Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury understands some fans’ ire with his decision to extend coach Paul Johnson’s contract by two years.
“Most definitely,” he said. “After the season, there was a lot of frustration there.”
That said, he firmly supports Johnson, entering his 11th season at Tech, longer than any coach’s tenure at Tech other than Bobby Dodd, William Alexander and John Heisman. The two sides have reached an agreement in principle, according to Johnson’s attorney Jack Reale, to extend Johnson’s contract by two years, through the 2022 season. Stansbury explained the decision to seek an extension of the contract (a decision that requires the review and approval of the board of the school’s athletic association) in a Friday interview with the AJC.
“He’s proven that he can navigate the challenges that we have at Georgia Tech and do it in a way that puts us in a position to win championships,” Stansbury said.
Stansbury also noted that, despite the strength of Tech’s schedule – Tech played two of the four teams in the College Football Playoff (Clemson and Georgia) as well as 10-win Miami and nine-win Virginia Tech – “you could look at it and say we’re three plays away from playing for another ACC championship,” he said.
Stansbury referenced Tech’s last-minute losses to Tennessee, Miami and Virginia. Had the outcomes against Miami and Virginia been reversed, the Jackets would have played Clemson for the ACC title. Instead, along with the heartbreaking loss to Tennessee, the Jackets finished 5-6.
Stansbury also praised Johnson for his team’s academic record. The Yellow Jackets’ Graduation Success Rate is 82 percent, tied for seventh in the ACC. At the time of his hire, it was 51 percent, lowest in the ACC.
In that time, Tech has won an ACC championship (since vacated), played in two Orange Bowls (winning one) and played for three ACC championships. The Jackets have had four nine-win seasons in Johnson’s 10 seasons after recording six in the previous 41. Where those down on Johnson see a team that is 17-20 since the Orange Bowl season of 2014, Stansbury has considered the longer body of work.
“When you look at it, the reason we’re so frustrated is we saw three games in there that we felt like we should have won and were in position to win, and unfortunately, the ball didn’t bounce our way – quite literally in a couple of those games,” Stansbury said. “So, hey, I get it, because we compete to play for championships, but in looking at where we are, it’s not time to push the panic button.”
On social media, some Tech fans were confused and/or discouraged that Johnson was rewarded with an extension when the Jackets have not played in a bowl game in two of the past three seasons. (Some also weren’t crazy about Georgia fans applauding the extension.) Stansbury’s response was that first, it is critical to demonstrate stability to recruits, players and staff, and second, he has faith in Johnson.
“It may not be the first questions that’s asked in every home visit, but it’s definitely one of the top questions, is stability of the staff,” Stansbury said. “Are you going to be the head coach? Recruits want to know who they’re playing for, that’s for sure.”
For better or worse, it’s not unusual for a coach to be extended during or after a disappointing season. Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi received an extension through the 2024 season last month at the end of a 5-7 season. In May, Duke coach David Cutcliffe received a two-year extension through the 2020 season after the Blue Devils finished 4-8 in 2016.
Since his hire in the fall of 2016, Stansbury has been highly supportive of Johnson, both verbally and in action. He authorized the renovation of the lobby of the football offices and has led fundraising for the locker-room renovation and the hiring of new recruiting staff. Johnson’s complaint during the tenure of former AD Mike Bobinski was that the expectations for success on the field were not matched by a commitment to facilities and staff commensurate with those expectations.
Stansbury was hopeful that staff stability, facilities improvements and the initiation of the apparel contract with Adidas in July will all serve to help field a more competitive team in seasons to come.
“We have to put our coaches in the best position to be successful by making sure that they’ve got what they need,” Stansbury said. “That means a full-blown recruiting staff, facilities and support for the student-athletes and all those types of things. There are more elements to success than those that may be front of mind for most fans.”