Correy Earls didn’t know what to think when he and the rest of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets football team found out who their new coach was.
Georgia Tech had ushered out Chan Gailey and his pro-style in favor of former Navy and Georgia Southern head coach Paul Johnson. Johnson’s forte has been the triple option and his teams at Navy and Georgia Southern were renowned for leading the nation in rushing.
Not exactly music to the ears of a wide receiver such as Earls.
“All I knew was people telling me, ‘you’re going to run, run, run.’ That’s all you heard, so that’s all I knew,” he said. “I was a little puzzled, not sure what to expect and just curious.”
But it didn’t take long for Earls and the rest of the Yellow Jackets to find out about their new coach, who is quick to point out how much his offenses at Hawaii when he was offensive coordinator there threw.
“It’s not as much running as you think,” Earls said. “I’m not worried about it at all. It brings a lot of excitement to the table. The option we have, it’s way more than three options. The offense is nothing but excitement. It makes you play hard.”
The Jackets had the Atlantic Coast Conference’s leading rusher, Tashard Choice, a year ago and averaged 385 yards and 26 points per game. The defense gave up 330 yards and 20 points per game. Yet Tech won more than seven games in a season only once in Gailey’s six years and went 2-4 in bowl games.
The Jackets also have not beaten in-state rival Georgia since 2000. Hence, Gailey out and Johnson in.
And Johnson and his staff, which includes several of his assistants at Navy and Georgia Southern, didn’t waste any time making an impression on the players.
“It didn’t take long,” said Earls, a sophomore from Macon. “His door is always open. He’s a good guy to be around.”
The Jackets also have gotten accustomed to Johnson’s personality and demeanor, on and off the field.
“He’s a laid-back, cool dude,” Earls said of the 50-year-old Johnson. “But on the field, he’s intense.”
Johnson’s resumé as a winner — he’s 107-39 in 11 seasons as a head coach — also has made an impact on his new players.
“We’re going to be very team oriented,” Earls said. “In order to play, you’re going to have to play hard and practice hard. He’s made it more important that we need to go hard.”
Earls is back playing again after a frightening injury late in the game against Virginia last year. He lost the feeling in his legs and lay unconscious on the field at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.
“I didn’t really come to until that night,” he said. “I was hoping and praying everything would turn out for the best.”
Earls missed only two games and finished the year with 14 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown. He is considered a key part of an offense that not only is changing its methods but also brings back four starters. Several letterwinners from the 2007 season are also in new positions, with wide receiver Greg Smith now an A-back and Jonathan Dwyer now a B-back just three yards behind the quarterback instead of a tailback lining up eight yards behind him.
But Earls and the Jackets also appreciate Johnson’s approach because he’s “all about wining,” Earls said.
“It’s the same expectations every year — win your conference, win every game,” Earls said. “We’re very confident in ourselves we can go out and do that.”