes who meet the minimum standards for NCAA eligibility can play for the Yellow Jackets, but those students are few and far between.

"You run into guys that we can't recruit that maybe the school up the road can to a degree. I mean we can take a small number of those kids but we can't take our whole class of them. We can't just take NCAA qualifiers as our whole class. We get a few exceptions but overall most of them have to meet the Georgia Tech core (requirements)," said Johnson.

At Navy, Johnson said that the administration "cooperated fairly well" with his staff when it came to recruiting athletes but at the same time, "it wasn't going to do (the team) any good to try and recruit a kid that (he thought) could not make it through the Academy because it just frustrates you and it frustrates them."

Speaking of frustration, when asked about what he didn't miss about being at Navy; Johnson spoke frankly about one part of coaching in Annapolis that he didn't particularly like.

"What I miss the least is all of the posturing and the difficulty at times of dealing through the bureaucracy that wasn't always as advertised. Sometimes it would be territorial like ‘this is my area' and ‘you don't mess with my area' but you have that at state schools too," said Johnson. "You know for the most part, the time that I was there, I was very blessed that I had an administration that worked very well with us."

This fall, the Naval Academy will be welcoming a new superintendent and I asked Johnson if such a transition made things more complicated or frustrating from his perspective.

"The thing about the Academy is that even though you get a new superintendent (every few years), it is what it is, he isn't going to come in there and revamp the whole process that has been going on for 200 years. The guy who affects you more than the superintendent is the commandant – no question. While the superintendent is involved in the athletic side, (when it comes to) the day-to -day dealings with time, when can we get (the players), and all those things, the commandant handles all that," said Johnson.

As for what part of working at the Academy that Johnson misses the most, it's the people.

"Especially the young men and women that went to school there - I really enjoyed being around the midshipmen – even the guys that weren't playing. I have a great deal of respect for them and for what they were doing."

Cleary, that respect continues today as Johnson has added three former midshipmen to his coaching staff at Georgia Tech. Just this past off-season, Johnson welcomed Navy graduates Craig Candeto and Joe Speed to Atlanta to join another former Navy player Lamar Owens on the sidelines.

According to Johnson, Candeto, who played quarterback for Johnson, called him for advice when he got out of the military and the two stayed in touch ever since.

"He said he wanted to coach. So we talked and I promised him that if we had a graduate assistant spot open up (that I'd call him). Craig actually had a chance to take a full-time job at a couple of other schools but he decided to come here because he wanted to re-learn the offense. Any time you can get a quality person like he is, it's just going to make you better," said Johnson.

Speed also joined the staff and will coach the linebackers for Georgia Tech.

"Joe was the operations guy when I was (at Navy) and I got to know him and his wife really well. He sacrificed in my mind and went to the prep school and came back (to Annapolis). And the position I had here was assisting with the linebackers with coach (Al) Groh. And learning (a new position) isn't something that any guy who is coaching for awhile would want to do. But it was a great opportunity for Joe to work under a guy who has all kinds of experience and to get some hands-on recruiting here in the South. It can help his career, so it was a win-win," explained Johnson.

Seeing players like Candeto, Speed, and Owens mature is what Johnson said is the best part of coaching.

"You know it is fun for me to see a lot of the guys who have played for me, to now be coaching. Shoot I guess I'm getting old because I've got guys who played for me who are calling me to recruit their sons," joked Johnson, who then turned serious and said, "It's rewarding to have somebody call you up and say, ‘hey coach I just wanted to tell you that I just had a boy or I got a new job or all those things that you did discipline wise with football, it helped me be a better father or husband."

Of course coaching at the highest level of college football isn't all kicks and giggles. There are also times that frustrate the heck out of Johnson who said though the longer he coaches, "the better" he "learns to do deal with things."

One of those ‘things' according to Johnson is trying to "justify" what he does.

"It drives me nuts," he said.

"It doesn't matter how long you've coached, everybody always has the answer. Well maybe next year they are going to figure this out, or you did it with their players…it gets a little bit old but as you get older you learn that it's just par for the course."

Anyone who knows Johnson knows that if you want to see him get frustrated just ask him what he thinks about the lack of a college football playoff at the FBS level. He has stated numerous times to and other s that he is a strong proponent of a playoff instead of the current BCS fiasco.

But in a strange twist, Johnson believes that the conference realignment activity this off-season will help lead college football to a playoff system.

"There will end up being four, 16-team conferences made up of BCS teams and there will be a championship game in each conference. I think (that type of playoff) would be good (enough). You would have eight (teams) to start with because you would have two divisions (in each conference), then you would have four, two and then one. It's probably as close as you could get to (a real playoff)," said Johnson.

"It's gonna happen. It's out of my control and it might not happen until I am through coaching, but it's gonna happen," he predicted.

"The sad part is that it is going to eliminate the mid-majors and the conferences that don't get in. Now some of those teams – the stronger ones may be able to get into a league when they expand - but if you think about the BCS conferences now – those six leagues – two of them are going to disappear. Some of them will be absorbed by the four (bigger conferences) in order to come up with the (64 teams). Maybe one or two schools will be added in, but maybe not."

Count Johnson as one of the coaches who thinks that such a realignment will force Notre Dame to finally relinquish its independent status.

"I don't think they'd have a choice."

As for another independent, Navy, such a system would likely keep them out of a playoff according to Johnson's logic, but that's not the only hurdle facing service academy teams in the big picture of college football.

"You could take two teams…Navy and Georgia Tech…and they could be virtually the same from a skill standpoint, and Georgia Tech would be ranked and Navy wouldn't. It's just the way it is. I mean it's not fair but that's because the perception …that here, we are playing on a bigger stage. That's why the ACC just signed a TV contract and the SEC signs the TV contract. It makes it different," explained Johnson.

"If you get on a run here – if we start out the season 5-0 or 6-0, we will be in the top ten…we might be in the top five. If you start out the season 5-0 (at Navy), you are trying to get in the top 25. It's all about perception."

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