ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Tech players say they'll have extra motivation to send coach Paul Johnson out with a win when they play Minnesota in the Quick Lane Bowl.
The 61-year-old Johnson announced on Nov. 28 he is stepping down after 11 seasons with the Yellow Jackets. Geoff Collins was hired from Temple as Georgia Tech's new coach on Friday, but Johnson will coach the bowl game.
"Going out with your coach, that's pretty cool, you know?" senior wide receiver Brad Stewart said Tuesday. "That's not something people can say every day. ... It's unique to kind of go out with coach Johnson and be by his side."
Returning players will want to make a good first impression on Collins. But even they say their priority is a successful farewell for Johnson in the Dec. 26 game in Detroit .
"We've had the honor to play for coach Johnson, for me the past four years," said running back Nathan Cottrell, a fourth-year junior. "He's been an awesome coach. When you hear someone is retiring, especially in this game, you want to send them out on the right note. We get a chance to do that in Detroit. Hopefully we'll send him out with a win. It does put a lot more motivation in our heads, I think."
Johnson is 82-59 at Georgia Tech, including 7-5 this season. He said he needs a break but left open the possibility he could return to coaching.
The Yellow Jackets began bowl practice on Saturday.
Johnson has tried to keep players on their normal routine.
"It's only weird if you make it weird," he said Saturday. "To me, it's just like getting ready for any other game. You're just getting ready to play a game."
On Tuesday, Johnson had a quick joke — aimed at his critics — when asked if he found it unusual to be freed of the normal recruiting duties leading up to the early signing period this month.
"Shoot, I didn't recruit for 11 years," Johnson said, smiling. "That was the party line, right? I don't know how we ever won any games."
Johnson relied heavily on such under-the-radar recruits as Stewart to play in his spread-option offense. That made those three-star players especially loyal to the coach.
"I love that man," Stewart said. "He's done so much for me and my family. I was under-recruited and no one really wanted me and he's one of the Division I schools that believed in me. We had a long talk. I'm happy for him and hope the best for him in future endeavors."
Collins will install a pro-style offense that will bring new challenges for players accustomed to Johnson's triple-option scheme. Running back Nathan Cottrell said there's no need to worry about that transition before spring practice.
"The focus right now is getting through this season and then we'll worry about what's to come in the future and what's to come in the spring," Cottrell said. "Right now the main focus for all of us is just to send coach Johnson out on the right note and then whatever happens in the spring will happen. We're looking forward to it."
At his first Georgia Tech news conference, Collins referred to Johnson as an "amazing" coach and said "I get to be a spectator and watch him coach next couple of weeks."
Johnson said Collins has an open invitation to visit practice.
"I haven't seen him," Johnson said. "He's more than welcome. I think he's out recruiting."
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