While the transition to a new head football coach is underway, the Paul Johnson era ends Wednesday for Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets face Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, Mich., hoping to send their coach out with a win. Johnson announced his retirement last month, and Tech hired Temple head coach Geoff Collins, a Rockdale County native, as his replacement.
The game ends an 11-year tenure as Tech head coach for Johnson, whose 40-year coaching career includes 22 seasons as head coach.
“I guess it’ll hit you when you’re out there (that it’s the last game),” Johnson said. “You don’t really think about it. My big focus on this game is it’s about the players. It’s not about me. And everything I want to do, I want to do about the players. They’re the ones who got here. They’re the ones who won six of the last eight games.
“I’m sure that you’ll think about it when it’s over or maybe towards the end or whatever, but as I told somebody before, this is my 40th straight year of coaching without a break, and it’s probably time for a break.”
Johnson, 61, ranks fourth in Tech history in wins (82) and winning percentage (.582). He came to Atlanta after highly successful tenures at Georgia Southern (1997-01) and Navy (2002-07), winning the 1999 and 2000 national titles at Georgia Southern.
His current team finished strong with six wins in its final eight games, ending with a 7-5 record. Minnesota (6-6) had an opposite stretch with six losses in an eight-game span after a 3-0 start.
The Golden Gophers’ challenge is slowing down Johnson’s typical, rush-heavy offense. Georgia Tech leads the nation in rushing yards at 334.9 per game, with quarterbacks TaQuon Marshall (896 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) and Tobias Oliver (807 yards, 12 TDs) leading the way. B-backs Jordan Mason (640 yards, 7 TDs) and Jerry Howard (561 yards, 5 TDs), and A-backs Clinton Lynch (a Norcross grad) and Qua Searcy also have been important.
They hope to capitalize on a Minnesota defense weakness — the unit ranks 118th nationally in yards allowed per carry (5.22).
“Playing Georgia Tech, especially on defense, is a major challenge, not only just because of the players they have and the coaching they have, but the system and the style’s different,” Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck said. “You change a little bit of your defensive system to be able to stop the triple option and to be able to stop that type of scheme.”
Georgia Tech’s defense also gets a favorable matchup — Minnesota’s offense ranks 85th nationally in total offense (378.6) — but the Golden Gophers do have a major playmaker at wide receiver in Tyler Johnson, an All-Big Ten first-team selection. The junior has 74 catches for 1,112 yards and 10 TDs this season.
The Georgia Tech defense, which ranks 46th nationally in total offense allowed, features two key Gwinnett grads as starters in defensive end Anree Saint-Amour of North Gwinnett and linebacker David Curry of Buford. Saint-Amour has 45 tackles (11 for losses), four sacks, nine quarterback hurries and two interceptions.
Their goal is to give Johnson a sendoff victory into his retirement, which may or may not be permanent. He plans to take at least one year off from coaching after the bowl game.
“I’ll take a break and re-evaluate, and who knows?” Johnson said. “If it’s the last game, it’s the last game. If I decide I can’t live without it, I may come back. Right now, I just don’t know. I know that I’m going to take a year off and evaluate where I am. It’s hard to tell you how you’re going to react. I don’t know.”