Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill (5) makes a catch as Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson (21) defends in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
There may have been another football coach like Paul Johnson, but if there was, I missed him.
PJ never played college football. There may have been other coaches -- head coaches, I mean -- who didn't, but not in my time. His first coaching job was in the town he came from, a mountain county seat in North Carolina. Newland is almost in Tennessee and less than a thousand people live there.
Paul had gone to Western Carolina, and there, found out he wasn't college football material. Got his degree, went back to Newland as an assistant to the coach he had played for.
Amazing. Was he a failure who could only get a job back home? Nope, he was learning at the feet of the man he respected as a coach and man, so the story rolls on. To Lees-McRae, a junior college; to Georgia Southern, then to Hawaii; Navy and finally, to Georgia Southern as head coach, and his story developed legs. (From the Blue Ridge to Hawaii? Simply because of an assistant coach he'd met as a scout.)
He had his own style, and I don't know that I made note of his peculiarities until he landed at Georgia Tech. I'd sat and talked with him at Georgia Southern -- only coach who ever invited my wife to sit in -- thought I knew him pretty well. He was winning national championships at Statesboro when the Naval Academy decided it wanted more of him.
Sure enough, his Navy teams dominated the Commander-in-Chief's competititon -- that's Army and Air Force Academy -- and he twice was somebody's national coach of the year. Somehow, between the grounding under his coach at Avery County and the schooling he came under down the road, this kid who never played the game above high school level developed his kind of system and made it work.
What I refer to is the way Paul Johnson runs a game. I can tell you that Bobby Dodd had his own individual style on the sideline. (Dodd sat beside a card table with key assistants and called key plays through them.) Johnson, he calls every play-- and I mean EVERY play. With a substitute player by his side, he designates his call to the player and rushes him onto the field with a shove. Each play is his call as he walks along the sideline, adorned with wires and a headset, looking like an astronaut.
It's the Johnson style, and I know I've never seen it on any other sideline. When calls are made, they are his calls, and he dodges no bullets. He takes the credit and the blame, far more blame than credit. And he savored the night his Georgia Tech team laid a hurtin' on Clemson .
"Everybody wrote us off," he said in the aftermath.
"Let's finish the season before you do our tombstone."
That's as close as Paul Johnson comes to having his say with the media and his critics.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.