Nine. Count them, nine. That’s how many head coaches longtime Bureau Valley assistant coach Craig Johnson has worked under in his 28 years coaching high school football in Bureau County. He worked for another one year in his home state Iowa.
Terry Gutshall was the first head coach when Johnson landed at Buda Western in 1990-91 and Paul Blanford followed.
When Western consolidated into the Bureau Valley District in 1995-96, Johnson went to work for Hall of Famer Kenny Bourquin.
There’s been six more head coaches to follow at BV, including John McKenzie, Jason Kirby, Dave Moore, Jeff Ohlson, Spencer Davis and current Storm skipper Joe Schmitt.
“It means I’ve been doing it a long time,” said Johnson, who is almost 52. “It’s been a long time, a lot of changes and a lot of football games.”
Johnson said those coaches are some of his very best friends. He’s especially grateful to Gutshall and his wife, Pam, who introduced Johnson to his wife of 21 years, Anne.
He said he’s learn a lot from each head coach. From Gutshall, he said he learned how to relate to kids; from Kirby, practice organization; and from Moore, what he does defensively.
“Everybody has been unique and different,” Johnson said. “Coach Schmitt has brought new things to us offensively with some of things he brings to the passing game which is unique. And that part’s fun.”
To know Johnson, is to know he’s as loyal as an assistant can be, and is passionate about his job and his kids.
“If you’re not passionate about something, you probably don’t do it for 29 years,” he said.
A baseball devotee growing up in Green, Iowa, Johnson found a niche in football in Illinois. He’s also been heavily involved in the Storm basketball program throughout the years and was the school’s first head baseball coach.
“Football’s been a part of my life, though I was probably more of a baseball guy,” Johnson said. “It’s just been something I’ve loved. I’ve enjoyed it. We kind of take it year to year now. No, I don’t think I envisioned myself doing it this long. Didn’t think I’d be the only one left from the beginning.”
The Storm coach said it’s amazing how football has changed over the years.
“In practice, we used to line up and hit each other continuously. No one does that in 2017. I can see in the next few years, where we’ll barely used pads in practice,” he said.
“When I started coaching in small-school football, if you threw 10 times you threw the ball a lot. It was double tight, it was winged T, wishbone. Now it’s no-huddle spread and there’s 150 plays ran in a game. You see scores in the 40s continuously. You don’t see a whole lot of 14-6, 8-6 scores any more. … Now you’ve got to defend the entire field. It’s been an interesting adjustment, but you’ve still got to block and tackle if you want to win games.”
There was a time Johnson would have liked to become a head football coach, but he said it just didn’t work out.
“I got married, had kids. Priorities changed,” he said. “If the opportunity would have presented itself at the right time, I probably would have done it. It’s kind of something that’s passed me by now. I’m very content where I’m at now.”
Being the head coach of the sophomore team is the next best thing without all the headaches that come with being the head coach.
“I love coaching the sophomores. You kind of get to run our program a little bit without being the head guy,” he said.
Johnson knows the end’s in sight, but plans to continue to coach as long as he’s still enjoying it.
“You kind of wonder how long you want to do it, and how much longer they want you do it. And you hope you know maybe when it’s time to be done,” he said.
At homecoming, Johnson spent time golfing with some of his first students from 28 years ago at Buda Western. He said those kind of bonds are what are most special.
“Those first groups you have are really special. That made my day,” he said. “It’s neat when your former players call you coach. Coaching and teaching’s about relationships. I’ve built a lot of them. That’s probably what I’m most proud. That’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at Kevin Hieronymus@bcrnews.com.