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Who Wants To Be Our Next Punching Bag, Part II

Yesterday we started our coaching search with George O’Leary.

Today let's look at a guy who has come up a lot, but we don’t really know too much about. Navy’s Paul Johnson.

Personal History

ohnson is a North Carolina boy for sure. A native of Newland, N.C., he earned his degree in physical education from Western Carolina in 1979 and a Master's of Science degree in health and physical education from Appalachian State in 1982.

Coaching History
Johnson's coaching career began when he was offensive coordinator and line coach at his alma mater Avery County (N.C.) High School in 1979-80. He then became offensive coordinator at Lees-McRae Junior College in 1981, leading his offensive unit to a sixth-place national standing among NJCAA total offense leaders.

In 1983, Johnson came to Division 1-AA Georgia Southern as a defensive line coach. However, he was promoted to offensive coordinator in 1985. Under his tutelage, quarterback Tracy Ham and the Eagle offense rewrote the school record books, averaging 435 total yards and 36 points per contest. In 1985 and 1986, Georgia Southern rolled to a combined 26-4 (.867) record while capturing a pair of I-AA titles.

Johnson moved up to Division 1-A when he became the offensive coordinator at the University of Hawai'i in 1987. He remained in that position through 1994, helping guide the Rainbows/Warriors/Whatever to their first Western Athletic Conference title and their first bowl appearance (’89 Aloha). Johnson’s offense broke or equaled over 160 school records. He received Top Offensive Coach honors in the WAC and was named one of the top-10 assistant coaches in the country by The Sporting News.

Johnson left Hawai’i for his first stint with the Navy Midshipmen in 1995 as offensive coordinator. His spread offense made an immediate impact, breaking five school records during the Mids' five-win season in 1995, equaling the most wins by a Navy team since 1990. Navy came back in year two under Johnson and exploded, posting a 9-3 record, including a 42-38 victory over California in the Aloha Bowl. It was Navy's first winning season since 1982 and one of only two winning seasons the Mids had during a 19-year span.

Johnson had earned his stripes as a coordinator and was ready for a head coaching gig. Proving loyal, he returned to 1-AA Georgia Southern in 1998 to bring the program back to glory. Johnson took over a team that was 4-7 the previous year and orchestrated a turnaround which ranks among the NCAA's best, directing the Eagles to a 10-3 record, equaling the school's best mark since 1989. He was rewarded with Southern Conference Coach-of-the-Year honors.

In 1998, Johnson guided the Eagles to a perfect 11-0 regular-season record and the school's sixth NCAA Division I-AA National Championship Game appearance before finishing with a 14-1 mark, earning him The Sports Network's Eddie Robinson Award.

In 1999, Johnson brought Georgia Southern back to the national championship game and this time won it, as the Eagles finished 13-2, broke 197 records and won the school's fifth national title. For his efforts, Johnson was honored as the 1999 American Football Coaches Association and Chevrolet I-AA National Coach of the Year. The Eagles came back in 2000 and won their second-straight national championship, posting a 13-2 record. Johnson was named the American Football Coaches Association I-AA Coach of the Year.

In four-plus seasons, Johnson's squads broke or tied 389 individual and team school, conference, playoff or stadium records, ranked in the top 10 in 21 statistical categories and produced 31 All-Americans. The Eagles won an NCAA I-AA record 39-consecutive games at home, breaking their own mark of 38. In addition to Georgia Southern's 62-10 mark, the Eagles scored 2,855 points (39.7 points per game), picked up 25,941 rushing yards (360.3 yards per game), 7,816 passing yards (108.6 yards per game) and 33,757 total yards (468.8 yards per game). GSU scored 380 touchdowns in the Johnson Era, an average of 5.3 per game. The Eagles' scoring margin under Johnson was +21.5 (39.7-18.5).

In 2002, Johnson departed Georgia Southern for Navy. Johnson's initial season saw the Midshipmen win only two of twelve contests, although the season ended on a high note with his first victory over Army. Subsequently, Johnson's teams have enjoyed a high degree of success. The 2003 team completed the regular season with an 8-4 mark, including wins over both Air Force and Army, and earned a berth in the Houston Bowl, Navy's first bowl game since 1996.

