Johnson's stellar coaching career lands him in hall of fame
By Joseph Myers
Special To The Ledger-Enquirer
A look at B.R. Johnson's coaching resume reveals 624 wins and five conference championships in 25 years as head baseball coach at Chattahoochee Valley Community College, but when this year's class of inductees to the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame was announced, Johnson was surprised to hear his name called.
" I never thought I deserved a place in the hall of fame," said Johnson, who was a member of the first Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame committee. "Evidently, the committee and whoever nominated me felt like I deserved to be in there. once it settled in, I thought on behalf of my family, my close personal friends and the people who played for me, it was good to put me in the hall of fame."
CVCC's current baseball coach, Adam Thomas, played for Johnson at CVCC.
Thomas said he loved playing for Johnson.
"He was awesome," Thomas said. "He was a father-figure for me. He was tough but fair.
"He wouldn't let you settle for being anything but your best.
"He wouldn't lower his standards
Johnson is a native of Ashford, Ala., where he earned four letters in baseball, three in football and two each in basketball and track at Ashford High School. From there, he went to Troy University, where he played football for four years and baseball for one. He was named to the all-Alabama Collegiate Conference team as an offensive and defensive tackle.
Johnson said he'd have liked to play baseball at Troy for more than one year, but his football coaches wouldn't allow it.
"I was a catcher in high school and at Troy, I went out to play catcher," said Johnson. "But my football coaches wouldn't allow me to play baseball when I was a freshman or when I was a senior. One year, they let me play baseball, but there was a good player in front of me at catcher, so I moved and started playing outfield. It was a great experience, but I was mainly a football player at Troy. That's what got me a scholarship to college and I wanted to stay on scholarship."
Johnson continued his dual love for baseball and football when he entered the coaching ranks, starting out at Eufaula High School before spending two years at Jordan as an assistant football and head baseball coach. In 1970, he moved to Northside-Warner Robins, where he served as defensive coordinator and head baseball coach for three years.
"I jokingly tell people, but it's the truth, when I say I made $6,500 my first year and I made more money that year than I ever had since," Johnson said. "Coming to Columbus after one year and getting the honor and privilege to coach at Jordan and meet my wife and establish residence in this community was so big for me.
"Bobby Howard is one of the first athletes I coached and I thought, 'Lord, I can coach good athletes.' Bobby remains the best athlete I ever coached and he went on to some great things. I hate to get into naming names, but I got close to a lot of kids, especially at Jordan, and coaching there was very special."
In 1973, Johnson spent a year as a graduate assistant with Auburn's baseball team and earned his Master's before returning to Jordan as the head football coach in 1974.
"Getting my Master's Degree and being able to work in the SEC was a great learning experience," Johnson said. "Coming back to Jordan and being the head football coach was a dream. I loved football and baseball equally. It's just like when you have two children and love them equally."
Change in direction
But after just one season as the Red Jackets head coach, Johnson's coaching path took a different direction. The head baseball coaching job at CVCC was open and Johnson was offered the position.
"I got my break when I was hired at CVCC and what a thrill that was," Johnson said. "I'll always be grateful for getting that job. It's always what I wanted to do. I did have aspirations to be a head coach in football and wondered many times what would have happened if I stayed in football. Those guys make a heck of a lot of money. I've never regretted baseball, though."
Johnson served as CVCC's head coach from 1975 until he retired in 1999. He won 624 games, five Alabama Junior College Conference championships (1977, 1984, 1986, 1994 and 1996) and coached two pitchers that went on to the major leagues in Tim Hudson (Oakland A's, Atlanta Braves) and Danny Cox (St. Louis Cardinals). However, it's the one title that he didn't win that Johnson regrets.
"Winning championships was my goal," said Johnson, who was inducted into the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2005. "Just winning didn't satisfy me. I wanted to win a national championship. My one regret is that we never won a national title during my time there. I deeply regret that."
Johnson said he thought about coaching at a four-year school.
"A lot of people, and this is natural, automatically assume that a four-year school is better than a two-year school when it comes to sports and that's true, except for junior college baseball," said Johnson. "JUCO baseball players are good enough to be drafted after one year, while four-year players have to wait until after being in college for three years. The purpose of junior college baseball is to help kids develop and get them where they want to go. I did apply some places, but they went for naught. That being said, I'm not sure I'd have been happy coaching at the four-year level since I was able to coach so many great athletes at the two-year level."
Another factor that played in Johnson's staying at CVCC was the ability to immediately build a winning team instead of having to wait for two or three years while players developed.
"At the junior college level, it's not like you're waiting three years to build a good team," said Johnson. "You can have a good year and be just as good the next year at the JUCO level. I didn't sit around looking for a four-year job. It never bothered me because I had a great job. I think a lot of people think people in junior college don't know what they're doing, but they're wrong. JUCO baseball is pretty good and people don't give it enough credit."
These days, Johnson spends a lot of time with his wife Helen, son Clarke, daughter and son-in-law Courtney and Mark Ellis and their two children, Avery and Steven Ellis. He said he used to miss being on the diamond, but not so much anymore.
"For the first three or four years, I went through withdrawal," said Johnson, who also hosted a sports talk show after his retirement from CVCC.
"Then I started enjoying my time off with my family. My wife and family devoted so much of their time to me when I was coaching baseball, I feel like I owe it to them to do stuff with them. I also enjoy getting to take care of my grandkids and have lunch with some of my nearest and dearest friends. That's really big to me now. Being able to turn loose on the weekend and go where you want to is nice. I had my time in the sun and now it's time for somebody else."
-- Kevin Price contributed to this report.
High school: Ashford (Ala.) High School
College: Troy University, Auburn University
Local tie: Football and baseball coach at Jordan High; baseball coach at Chattahoochee Valley Community College; sports radio talk show host
You need to know: Won 624 games and five Alabama Community College Conference titles in career at CVVC, which ran from 1975 to 1999 Coached two pitchers who went on to the major leagues -- Danny Cox and Tim Hudson; Inducted into Alabama Baseball Coaches' Association Hall of Fame in 2005.