Head Coach Paul Johnson’s success already has him in many record books. In just his second year at the helm of the Tech football team, he is setting trends that few of his contemporaries across Division I football have been able to keep pace with and continues to make his mark on a program built by such legendary coaches as John Heisman, William Alexander and Bobby Dodd.
Johnson had the most wins by a first year head coach at Tech in the 117-year history of the program. His winning percentage was the highest of any first-year Tech coach since William Alexander in 1920. He also became the third head coach to beat Georgia in his first year, joining Pepper Rogers and John Heisman.
Johnson has also seen the continued growth in the program during second year. He will become only the second coach to play in an ACC Championship game within his first two years as head coach. This season also marks the first time Tech has won ten games during the regular season since the 1990 National Championship year. Johnson also has recorded the best finish for any Tech coach in conference play in his first two years.
Johnson’s early success has also been characterized by whom his teams have beaten. Last year the Jackets topped Florida State for the first time since 1975, beating FSU Head Coach Bobby Bowden for the first time. This season Tech’s success against FSU continued as the Jackets won for the first time ever in Tallahassee, Fla.
When the Jackets beat No. 4 Virginia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Oct. 17, it was the first time Tech had beaten a top-five team at home since the Jackets upset No. 1 Alabama in 1962.
All of this has lifted Johnson’s team to No. 7 in all three major polls, the highest ranking of any Tech team in a decade. The team has adapted remarkably well to a new and unfamiliar system, flourishing in a hybrid option system that often takes time to master.
The Jackets are second in rushing yards per game this season in FBS with just over 314 yards per game. The team has been efficient through the air when needed as well, currently ranking No. 6 in the nation in passing efficiency.
Such success is certainly not the norm in FBS football.
Michigan also began the 2008 season with new head coach in Rich Rodriguez, who in 2007 almost led West Virginia to the BCS National Championship game using his spread-option offense.
Michigan had been one game away from a national title shot in 2006, but opened 2007 by losing their season opener to FCS school Appalachian State at home.
Taking over for the retired Lloyd Carr, Rodriguez’s mission was simple: install his system and reinvigorate the program.
Rodriguez lacked a quarterback in year one and Michigan went 3-9, missing a bowl game for the first time in 33 years. Michigan’s momentum from a 4-0 start this year has faded; they are now 5-5 and could miss a bowl again.
There has been division in Ann Arbor on the field, including the quarterback controversy spurred by freshman Tate Forcier’s struggles. The problems have spilled off the field, with recent allegations of NCAA violations.
Rodriguez, despite the issues he has encountered, is far from the only second-year head coach to struggle. Rick Neuheisel is still trying to get stability at UCLA. Bo Pelini has had ups and downs at Nebraska, beating Oklahoma but losing to Iowa State this year. Arkansas, a popular pick to rise under Bobby Petrino, remains in the middle of the pack in the SEC.
Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney are doing well at their respective programs with less time than Johnson, but one would be hard-pressed to say that they have revitalized a program the way Johnson has.
Johnson has turned Tech to a team that, rather than remaining in Georgia’s shadow on the national scene, now seems poised to compete on a national level yearly.