So when the two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year took the time to be the keynote speaker at the 26th annual Cobb County Football Kickoff Luncheon sponsored by the Marietta Daily Journal and Cobb EMC at Roswell Street Baptist Church on Friday, he reflected on what those years meant to him.
Johnson’s message to Cobb County’s 21 high school coaches and their staffs was a simple one — enjoy what you do.
“In my reflection on 36 years (of coaching), is I don’t know that we enjoy the opportunities we have as much as we should,” he said.
“It’s a brand new season and everybody’s undefeated and excited. Nobody’s lost a game. The excitement is probably the highest it’s going to be all year. Everybody has a great attitude and nobody is complaining about not getting the ball.
“Take a moment to kind of sit back and think about all of the good times that we (as coaches) have. I think we don’t take time to sit back and reflect on all the relationships we have the chance to build, not only with the players, but with assistant coaches and everybody we work with.
“I told somebody the other day that I consider myself to be very blessed. For 36 years, I’ve had the opportunity to do something that hasn’t seemed like a job to me. I love getting up and enjoying it every day.”
Entering his seventh season at Georgia Tech, Johnson’s coaching career has spanned nearly four decades. He’s coached at all levels, including the 1979-80 season at Avery County (N.C.) High School. From there he’s spent time at Lees-McRae Junior College, Georgia Southern, Hawaii and Navy and Tech.
Johnson’s collegiate head coaching career, which dates back to 1997 at Georgia Southern, has spawned a 154-71 record in 17 seasons.
However, considering his near four decades as a coach, Johnson said there were a few reminders that he’s not as young as he used to be.
“This is the time of year that exciting,” he said. “It’s a fresh start for everybody. Going into my 36th fall camp really puts everything into perspective on how quickly the time goes by.
“I heard a long time ago a coach saying and it’s probably true, ‘you’re getting old on a recruiting trip when the grandmas look good, so you know you’ve been in it maybe a little bit too long.’”
Every moment, however, including those years he was an assistant, has been significant, and he reminded coaches about the responsibilities and influences they have on young people.
“My high school coaches had as much influence or more influence on me, really other than my father, than anybody I’ve ever known. As I’ve coached (at various levels), I think sometimes we don’t realize how much influence we have on young people and how they look up to you and how they respect you and what they think.
“They need guidance, and I’ll have guys come into my office, and sometimes we’ll need to call a parent, a guardian or whatever and it would be surprising to a lot of people how many of these guys don’t have anybody to call but one of their coaches. Someone who has guided and corrected them, and that’s a role we need to take very seriously.”
Johnson also mentioned how unfortunate it was that there was much negativity surrounding football.
“The game we love is under attack,” Johnson said. “I was just at a meeting a couple of weeks ago of head coaches on the national level and they were talking about the participation rate among the youth is dropping rapidly. You see negative reports on injuries and long-term things with the head.
“The truth is I learned at the meeting that there were more people who died of bicycle accidents last year by like 10 to 1 than football. But, you don’t read about that in the press.
“Anything we can do to help promote the game as we move forward is a big thing.”