Nov. 22, 2011
By Jon Cooper
It’s Thanksgiving week.
For many it’s a week of reflection, a time to look back at the things for which one is thankful.
In his Tuesday press conference Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson admitted there are plenty of those.
“I’m thankful for a lot of things outside of football,” he said, at one point mentioning off-handedly that players without a family with which to share Thanksgiving are invited to his and assistant coaches’ houses for Thanksgiving dinner — something that shows a true commitment to his team as family.
“I’ve been blessed in a lot of ways,” he added. “A fairly lucrative job that helps support my family. I’m thankful for health. For the most part my family is healthy. I’ve got a zillion things to be thankful for along that line. When things get tough sometimes you have to step back and look.”
That last part is easier said than done, especially over the next few days.
This is more than Thanksgiving week for Georgia Tech. It’s Week 52 of the 52-week sentence of having to take abuse from fans of Georgia Bulldogs for last season’s 42-34 loss at Sanford Stadium.
It’s an opportunity for Johnson’s Yellow Jackets to produce a big victory and initiate a field-swarming. It’s a chance to “get taunting rights for a year.”
It’s a tough task, as Georgia Tech, which has worked its way back into the BCS top 25 (No. 23, the Jackets are 25th in the AP poll, and 21st in the USA Today/Coaches poll) goes gunning for Georgia, which everybody knows will be playing LSU at the Georgia Dome next Saturday night in the SEC Championship Game (UGA is 13th according to the BCS and AP, 14th in USA Today/coaches).
The 106th renewal kicks off at 12:01 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Johnson talked with great respect of the Bulldogs, calling them, “probably as hot as anybody in college football.”
He realizes what’s at stake.
“It’s a big game for both sets of alumni and fans, and everybody in the state,” he said. “You have to pick a side; nobody gets to kind of remain neutral. It ought to be a lot of fun on Saturday.”
Fun for Johnson is not as easy to put a finger on. He’s 1-2 against Georgia since arriving at Georgia Tech. He easily could be 3-0.
Yet, when asked to about what must rank as one of the most memorable moments of his Georgia Tech tenure, Roddy Jones’ 54-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter in 2008 that provided what the winning points in the 45-42 victory in Athens, he remembered it thusly.
“That was just an option play and he caught the pitch,” Johnson said. “I think the safety missed the tackle and he just kind of kept going down the sideline. There have been a lot of plays through 32 years. I remember missing the extra point more than that.”
Ah, good times!
Paul Johnson can see the bright side of things, keep things in perspective, and realize everyone occasionally needs to take a step back. Head coach Paul Johnson cannot. For better or for worse, that’s what drives him and has made him the success he is and has been for more than 30 years.
“I think a lot of that is self-inflicted. I’m not sure everybody does that. It’s just my nature. The highs are never as high as the lows are lows,” he said. “Some guys may not be that way. Some guys may be able to put the bad things behind them and only think about the good things.
“Certainly there have been a lot of positives when I think back about coaching through the years,” he continued. “We’ve won a ton of big games. But you always kind of remember — I do — I remember the ones you that you feel like you let get away.”
Johnson recalled the loss in the 1998 I-AA Championship Game and how that still takes away from the ’99 and ’00 titles that followed.
He’s hoping not to feel that way about Saturday afternoon and have to live with those feelings on Tuesday mornings until Thanksgiving week 2012.