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Fighting 'Til The End

Nov. 15, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Lest one think that Paul Johnson would show up Tuesday morning for his weekly media shindig with a case of the growlies, he put that notion to rest – sort of – before the microphones were turned on because all is not lost.

It went like this: Dean Buchan, the estimable sports information director who runs these gatherings, reminded those in the room to ask for one of the two pass-around microphones in the event they had questions for Johnson. That’s so folks listening on the Tech web site can hear the question. There is no amplification in the room.

The Georgia Tech head coach quipped something about just giving everyone, “their own mic.”

The crowd, you see, was considerably smaller in advance of Saturday’s game at Duke than it was before the Yellow Jackets were preparing to play Virginia Tech last week in what amounted to a do-or-die game for Georgia Tech.

Funny thing, though, the Jackets aren’t dead.

Yes, they were eliminated from ACC title contention by a 37-26 loss to the Hokies in a game where Johnson said, “we had our chances,” but the season remains alive.

The coach explained that nearly a fourth of the games are yet to be played, and that, “When that goal [of the ACC title game] goes off the board you don’t quit.”

We can all agree to that, right?

Depending on how deeply you’re into numbers and history, there is quite a bit still at stake for the Jackets and Johnson.

He’s already just the third Tech coach since Bobby Dodd retired after the 1966 season to twice win eight or more games in a season, and if the Jackets win one more game, he’ll be just the second to pull that off three times.

George O’Leary’s teams went 10-2, 8-4, 9-3 and 8-5 from 1998 (ACC champions) through 2001. The only other Tech coach since Dodd to reach eight or more twice was Bobby Ross in 1990 (11-0-1, ACC and national co-champs) and ’91 (8-5).

So there’s that.

Johnson’s Jackets were 9-4 in his first season, ’08, and 11-3 in ’09 (I’m not getting into anything vacated here because I believe in last Sunday’s appeal, and until the NCAA issues forth on the matter, I’m standing by history forged on fields of play).

Truth be told, the boss seemed testy a time or two about a couple questions Tuesday, although there was nothing to call your buddies about.

He’s done some research on Tech history, or had it given to him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have said, “It’s (winning 10 games in a season) happened exactly three times in 50 years.”

Nor would he have said, “These guys have got a chance to do something that doesn’t happen every week. They can be up there with some of the better [Tech] teams.”

Win the rest of these games, and Johnson will be the only coach at Tech since Dodd to hit double digits twice. That’s not small.

And where O’Leary won 35 games in that four-year stretch, Johnson’s closing. Even with a 6-7 skid last season, Johnson’s won 33 in three-plus (with the benefit of an extra game per season, and one ACCG).

For what it’s worth, nobody will soon match Dodd’s 40 wins in four seasons from ’51-’54, when the Jackets went 11-0-1, 12-0, 9-2-1 and 8-3 (not to mention 9-1-1 and 10-1 in ’55-’56), but we’re talking a big deal here nonetheless.

More simply, and to a more current point, the goal is always to win.

Johnson typically seems careful in the way he phrases comments about Tech’s final regular-season game, but junior cornerback Rod Sweeting went to the heart.

“We’ve still got a chance to win 10 games and beat Georgia,” he said. “And the more you win, the better bowl you get.”

That puts a finer point on matters, now doesn’t it?

This season is not a loss – unless you made it clear before it began that anything short of a conference title game appearance would make it so.

From any list of reasonable goals, that’s the only one gone.

There is a temptation to devolve here into one man’s analysis of what hasn’t gone as expected this season, but that’s for later.

Too often there is too much time spent analyzing what’s gone wrong, what’s not right, what’s insufficient, what should be done differently, and blah-blah-blah.

The Jackets are where they are. Contrary to gut instinct, though, they can change that, and fairly dramatically with a win over Duke, another over Georgia and then by snapping a six-game bowl losing streak.

This team hits double digits in wins, and it’s going to finish the season ranked in the top 12 or so after what was widely considered before the first kickoff to be a build-up year in which the No. 1 goal figured to be bestowing experience upon the Jackets’ abundant youth for a bigger run in 2012.

Will there be problems to address after the season, regardless of how the final three games play out?


Perhaps Johnson and offensive line co-coach Mike Sewak were talking about that very subject matter 45 minutes after the coach’s confab Tuesday as they were speed-walking their way to health around Tech’s campus.

Those walks may be good for the heart. They’re probably a bit therapeutic, too.

Both men gave the look of stomping earth as they made their way, and the hunch here is the Jackets have some stomping days ahead.

Some potential poundings lie closer than others, and while the rewards of possibly beating Duke and winning a bowl game may not measure up to the visions dancing in your head a week ago about this season nor dreams about the next, coming days can add up to something special.

Especially if the Jackets beat the Bulldogs, hopefully one week before the pups play in the SEC Championship Game. That’d be a nice kind of payback for ’09, as well as a seriously therapeutic turn of events.

Even that, though, would be diluted if Tech doesn’t first beat Duke.

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