Georgia Tech is closing in on the start of spring practice (it starts March 23), but coach Paul Johnson was afforded the chance to look back again at the 2014 season when he was named coach of the year at the Atlanta Sports Awards held Thursday night at the Fox Theatre. The award, Johnson’s second in six years, was presented by the Atlanta Sports Council.
“It represents the team,” Johnson said following his acceptance of the award. “No one person wins an award. I think that I accept it on behalf of the assistant coaches and players and the whole program.”
Johnson was named the winner over finalists Phyllis Arthur, girls basketball coach at McEachern High, and Kennesaw State baseball coach Mike Sansing.
While on stage, Johnson reiterated what he has said often, that “I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun as this year. We had a great bunch of young men and what they achieved, I’m really proud of.”
Johnson said it was hard to pick out a single memory that he knows he will cherish years from now.
“I think beating Clemson and Georgia back to back for us was big,” he said. “We started the (conference) season at Virginia Tech with that last-second win that didn’t look good for a long time. The Orange Bowl just finished off (the season), and realizing that the seniors, that that was your last game with them (was special), so there were a lot of things.”
He spoke, also, about the team’s gradual improvement. He added that the team’s response after the 48-43 loss to North Carolina was critical.
“It would have been real easy to tank, but they didn’t,” Johnson said. “They just came back to practice and worked.”
Tech coaches have been in the midst of an in-depth self-examination, including a review of the season, as a way to identify strengths and weaknesses and potential changes to be made. What has jumped out again at Johnson about the season was the number of individual plays made by numerous team members.
“A lot of effort stuff,” he said. “When you have a really good season, you have to get some breaks along the way, and we did. We’ve got a nucleus of guys who were good core players, but we got contributions from everybody and just things people don’t realize. Like in the Georgia game, Anthony Harrell running the kick back as far as he did, the squib at the end, and different guys making different plays. It was fun. It was a fun bunch to coach.
Johnson couldn’t get off the stage without getting in a dig at his friend Wes Durham, who emceed the program. Prior to Johnson being named the award winner, Durham had given a minutes-long welcome, mentioning the nominees and their accomplishments.
“I’m sitting there listening to him go on and on about all the athletes and coaches and everybody involved, and I’m thinking, Damn, Wes is really smart,” Johnson said from the podium. “And then I realized he had the teleprompter.”
Johnson was Tech’s lone winner. Golfer Ollie Schniederjans was a finalist for collegiate athlete of the year, but the award went to former Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost, who finished the 2014 season second in the country in batting average, 13th in slugging percentage and was the 11th overall pick of the major league baseball draft.