Charlotte — Today’s on-site press briefings weren’t entirely brief — Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson went on nearly as long as Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who can talk the legs off a giraffe — or especially revelatory. (Pregame sessions rarely are.) The funniest part came when Johnson finished his session and climbed down from the podium in the Carolina Panthers’ snug interview room.
Pointing to the step, Johnson said: “Better get Jimbo a ladder for that.”
The joke — har, har — being that Jimbo isn’t what you’d call jumbo. (Tech’s coach, by way of contrast, is taller than you’d guess had you never seen him in person — well above 6-foot.) The reporters within earshot, this correspondent among them, tittered, but none of us thought the gentle jibe worth mentioning to Jimbo himself.
As fate would have it, Fisher addressed the issue of his height (or lack thereof) without prompting. Someone asked if Nick O’Leary, the Seminoles’ tight end, bears (pun intended) any resemblance to his famous grandfather Jack Nicklaus. “Nick’s 6-4,” Jimbo said. “His grandpa is shorter than I am.”
Over the past six days, the praise for Johnson-as-towering-genius has risen to heights untouched since … well, since 2008, the only other time Johnson’s Jackets beat Georgia. And the man has indeed earned his moment in the sun. Many wondered if this season would be the beginning of the end for PJ at GT. (I was perhaps chief among those, although I must note that my criticism of Johnson was never about his stylized offense; my quibbles had to do with the overall state of the program and Tech’s failure last season to run that offense very well.)
As we now know, Tech went 10-2 a year after going 7-6 and is positioned to become the first team in two calendar years to beat Florida State. (I’m on record as believing the Jackets will win.) But let’s also note that the Wizard of Techwood won’t be going against an empty chair. A man who knows a lot about football told me a story Thursday about Nick Saban’s interview with the LSU board before he took the job as head coach. Someone wondered who he’d hire as offensive coordinator.
“Jimbo Fisher,” Saban said.
“You must know him pretty well to have such faith in him,” the questioner said.
“Never met him before in my life,” Saban said. “But I know he’ll coach his butt off.”
Jimbo helped the great Saban win the first of his four BCS titles with LSU in 2003, and Fisher won one of his own with Florida State last season. If both the Tide and the Seminoles win Saturday and the College Football Playoff standings hold, they’ll face one another in a semifinal on New Year’s night. Just for the record, Nick Saban isn’t all that tall himself.