It's become the hottest fad in college football. A coach on the Division I-AA or Division II level gets the opportunity to coach at a major college.
First, it was Jim Donnan bolting I-AA Marshall for Georgia in 1995. Then Kentucky yanked Hal Mumme from Division II Valdosta State in 1996. It might be Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson's turn next to be a head coach at the Division I level.
North Carolina State fired coach Mike O'Cain last week after seven seasons and rumors are circulating that the Wolfpack may be looking at Johnson as its next football coach, according to The Raleigh News & Observer.
Johnson, who is preparing his second-ranked Eagles to play Massachusetts in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs on Saturday, said he hasn't been contacted by the school.
"I don't answer hypothetical questions," Johnson said. "I'm focusing on getting ready to play UMass. I'm trying to do the best I can to keep the job that I have now."
A native of Newland, N.C., a small town in the Appalachian mountains about 150 miles west of Raleigh, Johnson graduated from Western Carolina in 1979 before earning a masters degree from Appalachian State in 1982.
He served as an assistant coach at Georgia Southern from 1983-86, helping guide the Eagles to back-to-back championships in 1985-86 as offensive coordinator.
He then accepted a similar position at Hawaii from 1987 to 1994 before heading to Navy in 1995.
Since taking over in 1997 as the Eagles' coach, Johnson has guided Southern to three national playoff appearances, including a spot in the national championship game last season, and a 34-6 record in three seasons. He's become a hot commodity around the coaching ranks.
"I've heard rumors, but that's all I've heard," said Georgia Southern athletic director Sam Baker. "It's that time of year where a lot of (rumors) fly around. I've heard everything from Jim Donnan to John Mackovic; it's just that time of year."
Johnson has accomplished nearly everything at Georgia Southern except winning the national title. He's won three conference titles and his Eagles lead Division I-AA in total offense (551.7 yards per game), rushing (419 yards per game) and scoring (50 points per game).
However, some have speculated whether Johnson's triple-option attack can be successful on the Division I level.
"I know it can because it's worked for the past 10 years," Johnson said. "It's worked against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Texas A&M. You can't get any better than that (type of competition)."
North Carolina State athletics director Les Robinson couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday, but he told The News & Observer on Monday that he hoped to form an advisory committee Tuesday with its first meeting scheduled today.
N.C. State is prepared to pay its new coach a package worth approximately $500,000, with a yet-to-be-announced shoe contract. O'Cain made approximately $250,000, minus a shoe contract, which was considered low for an ACC position. Johnson is estimated to make approximately $130,000-$150,000 annually.
The Wolfpack has a history of successful hiring from the lower divisions. Current South Carolina coach Lou Holtz moved to Raleigh, N.C., from William & Mary in 1972, and North Augusta native Dick Sheridan was hired from I-AA Furman in 1986.
"The main thing is finding the right person, more than anything," Robinson told The News & Observer. "But right now, it's so early in the process that we're pretty open to all coaches at every level."
Another candidate who has been mentioned is Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, who has been credited with helping develop Joe Hamilton into a Heisman Trophy candidate. Also, Florida State assistant head coach Chuck Amato, a former N.C. State player in the late 1960s and a former Wolfpack assistant, has been mentioned.
"We think highly of Paul (Johnson) and I think people around the country recognize what he's done," Baker said. "He's a very good coach and we're proud to have him."
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216.
Avery County HS, assistant coach, 1979-80
Lees-McRae JC, assistant coachoffensive coordinator, 1981-82
Georgia Southern, assistant coachoffensive coordinator, 1983-86
Hawaii, assistant coach/offensive coordinator, 1987-94
Navy, assistant coach/offensive coordinator, 1995-96
Georgia Southern, head coach, 1997-present, 34-6 record