ATLANTA — Coach Paul Johnson is shouldering the blame for Georgia Tech's meltdown in the second half of the season.
"The bottom line, when it's said and done, I've got to do a better job," Johnson said Friday. "We've got to do a better job as coaches to make the thing happen."
Almost nothing went right for the Yellow Jackets, who began 2010 as defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions, but lost five of their last six games to finish 6-7.
They were ranked No. 16 in preseason and were promoting senior quarterback Joshua Nesbitt as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but the offense foundered despite leading the nation in rushing.
Georgia Tech's defense, which lost playmakers like Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett early to the NFL, never seemed comfortable in the 3-4 scheme designed by new coordinator Al Groh.
Off the field, the Yellow Jackets suffered a void in leadership that Johnson says he noticed "probably before the season started," but the team never created solutions.
"Some guys are more vocal than others," Johnson said. "You can also have good leaders on the team, but if you don't want to be led, it doesn't matter."
Early problems with player accountability were manifested in a Sept. 11 road loss to struggling Kansas. The season ended with seven players getting suspended — four for academics, three for missing curfew — in the days leading up to a 14-7 loss to Air Force in the Independence Bowl.
For Johnson, the ACC coach of the year in his first two seasons with the Jackets, the end couldn't come soon enough.
"I think we had some kids who were talented, but I think you have to mesh together as a team and you have to gel," he said. "That's why I said during the year that I was frustrated because I'm accountable for creating that and I didn't create it for whatever reason."
Johnson's plan to avoid the same pitfalls next season will begin in a full team meeting on Tuesday. He will point a proverbial finger at himself, other coaches and players.
"If they don't understand what happened this year, they're not real smart," he said. "You can talk about it all you want. Sometimes it has to happen to you before realize it can happen."
When the Yellow Jackets reconvene for spring practice, Tevin Washington will be the starting quarterback after going 1-3 in the last four games. The sophomore took over when a broken arm ended Nesbitt's season at Virginia Tech.
It's likely that David Sims, who ended the year as the No. 2 QB, will switch to receiver or another position. Synjyn Days, a true freshman enrolling early, will have a chance to beat Washington out.
The offense returns seven starters, including A-backs Roddy Jones, Orwin Smith and B.J. Bostic, all of whom are expected to fill the void of senior Anthony Allen, the ACC's second-leading rusher.
Johnson wants the passing attack to re-emerge in his triple-option offense. Stephen Hill struggled as an adequate replacement for Demaryius Thomas, who left early for the NFL, and finished with a team-high 15 catches.
Defensively, Johnson believes linebacker Julian Burnett, safety Jerrard Tarrant and a line tandem of Flowery Branch graduat Izaan Cross, Dawson County graduate Logan Walls and Jason Peters will take charge as leaders.
The Jackets have major problems to address in special teams after ranking 114th in net punting and 97th in kickoff returns. Johnson hints that he could take an active role in possibly changing schemes and switching personnel.
"A lot of that will work itself out here in the next four or five weeks," he said. "There are certain areas that I have to get more involved in."