Tuesday Tech Review: Paul Johnson, elementary school principal?

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson led the Yellow Jackets to their first major bowl title since the 1956 Sugar Bowl. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

One change in coach Paul Johnson’s career path could have led him to a remarkably different destination. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson celebrated his 58th birthday last Thursday.

It is a noteworthy age in at least one respect. With health concerns, coach Bobby Dodd retired from coaching the Yellow Jackets at the same age, at the end of the 1966 season. To the best of my knowledge, Dodd has been the oldest coach to preside over the Jackets until Johnson. (It’s true going back to John Heisman, at least. Information for Tech’s eight coaches prior to Heisman is scant.)

Interestingly, three other Tech coaches – William Alexander, Bobby Ross and Chan Gailey – all coached their final seasons at the age of 55.

This isn’t to speculate on when Johnson will retire, though I don’t suspect it’ll be any time soon. His extension is through 2020, when he’ll be 63. But it did cause me to think of a story he told last September in advance of the Yellow Jackets’ game against Georgia Southern, which I included in a story prior to the game.

When Paul Johnson was in Statesboro (myajc)

Before he was hired at Georgia Southern prior to the 1983 season, he was offensive coordinator at Lees-McRae Junior College in North Carolina and had a job offer from a high school in North Carolina. The high school job paid better than the Georgia Southern job, and he was considering taking it but his wife Susan encouraged him to give college football a try. Johnson, then 25, told Susan he’d give it till 30. By 29, he was offensive coordinator at Hawaii and on his way.

Johnson sounded as though he would not have had second thoughts had life turned out differently.

“I’d have been fine,” he said. “I was six hours away from getting a principal’s certificate and I probably would have done that. The way the retirement works, when I got tired of coaching, I’d probably have been a principal for two or three years and retired.”

And where would he have wanted to be a principal?

“My goal was to be the principal of an elementary school,” he said. “No athletics, all you have to do is make sure they got on the bus, off the bus. They don’t kill each other in the lunchroom. It would have been good. Get a good secretary and good teachers, you’ve got it knocked.”

Principal Johnson, standing at the school door, greeting first graders every morning. It’s quite an image.

Commit for basketball

As was reported by my colleague Michael Carvell, coach Brian Gregory landed his first commitment of the 2016 class, small forward Christian Matthews of National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md. Tech’s lone freshman this season is forward Sylvester Ogbonda, from the same school.

Gregory has four more scholarships available. Matthews had received offers from N.C. State and Cincinnati, among other schools. According to the post, Matthews “favored Tech because of team chemistry and the challenge of helping Tech become a threat again in the ACC.

 

Tough break for Schniederjans

Ollie Schniederjans suffered a most cruel fate (professionally speaking) this past Friday. Needing to make the cut at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., in order to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals – a four-event series where he could compete for a PGA Tour card for the 2015-16 season – Schniederjans missed the cut. By one stroke. On his final hole in Friday’s second round, he bogeyed to drop from 4-under par to 3-under par.

The cut line at that point, was 2-under, according to the Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner, meaning Schniederjans was still safe. But, in an unbelievable twist, a player in the final group of the day made birdie on his final hole and caused a shift in the cut line to 3-under.

The player? Former Tech star Roberto Castro.

With that, Schniederjans lost his chance to earn more FedEx Cup points. He needed to earn the equivalent of the No. 200 player on tour to make the Web.com Tour Finals, which ended up being 103 points. Schniederjans finished with 99, accrued in his first two tournaments as a professional. If he had done no worse than tie for 66th out of the 69 players who made the cut in Greensboro, he would be playing for a spot on the PGA Tour. Instead, he’ll have to qualify for the Web.com Tour, which is something akin to the Triple-A of professional golf.

“I was devastated,” Schniederjans told Lavner. “I was crushed.”

Schniederjans plans to play a few European Tour events and accept a few sponsor’s exemptions into PGA Tour events (the 2015-16 season begins in October). Web.com Tour qualifying is in November.

It has been a summer that Schniederjans will not likely soon forget. He played one of the poorest events in his Tech career in his final event as a collegian at the NCAA championships, then made both cuts at the U.S. and British opens – finishing in a tie for 12th at St. Andrews – then had two back-to-back top-25 finishes to start his professional career before missing the next two to miss his chance at a tour card.

“I’m just motivated now to put all this behind me and win something,” Schniederjans said. “I know I can compete and win out there.”

Heppler loses assistant

Tech golf coach Bruce Heppler is a victim again of his success. Assistant coach Brennan Webb, whom Heppler hired in Dec. 2012, was hired Monday as coach at Middle Tennessee State. He is the third Heppler assistant to leave to head up his own team – Christian Newton, now at Colorado State, and Brandon Goethals, who was coach at Pacific from 2005 to 2014.

In parting, Webb left behind a glowing endorsement of Heppler and Tech in a statement put out in a news release announcing his departure.

“There are three things that make Georgia Tech the very best golf program in the country. The amount of support our boosters provide is second to none. Georgia Tech is beyond fortunate to have the finest coach in the country at the helm, and I’ll be forever grateful to learn from perhaps the greatest coach our sport has ever had. And finally, there is no other school, sport or team that can match what the student-athletes of Georgia Tech golf have accomplished on the course and in the classroom.”

Volleyball starting

The Tech volleyball team played its Gold/White scrimmage last Saturday and will begin regular-season play this Friday with its season-opening invitational at O’Keefe Gymnasium. Siena, Coastal Carolina, Tennessee-Martin and The Citadel are also participating.

Buzz Memories

The athletic department will offer fans its Buzz Memories program again, which gives fans and season-ticket holders access to game-day experiences, like a spot in the human tunnel that the team runs through as it takes the field or the chance to sit in the Tech radio booth with Brandon Gaudin and Sean Bedford. More information available here.

Sports business career fair

Tech will host its inaugural Georgia Tech Sports Business Career Fair Sept. 3 (next Thursday) at McCamish Pavilion. The event features guest speakers and the opportunity to speak with sports industry professionals. Representatives from Tech, the Braves, Falcons and Hawks, among other organizations, will be present. The $30 admission includes a ticket to the season-opening game that night. Tickets can be purchased here. For more information, call 404-894-5447 or send an email to tallison@athletics.gatech.edu.


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