Sources: NC State's search focused on Johnson

North Carolina State's search for a new football coach has focused on Navy's Paul Johnson, sources close to the situation said early Tuesday.

Johnson, who has guided the Midshipmen to an unprecedented four consecutive bowl games, has spoken with Wolfpack athletics director Lee Fowler and Chuck Neinas, the coach head-hunter hired by the school to help identify fired coach Chuck Amato's successor, the source said.

Johnson, who hasn't been contacted by Alabama officials about its coaching vacancy, denied to the Baltimore Sun that he has spoken to officials from either school, but he would neither confirm nor deny that he was interested in the jobs.

Johnson hasn't been offered the NC State job. The source said Wolfpack officials hope to hire a new coach by the end of the week.

Johnson is mulling over an extension to a six-year contract with Navy that pays him more than $1 million per season. The contract includes a buyout of less than $500,000, a source close to Johnson said.

Johnson, 49, has a 37-24 record at Navy, including a 35-14 record the past four seasons. His first Midshipmen team went 2-10 in 2002, but each of the last four squads have won at least eight games, a first in academy history. He was named the 2004 Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year after guiding Navy to a 10-2 record.

Johnson is a native of Newland, N.C., in the northwestern part of the state, and received a bachelor's degree from Western Carolina and a Master's degree from Appalachian State in North Carolina.

Navy went 9-3 this season and swept Army and Air Force to win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for the fourth straight season.

The Midshipmen play Boston College in the Dec. 30 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.

Johnson was hired at Navy in December 2001 after leading Georgia Southern to a 62-10 record in five seasons and winning two consecutive NCAA Division I-AA national championships in 1999 and 2000.

A former offensive coordinator at Hawaii and Navy, Johnson has earned a reputation of an offensive guru, running a pass-happy spread formation with the Rainbows and triple-option running attack with the Midshipmen. Navy led the country in rushing in three of the last four seasons.

LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has also expressed interest in the NC State job, although he hasn't been contacted by Neinas or Fowler. East Carolina coach Skip Holtz and Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a former Wolfpack assistant, have also been mentioned among candidates to replace Amato. Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe hasn't been contacted by the Wolfpack.

Amato, who was fired Nov. 26 after compiling a 49-37 record in seven seasons at his alma mater, had an annual salary of about $995,000 at NC State. The school will pay him more than $1.15 million to buy out the remaining three years of his contract, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by ESPN.com. The buyout includes a $600,000 annuity that was established for Amato by The Wolfpack Club, the school's booster organization in January 2002.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com.