Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Catching up with the ACC's Coach of the Year


Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

I got a chance to speak with Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who earned the ACC Coach of the Year award after a nine-win season that included a road win over rival Georgia. Here are the highlights of our recent phone interview:

Heather Dinich: What is the focus on recruiting for you guys at this point? Are there any specific positions you're going after?

Paul Johnson: I don't know that there is anything specific. We're going to take several linemen, offense and defense. We're almost finished. We've got about six or seven spots. We're looking at juniors now for next year.

HD: What's the deal with the scholarships now, because I know you played this season below the limit?

 
 Kelly Kline/Icon SMI
 Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets will face LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

PJ: I think we can sign 25 and get back close to the 85. We'll catch up.

HD: Can you help me explain to fans how much tougher it is to play under that limit?

PJ: It's unbelievable. Jonathan Dwyer, his backup, Lucas Cox, was a starter at another position. And then we had a freshman walk-on that was the next guy up. So when he gets the wind knocked out of him or needs a blow or whatever, you have to change two or three guys or just make him stay in. There were some positions we had no flexibility. We were down to walk-ons as backups. From a planning standpoint, being able to rest guys and all that, it created some problems.

HD: What's the ideal offensive lineman you look for in terms of athleticism and size?

PJ: It's not that much different than anybody else. The biggest difference is we're not looking for the real big slow guy that can't move. Our guys need to be athletic. Sometimes in a passing offense you can take tall guys with long arms that really can't move. We're just looking for good players. The guys that will be good in our offense will be good in others, too.

HD: As you're hitting the recruiting trail, are you getting a lot of questions about your offense from players and their parents?

PJ: No, not now that we've been here for a year. We've got most of all our offensive guys committed, really. We had two receivers committed really early. We've got three quarterbacks, we may even take another one. We've got three running backs committed.

HD: Where do you see the next step being in terms of progress for next year?

PJ: We'll try to be more consistent and continue to get better. I think we got better as the year went along. We still laid an egg a time or two and we have to be more consistent. With a young team that's always a problem. As we get more depth and keep working at it, hopefully we can challenge for the conference championship every year. That's the goal.

HD: I'm sure you don't like to lose any game, but was there one in particular that stung a little more because of the Coastal Division race?

PJ: They're all tough. The Virginia Tech game early in the year, we felt like we had a good shot. That one hurt. They all hurt. We fumbled the ball away down here and they probably played as well as they played all year, that game. And then North Carolina, they played well and we didn't even bother to show up. But they all hurt.

HD: With the way you guys finished the season, the win over Georgia, and looking so strong down the stretch, was it hard for you to accept not being in the ACC championship game considering how well you guys were playing?

PJ: We had our chances and didn't get it done. You can't cry over spilled milk. Maybe we learned a lesson. You've got to take care of it yourself. When you've got a chance, you have to finish the job. We didn't get it done.

HD: What was the win over Georgia like for you?

PJ: It was good for the program. It's such an important game to our alumni. I was just happy for our seniors because they had never beaten them. Hopefully it's something we can build on.

HD: How are you going to replace that defensive line?

PJ: Well that's going to be tough. Derrick Morgan is back and probably played as well as anybody up there. We've got a couple inside guys we redshirted we think are going to be really special players. I'm anxious to watch them play. We've got some young guys that have played some, Robert Hall, Ben Anderson, Jason Peters. Those guys played some. You couple that with who we had sitting out, we think we'll be OK.

HD: What's the scouting report on LSU?

PJ: They're very talented. They're big and they run well. They're one year removed from playing in the national championship. A lot of guys played on that team.

HD: What about in terms of their offense? I know they've had some trouble at quarterback.

PJ: They've had some trouble being consistent. They've got a new quarterback and I'm assuming they're going to start the freshman they say they are and he's very talented. He's got a strong arm, he's elusive, good runner. He presents a whole new set of problems for you.

HD: In retrospect, what are your overall feelings on the job you did this year?

PJ: I was really proud of the players. They bought in and worked hard and the assistant coaches did a good job getting them up to speed on things. It was a good place to start. We laid a good foundation. You're always disappointed anytime you don't win the league and you lose. If we can win the bowl game and get 10 wins, it's a good way to start.

HD: No kidding. What do you think you guys are capable of there?

PJ: Oh, I think we can compete for championships. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't have taken the job.