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Open Door Policyby: Bob Johnson
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Bob Johnson’s coaching experience spans nearly 35 years with stops at Los Amigos High School, El Toro, and, for the past 7 years, Mission Viejo High School. He won his 200th game as a head coach last fall and is closing in on the Orange County record of 236 wins held by Los Alamitos’ John Barnes. Undefeated thus far in 2005, the Mission Viejo Diablos completed a perfect 14-0 season last fall, winning the CIF Southern Section Division II Championship and have won 78 of their last 79 games. Last season, MVHS was led by California Player of the Year, Quarterback Matt Sanchez.
It’s at the quarterback position that Johnson, as a coach, excels. A former signal-caller for Fresno State, Johnson’s two sons played in the NFL. Bret, now the Diablos offensive coordinator, played with the Atlanta Falcons and the CFL while Rob played with the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Buffalo Bills. Now rehabing from Tommy John surgery, Rob plans an NFL comeback in 2006.
The father-son coaching duo run Camp Quarterback at Mission Viejo High School during the spring and work for EA Sports Elite 11 Quarterback Camp in San Juan Capistrano in the summer. Recent quarterbacks that have come under their tutelage have included Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart and Palmer’s younger brother Jordan, the starting signal-caller for UTEP.
We recently spent a few minutes with Bob Johnson at his office and discussed what his day is like, his philosophy of coaching, those that have influenced him over the years, and his thoughts on what it takes to be an elite quarterback.
AFM: What was it like when you first accepted the positon at MVHS? The school had some great years but had fallen on hard times in the 90’s so I was ready for the challenge. I had been away from coaching for 7-8 years to watch my two sons (Bret and Rob) play in college and the NFL. Starting in 1999, this is my seventh year at Mission Viejo.
AFM: Over the years, have you had any unusual guests or interesting phone calls – from coaches, players, or just fans? Nothing really unusual or outlandish… we’ve had great support from alumni and boosters over the years… in my 7 years as head coach, we’ve had a number of former players both speak to our teams and root from the sidelines.
AFM: What is your day like, in season? Do you teach classes as well as coach? I’m usually in the office by 4:30 in the morning and leave somewhere between 7 and 9 at night. The first two hours are quiet time for me in the office and I can both catch up on administrative items as well as prepare for both practice and watch film for our next game. I have some meetings during the day but I also teach four classes of Physical Education at the school. The smartest thing I ever did was hire great assistants. We have an outstanding staff as well as a great booster club.
AFM: How is your office set-up? Do you have your personal memorabilia in specific areas of the office? The most important item are sets of my family pictures. That includes my wife Debbie and photos of my two sons, Bret and Rob. Bret is my offensive coordinator (bottom left) and a former NFL player. Rob (middle)is rehabing after Tommy John surgery. He’s around quite a bit and is getting ready to come back to the NFL in 2006. (Rob was a quarterback for both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills). There are also plaques of our teams and individual players over the years in the office as well as a framed story on Mark Sanchez’ dad who helped in the aftermath of Katrina. There’s also a photo of Rob presenting the American Flag to our fire fighters after 9/11.
AFM: What coaches have influenced you over the years? Any active coaches? A number of coaches had a great influence on my life as I grew up…In college, three coaches – Darryl Rogers, Bob Van Galder, and Bob Burgess – influenced me tremendously… more recently, former SC coach John Robinson and Oregon State coach Mike Riley have been great – you can’t ask for two better coaches in how they treat their kids. Pete Carroll has also been an influence – we have five kids at SC and I’ve spoken to him about coaching strategy. I really like his demeanor and his passion for the game.
AFM: What is your general day-to-day philosophy of coaching? I think you have to convince your student-athletes you really care but you should also have fun and compete. My feeling is that people who are successful in this profession outwork their opponents. You also have to be positive, sweat out the hard stuff, and pay attention to detail.
AFM: What’s it like preparing for next week’s opponent? We exchange films with all our opponents during the season. Saturday, by 6am, the film is broken down so we can begin the preparations for next week’s game. Our digital editing system is outstanding and breaks down the tape into various cut-ups so both the coordinators and position coaches know the specific plays they need to know. The coaches then take tape home and study the specifics relative to their area. We try to treat Sunday as family day although the coaches continue to prepare for next Friday's game even on Sunday. We then put together the game plan and present it to the team. Of my nine assistants, 5 played for me at one time and we remain a very close group. Each practice we grade our players and review our opponents tendencies.
AFM: What are your thoughts on the make-up of an elite QB? How do you know when you have someone special? I think you can tell right away… it’s a player that’s always learning and wants to be better… he’s always looking at tape and ways to outwork your opponent. He also has to show toughness inside and out. I think toughness, his positive attitude, and controlling his feet with proper footwork are the biggest assets. As John Robinson told my son Rob… “when you’re the head coach or the quarterback, you’re going to get the blame regardless of the circumstances.” You have to have a thick skin.
AFM: If you could have a meeting with three coaches – living or dead – who would they be? Bobby Knight and John Robinson to name two. I admire and respect both of them a great deal. if I could have two more – I’d select Charlie Weis and Pete Carroll – both are great coaches with Charlie specializing in offense and Pete in defense.
AFM: Any thoughts or advice for the person that will eventually replace you? Have fun, stay positive, and outwork everybody.
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