In 2004, Johnson's team posted Navy's best start in over 30 years, finishing the regular season 9-2 and once again earning a bowl berth, this time in the Emerald Bowl. Johnson coached the Mids to a win over New Mexico 34-19, the fifth bowl win in the school's history. That gave Navy 10 wins on the season, tying the record for wins at Navy, which had stood since 1905. Coincidentally, this was the season that Johnson won the NCAA Coach of the Year honors.

The 2005 squad recorded a final mark of 8-4, which was highlighted by victories over Army, Air Force, and Colorado State in the inaugural Poinsettia Bowl.

Coach Johnson has dominated the Commander in Chief's Trophy competition, going 9-1 (.900) in his five years, with the only loss against another service academy coming at the hands of Air Force in his first season. He is only the second coach in Navy's history to go 5-0 in his first five seasons against Army and his 2006/2007 senior class was the first in Navy history to win the Commander in Chief's Trophy for all four years.

Violations & Personal Issues
Nothing illegal or sordid that I can find. But there is that infamous temper of his.

Just a sample for you…

Reporter: Can I ask you something without making you mad?
Johnson: Maybe. I don't know.
Reporter: 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, i.e. 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.

Is Paul Johnson that good a recruiter or is his system that good? According to, he’s not exactly pulling in the athletes, garnering the 117th (2005), 93rd (2006) and118th (2007) best recruiting classes in the nation. Can you blame him for that though…it’s Navy. What Division 1-A caliber kid wants to go play at Navy?

Johnson seems to have made a career out of going to places where recruiting is sparse (Navy, Hawaii, 1-AA Georgia Southern) and implementing systems that produce results. It’s an interesting trade-off and one to keep in mind if we’re looking for someone to come in and re-establish Northeastern recruiting trails.


Much of Johnson's success has been predicated on his triple option flexbone offense, a run oriented attack that has led NCAA DI-A football in rushing yards three of the last four years. Some criticize the triple option as an antiquated, unbalanced system unfit for major college football. Johnson has rebutted this argument asserting that several top teams, including 2005-2006 national champion Texas and 2006-2007 national champion Florida, utilize various forms of the option. He has repeatedly stated that the superior athletes in power conferences could help the triple option flourish.

However Johnson has also stated that if he had a good throwing quarterback he would utilize the pass more often.

We’ve got one of those!

What's It Gonna Cost?
According to CoachesHotSeat (and what better authority is there?), he’s making a cool million a year, about the same as Robinson. Johnson reportedly received a substantial boost last December in his contract that runs through 2012. Chances are after last year’s courting of Johnson by a number of schools, a decent buyout has been worked into the contract as well.

Would He Take It?

Maybe? Probably not, to be honest. As I noted earlier, Johnson is a North Carolina boy and if he was looking for the opportunity to come back home he had it last year via NC State. Many considered Johnson the favorite for the position but of course he stayed at Navy and the rest is history (Tom O’Brien is rolling over in his grave).

If the NC State job wasn’t good enough to get Johnson to leave Navy, why would the Syracuse job be any more appealing?

That said imagine a healthy backfield that includes Delone Carter, Curtis Birnkley and Doug Hogue as well as the arm of Andrew Robinson combined with Johnson’s offensive schemes… If Johnson is looking to give his system a shot with some better talent (no offense to the folks at Navy, just sayin'), Syracuse certainly has the folks for it. Of course, they may need to improve the offensive line slightly.

Would Syracuse Fans Want Him?

Heck yeah. He’s fiery, he’s an offensive wizard and he’s a proven winner. His recruiting numbers leave a lot to be desired but you can’t argue with the results. If Navy beats Notre Dame on November 3rd, expect Johnson’s name to rocket up the coaching rumor charts once again. Syracuse may not have the opportunity to even court him.

UConn’s Randy Edsall

(Thanks to Wikipedia and Navy's Athletic Site)