It’s been a rough offseason for Georgia Tech football. With the rosters seemingly set in stone for the season, Tech has lost a total of 14 eligible scholarship players due to transfer, dismissal, medical disqualification, and academic ineligibility.
The latest turn of events was due to the dismissal of wide receiver Anthony Autry. Autry missed last season with a torn ACL and saw very limited time in his freshman season. Just the loss of Autry wouldn’t be seen as a blow to the team but the events that followed could be.
Anthony’s brother Myles committed to Georgia Tech in February to join his brother on the flats. Myles is a 4 star running back, ranked 249th in ESPN’s top 300, and was widely considered the top recruit ever signed by head coach Paul Johnson. After receiving the news that his brother was dismissed, Myles requested a meeting with Paul Johnson and was eventually granted his release from his letter of intent. Autry was set to report to campus in June, but was deemed ineligible due to an NCAA clearinghouse problem.
Autry isn’t the only significant loss to the potential Georgia Tech roster this offseason. Shorty after Tech’s bowl game loss to Ole Miss, starting quarterback Vad Lee announced he would be transferring to James Madison. Lee struggled in Paul Johnson’s option offense and decided he would be better suited somewhere else.
The issue seems to be recurring for Georgia Tech. With the academic standards at Tech, it’s already considered an inconvenience for many kids to play football while keeping up with their studies at the prestigious school. Adding the option offense hasn’t helped from a recruiting standpoint.
In an era of college football that is all about the spread offense and running as many plays in the quickest way possible, Georgia Tech’s option offense is much like being unable to fast break in basketball. Paul Johnson runs a very strategic, slow moving system in which he attentively examines the defense each play, before giving his play call to an ongoing substitute to deliver to the quarterback. There’s no hurry up and there’s no four receiver set spreads. From a recruiting standpoint, it can be seen as unfavorable.
Most of the top players in the country want to get in an offense that demonstrates their skill set in the best way possible. Running backs want to show their open field moves, their top line speed, or their between-the-tackles power. Receivers want to demonstrate their precise route running, their spectacular catch ability, or their red zone effectiveness. Quarterbacks want to demonstrate their powerful arm or their pinpoint accuracy.
To be honest, none of this is very evident in the option offense. It’s about the X’s and O’s. Receivers do mostly dirty work by sealing the outside for potential pitches. Quarterbacks spend most of the game making the right reads to pitch the ball or hand it off. Running backs get sporadic carries, usually only touching the ball when the quarterback determines it is the right read. If it isn’t the right read, they can expect a negative gain to their name on a play that they never had a chance on. For offensive players looking to go to a system that will show their skill set to NFL scouts, Georgia Tech simply isn’t a desirable option right now.
Times have changed in Atlanta. With the three players drafted from Georgia Tech into the NFL in this years’ draft, Paul Johnson has had 4 recruits drafted into the NFL since he took over in 2008. In 2013, no Georgia Tech players were selected for the first time since 2005. Chan Gailey took over for the Jackets in 2002 and produced very impressive draft classes during his tenure. Gailey had 16 of his recruits drafted into the NFL from 2006 through 2010. Johnson would need 12 players drafted in the next two drafts to match that mark.
While Gailey didn’t have the highest ranked recruiting classes, (Highest rank: 18th in 2007-Rivals) the talent leaving Tech for the NFL was exceptional. On the offensive side of the ball, Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas are considered two of the top ten WR’s in the NFL today. RB’s Jonathan Dwyer and Tashard Choice have had success at the NFL level. Defensively, Morgan Burnett, Derrick Morgan, Michael Johnson, Philip Wheeler, Vance Walker, and Dawan Landry have all made large contributions in the NFL. The talent put out by Gailey can arguably be seen as the best ever by a coach at Georgia Tech.
Paul Johnson had doubters when he was hired to run his option offense at a large conference school like Tech. He silenced them immediately. In his first season, he led the Yellow Jackets to an unexpected 9-4 season including a 45-42 win vs. Georgia for their first victory in the rivalry since 2000. In 2009, Georgia Tech was ranked as high as #7 on their way to an 11-3 season including an (eventually vacated) ACC Championship.
Georgia Tech was optimistic in their hiring and the program seemed to be quickly rising to the top of the ACC. Since then, it’s been a lot of mediocrity in Atlanta. The Jackets are 28-25 in the three seasons following Johnson’s exciting start as head coach. The talent has seemingly decreased each year and the option offense hasn’t been able to disguise it.
When linking Johnson’s early success and the talented Chan Gailey recruited players he took over with, it can be questioned if he will be able to revive his winning ways with his own recruits. Johnson has let it be known that he recruits to his system, which includes getting many overlooked high school players who aren’t always ranked very highly. While these guys can get the job done, it’s tough to win against big schools like Georgia, Florida State, and Miami when they bring in top ranked recruiting classes almost every year.
It’s been evident while watching Georgia Tech games in the last few seasons that they are highly overmatched in speed and strength in a majority of their games. The triple option can only hide it to a certain degree. In Chan Gailey’s tenure, the talent deficit wasn’t there, but the coaching was subpar. When Johnson had Gailey’s talent in his system, the results were impressive.
Johnson deserves credit. He makes bowl games each year with a system that most people didn’t think could work in major college football at this point. He’s a very respected coach who gets everything he can out of his players. His graduation rate at Tech has been exceptional and he truly believes in the role of a student-athlete. His decision to release Myles Autry with no restrictions was a classy move even though he could end up at a rival school like Georgia or Florida State. Little things like this are important for a coach in college football but usually not looked at in the grand scheme of it all.
Paul Johnson may be running out of time. The fan base has grown inpatient with the offense and the sudden halt of progress in the program. The triple option can succeed, but the talent has to be there along with it. If he can’t manage ways to bring in the right players, Tech will continue the mediocrity it has had since the team has been filled with Johnson recruited players. The rebuilding process after leaving the triple option would be strenuous, so let’s hope he can figure it out. What’s the good word?