Johns’ legacy a piece of Southwest Louisiana football history

By By Albert Burford / American Press

In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson was president, the AFL agreed on a merger with the NFL and Mike Johns was beginning his coaching

career.

Johns had recently graduated from McNeese State and started coaching as an assistant at LaGrange Junior High.

Now, 48 years, 19 playoff appearances and 10 district championships later, Johns is stepping away from the sidelines. He will

coach his last regular-season game tonight when St. Louis Catholic hosts Iota.

Much of Johns’ success came via the 160 games he’s won as a head coach, but that’s not his source of pride.

“I have been fortunate to have had the

opportunity to coach and teach so many outstanding kids over the past 48

years and

it is always great to see so many grow up and become outstanding

young men in the community and see them become successful,”

Johns wrote in an email. “That is what makes coaching such a great

career.”

Johns worked as an assistant coach at LaGrange and Sam Houston high schools until 1989, when he became head coach at LaGrange.

“He’s extremely patient when it comes

to things like that,” said Tommy Johns, one of Johns’ two sons and an

assistant coach

at St. Louis. “He started at junior high and worked all the way up

to 5A head coach. It’s pretty special. He waited his turn,

it’s no question. He got passed up several times on head coaching

opportunities, but he eventually got his opportunity and

made the most of it.”

McNeese Sports Information Director Matthew Bonnette was on the first team Johns coached at LaGrange.

“It was quite a transition having one

coach the first three years and having a new coach come in my senior

year,” Bonnette

said. “We were all kind of worried about what direction we’d be

taking. He came in and the way he treated us, I just remember

him being like a father figure. It was tremendous. It always stuck

with me and he’s always meant a lot to me just because

of the way he treated us.”

Many people who have played for or worked with Johns mention his role as a father figure. As Bobby Johns, Mike’s younger son

who played for him at St. Louis, put it, “he doesn’t do the favoritism thing.”

“He doesn’t put up with any ifs, ands or buts about it. There’s no excuses. (Players) would get upset, but at the end of the

day, not one person hated him for it. They all look back and respect him for that.”

It’s not just players who have learned from Johns throughout his career. St. Louis Athletic Director Jason Oertling has worked

with Johns since he took over as Saints head coach in 2001.

“In this profession, where you see

teams running the score up on another team or teams getting in fights,

he’s always carried

himself with so much respect,” Oertling said. “He cares not just

about his own kids, but his opponents. He’s had a big influence

on the kids that have come through this area, but also the coaches

that have come through this area that have gone on to coach

the way he taught them to coach.”

Johns said he’s been lucky to surround himself with great assistant coaches throughout the years and got plenty of support

from his sons, as well as his wife Barbara.

For a coach with so many wins, Johns said one of his favorite coaching memories came in a loss.

“We played Hahnville in the (1994) 5A state semifinals at Cowboy Stadium and played before 13-14,000 people that night and

lost a heartbreaker in overtime 28-27,” Johns said. “Hahnville was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in 5A and I was so proud of

the way we played and also proud of my staff for an outstanding season and game.”

Despite a battle with throat cancer that has made it difficult for Johns to communicate verbally, he has continued to coach

as long as possible.

Johns said he decided this season would be his last, and he would work to get his health back in order after many years fighting

through health problems in order to continue coaching.

“I can’t describe how much he loves football, but he’s at the point where he realizes it’s time to step away and enjoy the

rest of his life with his family,” Bobby said. “He’s ready for all that.”

Bonnette said Johns’ legacy will be “a piece of Southwest Louisiana football history.”

As for Johns’ last home game, don’t expect a flashy ceremony to celebrate his career.

“Nothing extravagant,” Tommy said. “That’s just how he is, he doesn’t like all that stuff. He just wants to go quietly and

move on.”