“After 40 years of coaching, it’s time to take a break,” Johnson said in a statement. “My family has sacrificed a lot over the years. I want to watch my daughter (Kaitlyn, a professional opera singer) perform and do some things with my wife (Susan) that we’ve never had a chance to do. It’s been a great run for the last 11 years here on The Flats. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and am looking forward to having the chance to coach this team one last time at our bowl game next month.”
The team was informed Wednesday at a team meeting at 2:30 p.m. Johnson and Stansbury will hold a news conference Thursday morning.
“I was saddened when coach Johnson informed me that he was going to step down as our head coach,” Stansbury said in a statement. “Not only is he Georgia Tech’s winningest head coach in more than 50 years, but he is also an incredible mentor for the young men in our football program and has helped develop countless student-athletes that have gone on to great success after graduation.”
Not all Tech fans will be as sad as Stansbury to see Johnson leave. Tech’s mixed results in recent seasons and Johnson’s unconventional offense made him a lightning rod for fan unrest. While Johnson enjoyed the support of Stansbury and key donors, not to mention much of the fan base, average attendance at Bobby Dodd Stadium this season (43,087) was the lowest since 2001, which was before capacity was expanded.
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Johnson’s decision to step down came as a surprise even to members of his own coaching staff, who Wednesday were on the road recruiting when they learned the news. It had been a decision he had been contemplating during the season. Garrett said he thought that Johnson, who turned 61 in August, was not comfortable giving the nonstop commitment that the job of FBS head coach requires.
“It wasn’t one particular game or one particular thing that didn’t go well off the field,” Garrett said. “I think he had come to the realization that it was time to go to that next phase.”
Johnson’s contract includes an “early retirement” clause for $1 million that would be paid out over four years.
Johnson's legacy starts with the Jackets' success on the field – Tech finished first or second in the Coastal Division seven times in his 11 seasons, including this season's runner-up finish. Johnson's spread-option offense was often among the most efficient in the country, a productive run-oriented attack that Johnson honed over decades. He has also helped boost the team's graduation rate from around 50 percent at the time of his hire to 86 percent by the NCAA's most recent measurement.
The Jackets will learn their bowl destination Sunday. A fitting trip for his finale would be the Military Bowl, held at Navy’s stadium in Annapolis, Md.