By Tim Gardner
Avery County native and former Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is on the ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, the National Football Foundation announced on Monday, June 6.
Johnson is among nine coaches and 80 former players included on the 2023 Major College Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) ballot.
“It’s quite an honor to be on the ballot and in my mind it’s a reflection of all the people I had a chance to work with,” Johnson said in a statement.
He added on his Twitter Social Media page: “(I) wanted to say thank you to all the former players, fans, and coworkers who reached out concerning (my) college football Hall of Fame nomination to 2023 ballot. I had the privilege to be around some great people. To be nominated is a tremendous honor and I appreciate all of you!”
The 2023 College Football Hall of Fame Class will be officially inducted during the 65th NFF Annual Awards Dinner on December 5, 2023, and permanently immortalized at the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, GA. Its inductees will also be honored at their respective schools with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments, during the 2023 season.
The announcement of the inductees chosen for the 2023 College Football Hall of Fame Class will be made early next year.
Further details about the inductions will be announced then.
It’s Johnson’s first year of eligibility for induction.
Other Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) coaches on the 2023 ballot include: Mark Richt (Georgia and Miami, FL); Larry Blackeney (Troy); Jim Carlen (West Virginia, Texas Tech and South Carolina); Pete Cawthon (Austin College and Texas Tech); Larry Coker (Miami and UTSA); Ralph Friedgen (Maryland); Darry Rogers (Cal State East Bay, Fresno State, San Jose State, Michigan State and Arizona State); and Frank Solich (Nebraska and Ohio).
The complete list of all nominees (including players) can be accessed by logging onto: footballfoundation.org.
Johnson compiled a career head coaching record of 189-99 (.656). His over-all major college coaching record is 127-89, and he had a 62-10 mark at then lower-level, Division I-AA Georgia Southern.
Johnson had only four losing seasons in his 22 years (1997-2018) as a college head coach.
He coached Georgia Tech for 11 seasons (2008-2018), compiling an 82-60 record. His win total is the fourth-most in Tech history, behind only College Football Hall of Famers Bobby Dodd (165), William Alexander (134) and John Heisman (102). Johnson’s .577 winning percentage with the Yellow Jackets ranks fifth in program history, behind only Heisman (.764), Dodd (.713), George O’Leary (.612) and Alexander (.580). Johnson led the Yellow Jackets to nine bowl appearances (winning three) and three Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship games. He was named ACC Coach of the Year three times (2008, 2009 and 2014).
Prior to his tenure at Georgia Tech, Johnson was head coach at Georgia Southern (1997-2001) and Navy (2002-2007).
He guided Georgia Southern’s Eagles to five straight Southern Conference titles (1997-2001) and a pair of lower-level, Division I-AA–now called Football Championship Subdivision (FCS)– national championships in consecutive seasons (1999 and 2000). Georgia Southern was national runners-up in 1998.
Georgia Southern went 14-3 in Division I-AA national playoff games during Johnson’s tenure as head coach.
After a 2-10 record in Johnson’s debut season at Navy, the Midshipmen ripped off five straight winning seasons and bowl appearances. Johnson never lost to arch-rival Army as Navy’s head coach, going 6-0. His Midshipmen were a combined 11-1 against Army and the Air Force Academy. And his 2006 senior class was the first in Navy history to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy (for beating both Army and Air Force) all four of their years in school.
In 2007, Johnson coached Navy to its first victory over Notre Dame since 1963. Navy won in triple overtime, 46-44, ending a 43-game losing streak against Notre Dame.
Johnson’s Navy teams won 2 of 4 bowl games. His 2007 earned a berth to the Poinsettia Bowl, but Johnson had already taken the Georgia Tech head coaching job and Navy was coached in that game by its new head coach, Ken Niumatalolo.
Johnson is best known for his flexbone, spread-option offense, which usually bedeviled opponents and also piled up plenty of yards and points. At the end of the 2018 regular season (Johnson’s last at Georgia Tech), the Yellow Jackets had run for 5,222 more yards than any other major conference team (school) during Johnson’s 11-year tenure.
Johnson was Southern Conference Coach of The Year in 1997 and 1998, and he also received the Eddie Robinson Award in ’98. The latter honor is given annually to college football’s top head coach in the NCAA Division I FCS (formerly Division I-AA).
Johnson was also named the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division I-AA National Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2000.
And in 2004, he was named the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year. That award is presented annually to the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision head coach whose team excels on the field, in the classroom and in the community. The award is named for Dodd, longtime head football coach at Georgia Tech and was established in 1976 to honor the values that Dodd exemplified.
Additionally, Johnson was the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Sportsline 2008 National Coach of The Year.
Johnson also served as an assistant coach at Navy (1995-’96), Hawaii (1987-’94), Georgia Southern (1983-’86) and Lees-McRae Junior College in Banner Elk, where he got his first college coaching experience. He assisted with the LMC Bobcats in 1981 and 1982.
Georgia Southern won a pair of I-AA national titles in 1985-86 while Johnson was its Offensive Coordinator.
Johnson’s first football coaching experience came as an assistant at Tuscola High School in Waynesville, NC in 1978, while he finished his undergraduate studies at Western Carolina University.
He then returned to his native roots as an assistant at Avery County High School in Newland. The Vikings produced two of their best seasons ever with Johnson as offensive coordinator in 1979 and co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in 1980. Avery compiled a 17-4-1 record, captured a Blue Ridge 2-A Conference championship, was league runners-up the other year and earned state playoffs berths both seasons.
Johnson, who was raised in Newland, also played football for Avery County High School, where he graduated in 1975. Johnson then earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical education from Western Carolina University in 1979, and he earned a Master of Science in health and physical education from Appalachian State University in 1982.
Johnson is one of only a few college football coaches to never have played football on the collegiate level.
The Hall of Fame ballot was emailed Monday to the more than 12,000 NFF members and current Hall of Famers whose votes will be tabulated and submitted to the NFF’s Honors Court, which will deliberate and select the class. The Honors Court, chaired by
NFF Board Member and College Football Hall of Famer Archie Griffin from Ohio State, includes an elite and geographically diverse pool of athletic administrators, Hall of Famers and members of the media.
Criteria for Hall of Fame consideration includes:
*First and foremost, a player must have received First-Team All-America recognition by a selector that is recognized by the NCAA and utilized to comprise its consensus All-America teams.
*A player becomes eligible for consideration by the Foundation’s Honors Courts 10 full seasons after his final year of intercollegiate football played.
*While each nominee’s football achievements in college are of prime consideration, his post-football record as a citizen is also weighed. He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community. Consideration may also be given for academic honors and whether the candidate earned a college degree.
*Players must have played their last year of intercollegiate football within the last 50 years. For example, to be eligible for the 2023 ballot, the player must have played his last year in 1973 or thereafter. In addition, players who are playing professionally and coaches who are coaching on the professional level are not eligible until after they retire.
*A coach becomes eligible three full seasons after retirement or immediately following retirement provided he is at least 70 years of age. Active coaches become eligible at 75 years of age. He must have been a head football coach for a minimum of 10 years and coached at least 100 games with a .600 winning percentage.
*Nominations may only be submitted by the current athletics director, head coach or sports information director (SID) of a potential candidate’s collegiate institution. Nominations may also be submitted by the president/executive director of a dues-paying chapter of the National Football Foundation.
Players who do not comply with the 50-year rule may still be eligible for consideration by the Football Bowl Subdivision and Divisional Veterans Committees. Veterans Committee candidates must still meet First Team All-America requirement.