Georgia Tech is staring down the legitimate prospect of a third losing season in four years – a scenario that could spell doom for the tenure of Paul Johnson in Atlanta.
Tech’s five remaining games include contests against four teams that are projected to play in bowls. If the Yellow Jackets drop all four games, they will do no better than 4-8. That would be Johnson’s second-worst season at Georgia Tech, behind only a 3-9 season in 2015.
Many around the Yellow Jacket program are ready to see Johnson go. A change.org petition calling for his firing has more than 500 signatures. The fan base is beginning to show signs of apathy, indicated by lowering attendance over the last two seasons. Johnson is having to answer more and more questions about the status of his program.
Coming off a pair of Coastal Division setbacks against Pitt and Duke, Georgia Tech faces its three toughest divisional opponents in the coming weeks.
The Yellow Jackets travel to Blacksburg for a Thursday night encounter with Virginia Tech Oct. 25 before hosting Miami and Virginia back-to-back Nov. 10 and Nov. 17. The Hokies got off to a 3-0 start in ACC play, while Virginia and Miami were both 2-1. The trio got off to a combined 13-6 start this fall.
The three games with the Hokies, Canes, and Cavaliers are everything for Georgia Tech – and by extension, for Johnson.
If Tech can win all three, they go bowling again, and Johnson is safe for another year.
But if he loses all three, the reverse will be in effect. No bowl game. No progress year over year.
And quite possibly, no job come December.
The only game remaining on GT’s schedule that they will be widely expected to win will be a Nov. 2 encounter with North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
UNC won three straight in the series from 2014 to 2016 after dropping five straight in the series from 2009 to 2013. But the Yellow Jackets have rushed for 300 or more yards in nine of ten games against North Carolina under Johnson, including last year’s 33-7 triumph in Atlanta.
Even if the Jackets do knock off UNC, they will still need to win at least two more games in order to avoid a losing season and attain bowl eligibility. Two of those wins will more than likely have to come against Miami, Virginia Tech, or Virginia, due to Tech’s regular season finale opponent.
Georgia still harbors outside hope for a College Football Playoff appearance, despite a loss on the road at LSU. The Bulldogs pummeled GT, 38-7, last year in Atlanta on the way to a spot in the CFP National Championship Game. A similar outcome will be expected this November in Athens.
What happens if Johnson is not retained?
It would reportedly only cost Georgia Tech $2 million to buy out Johnson. Compared to the disastrous Paul Hewitt contract, which set the Yellow Jacket basketball program back for years, that’s a much more favorable situation. Georgia Tech could move on from Johnson without years and years of payments to a man no longer in town.
If GT finishes out 1-4, it’s difficult to imagine Johnson returning to Atlanta for a 12th season in 2019. But if the Yellow Jackets can find a spark in their remaining Coastal Division battles, there will remain a flicker of hope for Johnson to keep his job.