Ex-Tiger back as a coach
Published 4:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2011
When Juan Johnson graduated from T.R. Miller High School in 2002, he figured he would be leaving Brewton forever.
But once he got into teaching and coaching after college, he had always hoped in the back of his mind that he would get the opportunity to come back to his alma mater in Brewton and coach.
In the recent weeks, Johnson has gotten that opportunity and has been hired by T.R. Miller Tiger athletic director and head football coach Jamie Riggs.
“As for the people who say you can never go home, I guess it’s just has to be the right situation,” Johnson said. “I feel that this was a great fit and an opportunity for me to continue to grow as a person, teacher, and coach. I am excited. It is different feeling than working at other schools. Deep down I have always been a tiger.”
Johnson said the opportunity of him coming back to coach where he played is not strange, but a very unique opportunity.
“I have a vested interest in Miller,” Johnson said. “I played here. I want to see Miller do well. Even being at other schools I always checked the box score to see if Miller had won. Given the opportunity to work here was no brainer. This community and school system provide me with a lot opportunities. As for why I came home, like I said I have a vested interest in Miller. I want to see Miller do well. I just hope I’m an asset when its all said and done.”
A 2002 graduate of T.R. Miller where he lettered in football, basketball, and baseball, Johnson, 26, is not new to the coaching scene.
Johnson graduated from Tuskegee University in 2007 but played football at Sewanee in 2002. While at Tuskegee, he played football and baseball from 2003-2007.
After Tuskegee, Johnson coached at Opp High School from 2007-2010 under former T.R. Miller assistant Jack Whigham.
Johnson coached wide receivers, defensive backs, was a B-team basketball coach, and assistant varsity baseball coach.
After Opp, Johnson coached at Stanhope Elmore from 2010-2011 as football defensive back coach and head basketball coach.
Johnson said being away from T.R. Miller, you realize what you miss.
“Being away from Miller, you realize how special a place it really is,” Johnson said. “I really cherish those memories I have of playing with my teammates— especially winning the state championship.”
While his coaching tenure is only in its fifth year, Johnson said he has a better respect for the job than when he was a player.
“Coaching is definitely what I thought it would be,” he said. “Being able to work with young people helping them to build their future, where it be on the field, classroom, and in the community. I truly enjoy what I do. As for a better respect, yes. The preparation time that goes into the process well before the lights turn on Friday night, you get out what you put in. Believe me, kids notice.”
While he is back at his old school, the previous schools Johnson has coached at have been a lot bigger than T.R. Miller’s.
“This size of the school is definitely different going from 1400 to about 400,” Johnson said. “I think I met somebody new every day but you notice the number of players, size and speed of the game is different but bottom line is it is football and you still have to do the basics of blocking and tackling with technique. I expect us to work hard and we will see what happens.”
While the staff has seen some changes since his playing days of 2001, some coaches are still there.
“This staff has some great coaches and that starts at the top with coach Riggs,” Johnson said. “It is very unique in that every head coach I played for at Miller is still here. I think that speaks volumes for commitment to greatness these men have had. (Riggs, Rob Atkinson, Ron Jackson, and Jim Hart). It is great. I have much respect for these men and the work they have done. Working with them is something I am looking forward to.”
Johnson said his greatest accomplishment as a coach came while he was at Opp.
“Each school has had great moments but I would say winning the region championship at Opp during the 2010 season,” Johnson said. “They had some tough seasons up until that point. Coach Whigham had been at Opp a year before I got there going 1-9 but he was able to instill a great foundation for the years to come. My first year we make the playoffs to next being region champs. A lot had to do with those kids believing in themselves and not excepting nothing less than being great night in and night out. At Stanhope Elmore it has to be upsetting Prattville in week two. It was their first region loss in five years and it had been 12 years since Stanhope beat Prattville. You’re talking about a packed house of about 15,000 fans rushing the field when the game ended. We were down 13 points with five minutes left in the game. Our kids could have gave up but they continued to play and beat a team that was nationally ranked.”
While there have been great moments, Johnson said there are good and bad things about being a coach.
“The best thing is working with kids and providing that voice to them that the world has so many opportunities in it,” Johnson said. “If you put forth effort and do things the right way anything is possible. Probably the worst thing about coaching is losing. I know if you play enough games its going to happen from time to time but losing really bothers me. As it would anybody else.”
At T.R. Miller, Johnson was on the 2000 state championship. The Tigers have won only one state title since then, in 2002. Johnson said he wants to get T.R. Miller back to winning the championships.
“Looking back at that 2000 team is real unique in fact nobody really believed we were going to be good that year,” Johnson said. “We kind of shocked ourselves but the expectations in Brewton are high as you put it with back to championship level. It’s amazing how this community only expects excellence (championships). Anything less and people kind of look at you funny likes what’s going on. I have seen places where that definition of excellences wasn’t always the same but building toward what we expect. Its just a year to year thing you never know players step up and the ball has to bounces your way a little. I guess I’m committed to working hard and August 26, when the 2011 season kicks off, we will see what happens.”
After playing his last high school game at T.R. Miller 10 years ago, Johnson says there are changes from when he was a player to now a coach.
“I really can’t pinpoint one particular thing, the game of football has changed so much since I played at Miller 10 years ago (2001 season),” Johnson said. “I guess you can say they throw it more than we did. We had just started some spread schemes at Miller in 2000 season. These groups of kids still working hard and committed to continuing the Tradition plus so many things have remained the same. We all know what Miller football is known for.”
While Johnson will be an assistant football coach this fall, he will also help with the boys basketball team at T.R. Miller with coach Ron Jackson. After seeing a high of reaching the final four a few years ago, the Tiger boys’ team has struggled in recent years. Johnson hopes to see that change.
“The experience I got as head coach at Stanhope Elmore was great,” Johnson said. “I learned so much last season. The 6A level is played so fast and above the rim. I really had to develop quick decision making skills due to pace of game in the Montgomery area. We’re one play from upsetting Prattville in their gym and making the playoffs. We got a charge call on a post move with four seconds to go in game. It’s been odd because the game in that area is called with the let them play attitude. I played for coach Jackson as a point guard so I was kind of like his coach on the floor. This program has had some success in the past. I feel like I know something about his system and that should be valuable in helping to build the program back to standard we would all like to see it at.”
As he will be coaching football and basketball this year, Johnson will coach players near his age of 26. He says the closeness in his age to the players has never been a problem for him.
“I feel as though it plays into my favor as I’m relating to a lot things they are going through,” Johnson said. “Just five years ago I was playing college football. They understand at the end of day I’m similar to other coaches just trying to get best out of them in each endeavor they take on.”
Tiger coach Jamie Riggs said having Johnson join his staff is a positive thing.
“We are very excited to have Juan return to T.R. Miller High School,” Riggs said. “He has already distinguished himself as an outstanding young coach and I know he will be a tremendous asset to both our football and basketball programs.”
Johnson will coach wide receivers for the Tigers and assume play calling duties for the offense.
“Juan has already started learning our offense and he will be ready to go in a short time,” Riggs said. “His strong work ethic is one of the reasons we wanted him on board.” Johnson will also teach history at T.R. Miller.