Originally created 08/31/97

Mike Berardino: The Originator won't rest until it's all perfect



STATESBORO, Ga. -- Perhaps it's still a bit premature to call it Paradise Relocated, but Georgia Southern football would appear to be headed that way.

Gone are the well-intentioned ramblings of interim coach Frank Ellwood. Long gone are the six program-numbing years under the bumbling direction of Tim Stowers.

In their place, at long last, Eagles loyalists have the unchallenged strategical competence of Paul Johnson. Not to mention his perfectionist's temper.

"Coach Johnson knows what he's doing," former Lincoln County receiver Recio Tutt said after Saturday's era-opening 45-26 win over Valdosta State. "It's his (Flexbone) offense. He's the originator."

Late Saturday afternoon, as garbage time dragged on endlessly and the oppressive heat refused to relent, the Originator wasn't very pleased. Blocks were being missed. Balls were being dropped. Arm tackles were going unmade.

A 39-7 third-quarter score grew much closer by the final gun, and Johnson, a much-welcomed link to the program's glory days, was in no mood for post-game festivities.

"Come on, let's go," the Terminator, er, Originator barked at his players as they milled about on the field. "Let's get in there."

Johnson proceeded to deliver a first-rate tongue-lashing behind closed doors. This may have been his first game as a head coach, but the 40-year-old wasn't about to turn cartwheels or slap high fives.

"He wanted us to finish strong," said Derrick Reeves, the senior defensive tackle from Butler High. "We had problems pushing through to the end of the game. We had some mental breakdowns. Coach Johnson didn't like that."

Tutt, who took three bags of IV fluid but still missed the second half, went further.

"Right now Coach Johnson is (ticked) off - excuse my French," Tutt said. "This is what Georgia Southern needs, a coach like that. We respect him. We give him all his props. Those coaches last year didn't know the offense."

Johnson wasn't handing out many props of his own afterward. In fact, to hear him assess the game, you'd have thought the Eagles had just lost by 19 points, not won.

"It's new for the guys to run so much triple option but we were horrendous on the reads - I mean horrendous," he said. "I promise you that's going to get cleaned up."

In truth, Valdosta was outmatched from the start. The Blazers will spend the remainder of their season playing such Division II heavyweights as Arkansas Tech, Arkansas-Monticello, Southern Arkansas and Central Arkansas, which, come to think of it, just might qualify them for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

Hal Mumme knew what he was doing when he bolted for the Kentucky coaching job. The cupboard he left behind is dangerously close to bare.

That's why Johnson was upset.

"We've got to get the attitude where we finish games," he said. "We lack that killer instinct. When you get somebody down, you go for the jugular. Evidently, it's going to take some time to develop that."

But not too terribly long, now that Johnson has returned from his decade-plus fling at Hawaii and Navy. Those four years he spent at Erk Russell's side from 1983-86 grant him tons of leeway, gobs of credibility and convey the likelihood he'll find a way to pull it off again.

What's more, this was the perfect time to ride back into Bulloch County. Mighty Marshall, after five appearances in the last six Division I-AA national championship games, has moved up to the big leagues.

No more Marshall means the Southern Conference is again wide open, waiting for a dominant power to step forward. Could it be Johnson's Eagles? Certainly could.

After all, they've done it before, which is more than most teams can say. Plus, they have the Originator.