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Johnson Still Thinks Yellow Jackets Are Not Living Up To Their Potential

Oct. 5, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn

Sting Daily

Tuesday was a little different in Paul Johnson’s weekly media confab. Georgia Tech’s head coach was a little snarky, I asked more questions than I usually do, and Al Groh made a guest appearance.

None of these things should have come as a surprise.

It was a difficult, however, for me to wrap my mind around Johnson’s statement that there’s really not much difference between the offensive line this season and that of last year.

Most would agree that last year’s Jackets did not remind anyone of the Crusaders; generally speaking they did not move the line of scrimmage so much as they cut it down.

So far this season, it seems like there are at least two completely unblocked defenders in the front six or seven on about half the plays (there is often supposed to be one unblocked defender).

But coach PJ was a bit hard-wired Tuesday so . . .

I asked him if he changes his coaching demeanor depending on how his team is playing, whether there is a time to babysit and a time to bark. You’ll like his answer, I reckon:

“You try a lot of different things until you find what motivates and what works,” he said. “I am up their tail right now and I am going to be until they play up to their potential. I am not trying to be their friend; I’m trying to be their coach. If we get beat by a team that is more talented and is clearly the better team, but we go out there and try hard and we do the right things, then it doesn’t do any good to yell.

“But, I don’t believe that to be the case to this point. I don’t think we are playing up to our potential and it is up to me to make them play up to their potential. Do I want to be the heavy all the time? No. I would love for somebody else to do it, but I don’t see anybody else doing it so therefore it is up to me.” Johnson took umbrage at a question about whether this offensive line and offense at large are similar to 2008, when Joshua (then Josh) Nesbitt started running around and bailing everybody out (or something like that). I didn’t ask the question. Coach did not like it, said that was not the way he remembered it.

I’ll leave it at that, other than to say that it appears he wasn’t fond of some recent media criticism of Nesbitt as being off his game.

“He is at a higher standard. And I think he holds himself to a higher standard, he is a very competitive young man and he likes to win and that is what makes him special as a quarterback,” Johnson said. “If I had to pick two things that I think separates him from other guys it is his toughness and he is competitive. Those are two pretty good things to have in a football player.”

Circling back to the offensive line, co-line coach Mike Sewak gave me long, detailed answers to what needs to happen up front for the wall of Jackets to become a WALL. Much of it was technical, relating to knowing and executing assignments, knowing each others assignments, knowing when to pass off a defender and when not to, and an overall improvement in communication and anticipation.

This struck me as most meaningful: “I think mental toughness is developed. It’s just like anything else. God blesses us all with a certain amount of talent, but he doesn’t tell us how much heart we can pour into the game or how much mental toughness we can develop,” Sewak said. “That becomes individual character, and I think when you find that you’ll find that development comes along.

“I think the guys start feeling a little bit more determined and secure in what they need to accomplish, all of a sudden you’ll see it re-occur.”

Sports information director Dean Buchan brought Groh in knowing there would be much interest in him as the former Virginia coach will work against his former team Saturday in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

He said fairly quickly that he’s not one to maintain allegiances to institutions, be they NFL teams or college teams, so much as relationships with people he’s met along the way.

I asked him, however, if human nature being what it is if he looks back from time to time and wonders what might be if he’d done anything differently. I referenced within my question how he read aloud a poem titled “The Man in the Mirror” after his final game, a bad loss to Virginia Tech. He made it very clear that his conscience was clear; that he was secure in the knowledge he did everything he could.

“Were there some decisions I would change? Sure,” he said. “I did that every week of every season, so a lot of that introspection, so if you wait until a certain point in your career and say you are going to look back at the last nine years of my career, then your probably repeated a lot of your errors.

“If you are willing to immediately thereafter step back and say what we could have done differently, then you make progress forward.”

Coach Groh fielded some more questions, some about the game, and some about improved play last Saturday against Wake Forest, and the like.

Dean said, “one or two more questions.”

Somebody fired one off. I was worried I wasn’t going to get in another.

As soon as I sensed Al being finished, I squeezed it in.

Having graduated from Virginia, having coached there, having a son who played there, given what you said that relationships were more important that institutions would it nonetheless to be accurate to say that Al Groh considers himself a Virginia man at all times other than when he’s playing the Cavaliers?

He said:

“My family has a lot of history. My son was captain of the team, most valuable player of a bowl game. My youngest son is a graduate from law school. I’m a graduate. That’s what we are; we’re Virginia graduates. You can’t change history. I’m proud to acknowledge it.

“The last nine years, we had some of the best seasons, and best wins, and greatest players that the school has ever had. Somebody might want to change that, but that’s fact.

“Myself and other members of my family are Virginia graduates, but right now I’m a Georgia Tech man. This is my team. This is the team that’s going to give me my source of satisfaction, and my relationships, or my sense of loss on an ongoing basis.

“When I coached for the Patriots I was a Patriots guy. When we went to the Super Bowl and 10 days later we were with the Jets, playing the Patriots twice a year. I was a Jets guy then.”

A different day, for sure, and interesting.

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