The Innovator

In the two decades prior to Paul Johnson's arrival at the Naval Academy the Midshipmen tallied only two winning seasons and one bowl game. After a rebuilding year in 2002, Johnson has won at an impressive rate.

Johnson, a native of Newland, N.C., has a record of 36-24 in Annapolis and is currently coaching what should be his fourth consecutive bowl team at Navy. That is a remarkable achievement, considering Navy's recent history of losing and high standards for student-athletes. The roster turnover has been big, but every year Johnson has managed to reload and get the most out of the talent he has.

One might argue we would have more important things to worry about than football if Navy didn't field a disciplined team, but the Midshipmen have been especially sound at executing the basics. It didn't start at the Naval Academy.

Johnson won two consecutive Division I-AA championships at Georgia Southern, won 86-percent of his games and was named National Coach of the Year a remarkable four straight years. Someone at Navy knew Johnson was a winner and the Academy's program has benefited greatly.

When clicking on all cylinders, Paul Johnson's offense can be a thing of beauty. Plenty of teams place a high emphasis on running the football today, but with the versatility afforded by spread offenses oftentimes you're likely to see a ‘running team' line up with three or four wide receivers. Navy is certainly unique.

Johnson runs the triple option – but it's a more versatile offense than most would give believe at first glance. His teams at Georgia Southern and Navy have been very run-oriented, and that's unlikely to significantly change if he takes a step up into a BCS conference. However, it does allow for the pass and Johnson's quarterbacks have been generally efficient.

"When clicking on all cylinders, Paul Johnson's offense can be a thing of beauty. "

He prefers the flexbone spread, which covers a lot of the field and forces the defense to account for all players on the offense. Johnson often utilizes a big, bruising fullback to run between the tackles, zone blocking and preferably a speedy tailback. The formation forces the defense to stay on constant alert, and it's the type of offense that can give fits to even the most athletic defense.

By running such a unique offense, Johnson has done an excellent job of keeping opposing defenses off balance. While Navy is but one game on a team's schedule, a coach must feel as though he would need at least a month of preparation to adequately develop a game plan and instruct his players.

Thus far in 2006, Navy has controlled the clock for an average of more than 32 minutes per game. They rush for an average of 333 yards per contest and attempt only nine passes per game. Not surprisingly, the offensive line has struggled mightily in pass protection, as not as much time and preparation is devoted that area.

Over the past four seasons Johnson's teams have been penalized an average of only four times per game. NC State over that time period has racked up about twice as many penalties.

Defensively the Midshipmen have given up just under 22 points per game since 2003, Johnson's second year. It is difficult to predict what type of defense Johnson would field with more talent, but it is clear that Navy's defensive numbers have been a big improvement over previous teams.

If Johnson were to bring that same offense to NC State there could be a transition period. Any change in offense is significant and has ramifications, but such a drastic change may very well require fans to have more patience than they might expect.

What Makes Him a Viable Candidate: Simply put, Johnson is a winner. He rose to the top of his profession at the Division I-AA level and he's built a consistent winner at Navy, arguably one of the toughest jobs in the country.

"Simply put, Johnson is a winner."

Johnson is making about $1 million per year and the Wolfpack may be willing to give him a significant raise if he becomes the main target. There is a good chance that may happen.

Johnson's disciplined approach would be in stark contrast to the play of NC State teams in the Amato-era. His offense would be extremely difficult for opposing teams to prepare for, even in a BCS conference. With coaches preparing to face spread and conventional offenses every other week, the triple option would give many defensive coordinators headaches.

The triple option worked in the past and it's working now. While he would face more talented competition at NC State, he would have a lot more talent to work with.

Johnson is a native of North Carolina and he may find the idea of returning home appealing. That alone would give him at the least a cursory knowledge of the area and culture. He is also likely to have built relationships with high school coaches throughout Georgia and the South, having coached for years at Georgia Southern.

Johnson would undoubtedly hold his players to high standards, on and off the field, and he would likely produce some of the finest student-athletes Wolfpack fans have seen. He is a class act and widely respected by his peers.

Why it Might Not Happen: There is no absolute guarantee Johnson's system would regularly work every year in the ACC. People made the same argument about Urban Meyer's offense, however.

The biggest concern may be on the recruiting front. Johnson could be a successful recruiter in a BCS conference, but questions linger. How many elite athletes with NFL aspirations want to throw themselves into the triple option? How difficult and how long would the almost inevitable growing pains from the drastic change in system last? And what if all those talented teams on NC State's schedule eventually catch on and begin to slow down the run?

"Johnson could be a successful recruiter in a BCS conference, but questions linger."

Some might grant that the triple option could be successful in Raleigh but still question whether a team in the modern day can get to the ‘next level' running such a defined and structured system.

It's not a given that Johnson would want to leave Navy, either. Coaching young men who have made the decision to serve their country has to be a rewarding experience, and it has to make a coach's job a lot easier than elsewhere. While NC State could pay Johnson more than Navy, $1 million per year is nothing to scoff at. Johnson is loved by alums of Navy, the administration and fans of the Midshipmen. Why leave a place where he likely has permanent job security for a BCS conference where coaches are brought in and sent packing at a stunning rate?

Pack Pride's Take: Johnson is a very real possibility, despite inevitable questions about recruiting and the offense. Very few coaches at any level have won as consistently as Johnson, or with more stacked against them. When you're talking about a coach that has won 34 games the past four seasons at Navy it doesn't take a blind leap of faith to believe he can win at NC State.

Losing is always bad for a program's national perception, but few things are as embarrassing as consistent mental mistakes and undisciplined play. Johnson is as respected as they come and everyone that matters in the college football world has the utmost appreciation for the discipline and sound play exhibited by his teams.

Johnson may or may not be Fowler's top target, but there is little doubt that he is at least near the top of the list.


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