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AFM Subscribers Ask...with Paul Johnson

by: Paul Johnson
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Early last December Paul Johnson was announced as the new head coach at Georgia Tech. He had spent six years at the Naval Academy where he turned their fortunes around. After a 2-10 record his first season, Johnson led the Midshipmen to five straight bowl games. While compiling an overall 45-29 record at Navy, his teams led the nation in rushing in three of the last four seasons. Johnson previously was the head coach at Georgia Southern where the Eagles won two national championships. His 11-year overall record as a head coach coming into the 2008 season stands at 107-39. The question now permeating football circles is whether or not his patented triple option offense can win consistently in the ACC. He answers your questions.

Coach, you have been running the option for a long time, and you have been successful at different schools with different types of kids. What has been the glue that keeps the offense together and what is the key ingredient that you look for in a student athlete for this offense? Louis Nightingale, Assistant Coach, Perry HS, Gilbert (AZ). AFM subscriber since 2005.

I think it’s really the overall system. You’ve got the package in place and both the coaches and the kids know what to expect. You have to make adjustments obviously during the week as well as for each game but it’s the foundation itself that’s our glue. They – both the players and the coaches – know what to expect. We can always teach players different elements of our offense.

In terms of what types of players we’re looking for – the best players that we feel can work with our system. We want to make sure the athletes we recruit know what to expect.

After having so much success offensively, what have been the most common adjustments you've seen teams make to stop your running game? What did you do to get past their adjustments? Adam Larsen, Head Football Coach, Snowflake HS (AZ). AFM subscriber since 2005.

After running this offense for a number of years, we’ve seen just about every conceivable defense there is. Different elements of different defenses can give you a tough time but we try to make the necessary adjustments as soon as we can and ongoing throughout the game. We do a lot of film study and be as prepared as possible for not just an opponent’s base defense but the changes they’ll make during the course of a game.

Because so many of the defenses we’ve seen concentrate on stopping our running game we try to be ready with an effective passing game. In so many games it comes down to the best players and execution.

In looking for a quarterback to run your offense, what are the qualities you look for – both physically and mentally? Steve Ferguson, Assistant Coach, Lakewood HS (OR). AFM subscriber since 2000.

First, he’s got to be a good athlete. He also has to be able to run and throw. Although our offense is geared primarily towards the running game, we want our quarterbacks to have the ability to throw accurately. The other factors we look for in a quarterback are toughness and competitiveness and the ability to make decisions.

The advantage we have in recruiting a quarterback is that we don’t have to have the real tall athlete. While size is factor for many schools in recruiting a quarterback, it isn’t for us.

How hard was it to sell your version of the triple option to your team with so many offenses using the spread shotgun and wide-open passing game? Marty Berson, retired HS and college coach, Placentia (CA). AFM subscriber since 2000.

Most of the criticism of our option-oriented offense comes from the media and not players, fans or coaches. I hear it all the time that our offense won’t work in a certain situation. The defenses are too sophisticated and can stop our offense or it’s too predictable. Well if it’s third and 8 it’s difficult for any offense whether it be the spread or the option.

Our players – those on the team and the athletes we recruit – understand the offense and what to expect. It’s really the media that’s been the most critical.

What defensive front, technique, twist or stunt gives your triple option the most problems? Jeremy Bosken, Assistant Coach, Science Hill HS, Johnson City, TN. AFM subscriber since 2006.

There’s no specific defensive front or stunt that gives us more difficulty than another one. It all depends on the speed and execution of the defense and our adjustments. Our quarterback’s play is critical to our success especially if our opponent uses multiple fronts, disguises coverages, and the D-line twists and stunts.

Which of these base defenses – the 3-4, 4-3, or 3-3 Stack – traditionally gives your offense the most difficulty? Do your blocking assignments change based on an even or odd front? Dave McGrath, Assistant Coach, Lee HS, Baytown (TX). AFM subscriber since 2007.

All of the defenses we face give us specific problems but one defense doesn’t stand out. Our blocking assignments change based on the count. The defense itself doesn’t matter as it relates to an even or odd front. Based on the play call, our O-line know their responsibilities so the defensive configuration doesn’t matter.

Want More? AFM offers an entire line of Triple Option DVDs from Georgia Tech’s Offensive Line Coach, Mike Sewak, available only at

Coming Next Month: Notre Dame Head Coach Charlie Weis is in his fourth season in South Bend. After 9-3 and 10-3 campaigns and back to back BCS Bowl appearances, the roof fell in for the Irish as they endured a 3-9 fall in 2007.

Rebounding this year, Coach Weis answers your questions in our December issue.

Go to or send your question to Associate Publisher, John Gallup at


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