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For Georgia Tech, timing of Johnson’s retirement a parting gift

Paul Johnson went out his own way, as few before him have. There are plenty of reasons to thank him for that.

Capital One Orange Bowl - Mississippi State v Georgia Tech Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images

Wednesday’s announcement of Paul Johnson’s retirement brings to a close a decade-long era of football at Georgia Tech — one marked by big seasons, by memorable upsets, and by a signature offense the likes of which barely exists anywhere across the college football landscape. The journey will be remembered fondly, but the ending is a triumph of its own.

Many years and 82 wins after his hiring, Paul Johnson owes nothing more to this Institute but may have given Georgia Tech his biggest gift of all with the timing of his retirement. Don’t construe that as commentary on his successes or failures as a head coach; it has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with the current state of Georgia Tech Athletics and, more broadly, college football nationally. The best time to make a change is now, and Paul Johnson knew it.

The coming offseason presents a unique opportunity for Georgia Tech in a number of ways, chief among which is that Todd Stansbury has the ability to make his next coaching hire with confidence in the fact that his job opening is the most attractive in the country. There are no blue blood programs looking at candidates. There are no upper-tier, fringe top-25 teams looking for candidates. There’s just Georgia Tech and Louisville.

The skies cleared even further with the recent news that Gus Malzahn is working out a way to stay at Auburn and with Mack Brown’s hiring at North Carolina. That leaves an opening at Louisville and only Brown (surprisingly) off the board, which is a nice climate to select a coach in. Any other year would include competition from the likes of at least a handful of schools with deeper pockets and greener pastures than Tech, and likely many more that could be considered lateral moves or better. This time, though, it’s conceivable that Todd Stanbury won’t have to look far down his wishlist.

Speaking of Stansbury, the second-year Tech athletic director is part two of the story on why now is the time to be making coaching moves. The Institute is not far removed from the days of Mike Bobinski, whose relationship with Paul Johnson was reportedly as tenuous as the operations of his front office. Had Johnson decided to leave then, we may still have Mike Bobinski today — and would certainly be playing with whoever he brought in as the situation in Edge continued to deteriorate.

Instead, we have a brand new athletic director with brand new priorities for the football program. The next head coach at Georgia Tech will have the full support of an athletic department headed by Todd Stansbury, a man who has proven himself to be both innovative and supportive in his approach.

NCAA Football: TaxSlayer Bowl-Kentucky vs Georgia Tech Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

One such piece of innovation is the Athletics Initiative 2020, which has already raised $51 million of its $125 million goal. That is an investment in your program from the very top, and a message that simply wasn’t sent to coaches around the nation during the Bobinski era. An actionable plan for the future combined with the right leadership to back it makes Georgia Tech a more attractive landing spot, and we have Paul Johnson’s timing to thank for the benefit.

Of course, it also helps to have some capital coming available at a time when money is the way to the top. That comes to us by way of expiring buyouts to Brian Gregory, with his final payment coming in 2018, and Paul Hewitt, who is off the books after 2019. Pinching pennies proved detrimental in the closing years of the Johnson era, and every bit helps. Had Stansbury decided to take matters into his hands and fire Johnson now in order to take advantage of the closing window of market power, Tech would’ve been on the hook for $2 million more. This is not to suggest that Johnson was on the hot seat — he likely wasn’t — but it’s worth nothing that the opportunity may not have materialized the same way in the event of Tech being forced to pay the buyout.

The cherry on top is the simplest gift of all: Paul Johnson will leave Georgia Tech with a winning football team. Few schools have the luxury of feeling like there’s a foundation to build on when a coaching change is made, but Georgia Tech will be looking for a new leader with a bowl game still ahead, seven wins in the bank, and a young but talented roster — particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Carolina has 2-9 to build on. Louisville has 2-10. Georgia Tech has proven winners. That matters, both to coaching candidates and to the morale of the fanbase. We have Paul Johnson to thank for it.

The future of football at Georgia Tech is brighter because of Paul Johnson’s decision to retire. The future of football at Georgia Tech is brighter because of Paul Johnson, period. We have lots to be thankful for, from how the man came to how he left. Everything wasn’t sunshine and roses, but never forget that Johnson won — and often won big — during the hardest time to win in the history of Georgia Tech football.

Coaching searches can be treacherous and many wrong turns can be made, but make no mistake: one of the winningest coaches in our school’s storied history did you a favor today.