As Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson sat alone patiently in front of a packed room Thursday at the Gainesville Civic Center, most Yellow Jackets fans it attendance wondered what he was waiting for.
Johnson was one of three coaches in attendance as part of Georgia Tech’s Coaching Caravan, but was clearly the headliner of the event, which included the voice of the Yellow Jackets Wes Durham, athletics director Dan Radakovich, men’s basketball coach Paul Hewitt and women’s basketball coach MaChelle Joseph.
“I’m here to hear what coach Johnson has to say,” said Curt Moore, a member of the local Georgia Tech fan club. “He’s done a tremendous job as head coach.
“To win 10 games in back-to-back seasons at Georgia Tech is tremendous.”
Most of the rest of the fans apparently felt the same way. Johnson drew the first hearty laugh from the 100-200 fans in attendance. He also drew the most questions, ranging from scheduling to team depth. Johnson and Radakovich also fielded a question centered around the hottest topic of the day in college football: conference realignment, namely the Big 10.
“I’m sure most people are here to listen to what coach Johnson and coach Hewitt have to say,” said Chris England. “As far as coach Johnson goes, to win 21 games in two seasons is heights that this program hasn’t seen in quite some time.”
Still, for the appearance of parity, each coach was given their shot at the microphone to tout their own program’s accomplishments.
The Hall County stop of the coaching caravan, which was orchestrated by the athletic department, was just one of five statewide destinations for the Georgia Tech coaches to address the local fanbases, planned strategically during the time of the year when most sports are in their offseason.
Part comedy routine and part public relations stop, the coaches shared the central theme of a stellar season with Georgia Tech athletics, which includes a combined 195-70 record and three ACC titles, with baseball and softball season still not finished.
“This may be the best year we’ve had as an athletic department, which we can use as a platform to move forward,” Radakovich said.
The other part of the night was coaches taking relatively mild shots at each other.
Durham drew a laugh by commenting on Radakovich’s expensive cream-colored jacket. Joseph drew a laugh when she took a self-deprecating view of next year’s Lady Yellow Jackets schedule, which includes a home game against the defending national champion University of Connecticut on Nov. 21.
Hewitt also shared a laugh at his own expense when he spoke about the honorary doctorate degree he recently received.
“I told my wife she’s going to have to start calling me Dr. Hewitt,” he said. “Then she replied, well the trash needs to be taken out, Dr. Hewitt.”
The lighthearted format was organized with the anticipation that the coaches would receive softball questions from their own fanbase.
However, even the coaches were a little surprised that they got a fastball between the eyes from one of the first fans to grab the microphone, who asked, with a bit of anger in his voice, why Alabama was removed from the schedule in 2013-2014.
Along the same thread, some fans were concerned that Georgia Tech football doesn’t play a challenging enough non-conference schedule (Georgia Tech opens the 2010 season at home against South Carolina State on Sept. 4).
Both Johnson and Radakovich weaved around the issue, essentially saying that taking an opponent off the schedule, like Alabama, was not as cut and dry as it may appear, even if it is the defending national champion Crimson Tide. Radakovich emphasized that the original contract to face Alabama was signed in 2005.
“We can’t worry about bringing in an opponent to fill up our stadium,” Radakovich said. “We’re going to have a quality opponent in 2013 and 2014.
“We want to focus on filling the stadium with white and gold.”
Following that, fan Charles Moore asked about how conference expansion could possibly impact Georgia Tech and college football as a whole.
Radakovich pointed out that the Big 10 hasn’t hidden the fact that it would like to expand to 12 teams to bring a conference championship into the equation, like that of the SEC, ACC and Big 12. The Big 10 has been rumored to be seeking Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri as its prime targets.
“If the conferences do start to expand, I’m sure that the ACC will do what is best to strengthen our conference brand,” Radakovich said.