ATLANTA — In just his third day on the job, Georgia Tech’s new athletic director made it clear he’s a big fan of football coach Paul Johnson.
Todd Stansbury, who took over at his alma mater this week, erased any doubts about Johnson’s future with a glowing endorsement Wednesday.
Stansbury was especially impressed by the final game of the regular season, as Georgia Tech rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to beat rival Georgia 28-27 in Athens. It was the third straight victory for the Yellow Jackets, pushing them to 8-4 and likely improving their bowl prospects.
“To me, that was a heck of a statement,” said Stansbury, who attended Saturday’s game. “To go between the hedges — I don’t care who you are — to win a game down there tells you a lot about where you’re at.”
Stansbury also praised basketball coach Josh Pastner, who is in his first season of what will admittedly be a major rebuilding job. Pastner, who previously coached at Memphis State, was hired by the previous athletic director, Mike Bobinski, who left for the same job at Purdue.
“He’s a dynamo,” Stansbury said about Pastner. “In fact, in a lot of ways, he reminds me of a young Bobby Cremins,” a reference to the longtime Georgia Tech coach who took the program to national prominence after it joined the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Johnson’s job security was questioned after the Yellow Jackets slumped to 3-9 last season, and the speculation intensified this year amid a three-game losing streak that knocked them out of ACC contention. But, if Stansbury was having any doubts about the coach, they were answered by the strong finish.
In nine seasons at Georgia Tech, Johnson has a record of 69-48, which includes three trips to the ACC championship game, two appearances in the Orange Bowl and a 42-30 mark in conference play.
Stansbury said his respect for Johnson goes beyond his record.
“Nobody out there wants to play us. That also tells you a lot about the state of the program and the fear that opposing coaches have of our head coach,” the new AD said. “I think we have a great coach that is known nationally for what he does, and he’s had a lot of success here. My goal, and what I hope to bring to the table, is to help provide him what he needs to continue to build on that success and compete at the highest level.”
For all his success, Johnson has been a polarizing figure at Georgia Tech.
Only a handful of schools use the run-oriented, triple-option offense that is the coach’s specialty — making it a convenient target of fans and media who believe the team should employ a more conventional system. Also, Johnson comes across as abrasive and downright snippy at times, which has rubbed plenty of people the wrong way.
Stansbury said he’s not least bit concerned about the triple-option, noting that Johnson has used it to win consistently throughout his career. Pointedly, he noted that in his previous job as Oregon State’s athletic director, he got an up-close look at the wide-open style of rival Oregon, which carried the Ducks all the way to the national championship game two seasons ago. This year, they plummeted to 4-8 and fired coach Mark Helfrich.
“If you’re winning, I love your offense,” Stansbury said. “Having just come from Oregon — where they have the wildest offense in America, an offense that everybody aspired to become for the last decade — right now they don’t like that offense.”
As for Johnson’s personality, Stansbury said that’s an area where he can help smooth out some of the rough edges. He intends to spend plenty of time with boosters and fans, pointing out all the positive things happening in the football program — on and off the field.
“It’s a tough job,” Stansbury said. “A lot of people only understand what happens on Saturday, what goes across the ticker. Typically, they don’t know what’s going on the other six days a week. That’s where I can help. … My job is filling in the blanks of what those things are, regardless of any differences or likability. The proof is in the pudding. These are the results we’re getting. A lot of young men are benefiting immensely from life-changing benefits.”